The closure of a rural church in southern Ontario has split families and grieved churches across Classis Chatham (a regional group of churches).
In July 2006, members of Forest (Ont.) Christian Reformed Church, after three years without a pastor, voted by a slim margin to close their church after 50 years.
But some members of the church were not ready to give up without a fight. Classis gave the dozen families in Forest who wished to continue worshiping at the building some extra time, but at its September session it voted to close the church and disperse the assets.
There were tears in the eyes of Bob Doornbosch as the decision was announced. He’s a member of the committee that will deal with the technical details of closing the church. He also helped build it. Difficult as it is, Doornbosch said it was time for the remaining members to either buy the building or shut the doors.
But the decision didn’t sit well with Doornbosch’s sister, Jeannette Stellingwerff. “When was the last time you have been in a church with this much love and the Holy Spirit?” she asked the Sunday after classis voted to uphold the closure. “How could they close us down?”
Classis Chatham vowed to work with the remaining members as they try to continue ministering in the community of about 2,300, east of Sarnia.
Rita Klein Geltink is a seminary graduate serving as the interim pastor of the Forest congregation. Klein Geltink says in the CRC it is very hard for small churches to thrive.
“Small churches are trying to play by the same rules as those with 300 members,” she said. “The CRC needs to look for a new model for smaller churches. It should examine what happened in Forest—what went wrong, what was going right, and what should have been continued.”