New England isn’t the part of North America that springs to mind when someone says “Christian Reformed Church.” Or the name of any church. According to the Barna Research Group, the northeastern U.S. has the country’s smallest number of regular churchgoers. For some years the Protestant mainline denominations, all headquartered in the Northeast, have been hemorrhaging members, many just falling away, others leaving because they saw that in those churches “there was more going on than being faithful,” as Bruce Aquizap puts it.
A focus on priorities other than faithfulness was why Bruce, 75, was among the 25 or so people who left the First Congregational Church of Hampton, New Hampshire, to become an independent congregation. For 10 years they then had ties with the United Church of Christ but suffered the same problem with the UCC. When they finally joined the Christian Reformed Church in 1995 as a Home Missions church, it felt like home at last. “We wanted to study, believe, and live Christ, with the knowledge that we are saved by his grace. That had been lost where we had been,” Bruce says.
“Theological distinctions are important,” Bruce asserts. “I have difficulty with worship of anyone but Jesus.” He sums up why he’s happy in the CRC: “The Reformed are Bible-oriented.”
CRC pastor Brent Averill introduced the New Covenant group to the CRC and talked with them about the Reformed confessions and catechism. Another pastor in Classis Atlantic Northeast sat down with the group and went over the Church Order with them. They were comfortable with it and readily embraced a Christian Reformed identity. They now have about 75 members and Averill is their pastor.
In 2005, New Covenant CRC became a self-supporting congregation in North Hampton. This city of 5,000 is a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean, 10 miles from Portsmouth, N.H., and 50 miles from Boston.
After meeting for worship in various locations, “we bought a farm on a main road,” Bruce says. “We built a sanctuary out of the existing barn, the pastor’s family lives in the house, and the other buildings we use for Sunday school, meetings, and office space. The denomination gave us a nice loan.” He adds, “We could not have built our church if we didn’t have a mortgage from Home Missions and support from our classis (Atlantic Northeast), and the churches in our classis. We’ve had CRC people come over to help us, to paint and do repair work. All it cost us is a steak and lobster dinner!”
Bruce and his wife, Pat, now spend winters in Florida, so he is no longer on the worship team. But he still hasn’t managed to retire from working life, despite trying three times. At home in New Hampshire he works 20 hours a week at Home Depot. For 11 years he made 20 gallons of chili a week for his daughter’s restaurant while also teaching operator training at the nearby Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. Before that he taught in a vocational high school. But it was nuclear power that was at the center of Bruce’s original career: 24 years in the U.S. Navy’s submarine force. He was on the first nuclear sub to secretly sail beneath the polar ice cap to the North Pole in April 1958.
In the Navy Bruce traveled the world, but he and Pat live in the house Bruce grew up in. They’ve been married for 51 years, a harmony not unlike what they feel in the church they’re happy to call home.