What happens when a church declining in numbers calls a minister with declining health? In the case of Hillcrest Christian Reformed Church in Denver, it means hope and renewal—and a minister who is having a ball.
Rev. Tom Draayer began at Hillcrest in 2010, serving in a reduced capacity because of limitations from Parkinson’s disease.
“The reason I work reduced hours is that I get really stiff on my right side in my wrist and my ankle, and I get shaky,” said Draayer. “If I’m doing that I can’t work on a computer. I have to stop what I’m doing and try and be quiet.”
“Bridge Builders” from Hillcrest CRC and the Chinese congregation that meets in Hillcrest’s building
Draayer knew he was coming to a church in decline, with services drawing about 25 attendees. “I went there knowing that the possibility of closing the ministry was a very viable option,” he said.
Draayer quickly sensed a change in the congregation, in part due to the growing relationship with a Chinese ministry that meets in its building. “There seemed to be some kind of renewed hope that people experienced from having some stability, and the relationship with the Chinese church really began to grow. [The congregation] kept coming back the question ‘Does the Lord have a purpose for us that’s different than what we’ve served in the past? Is he opening up a new door?’”
A year later the church applied for a Sustaining Congregational Excellence denominational grant in order to explore how a traditional CRC congregation and a Chinese church could most effectively minister together. They titled the project “Bridge Builders.” The Chinese congregation is now considering joining the CRC.
“The grant has enabled us to do things that have been so important,” Draayer said. “It has helped us open a lot of doors to see how we can get beyond ethnic differences and work together.”
Attendance at Hillcrest has risen to between 40 to 50 people on a Sunday. Hillcrest and the Chinese congregation are exploring new opportunities to minister together.
And Draayer is experiencing some renewal of his own. “I’m having the time of my life!” he said.
About the Author
Sarah Boonstra is the Banner's regional news correspondent for classes Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone.