Mending a 130-year-old rift isn’t easy, but Pillar Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Mich., is doing just that.
Pillar Church pastors Jon Brown from the RCA and Chris DeVos from the CRC
Pillar Church, one of the oldest churches in the denomination, will now affiliate with both the CRC and the Reformed Church in America, in effect undoing a contentious 1882 congregational split.
The church will implement a renewed vision in September, with a new format, new ministries, and a new RCA co-pastor, Jon Brown.
“Any church that begins to recognize its stagnation in ministry faces choices about what they’re going to do,” said Chris DeVos, who has pastored Pillar for the past 9 years. Members at Pillar concluded, “If we’re going to exist in the future, we want to try something bold,” said DeVos.
One new focus of the church will be reaching out to their neighbors across the street: RCA-affiliated Hope College and Western Theological Seminary.
“We see students walk by our building all the time. And downtown [Holland] has developed around us. After a while it’s a no-brainer to realize, ‘Here’s our ministry.’ We don’t have a campus where we can expand and have huge parking lots and draw people from all over. Here’s a ministry right around us and institutions that our church helped to start 150, 160 years ago,” DeVos said.
For decades the church and schools have had very little to do with one another. “There’s an organic connection there,” said DeVos. “And, really, to deny that is maybe unfaithful.”
DeVos said the church hopes to serve as a tangible example of reconciliation between the RCA and the CRC.
“Most of the time we experience churches splitting, not coming back together,” said Brown. “Being a part of this reconciliation expression is thrilling; it’s huge.”
A strong friendship between DeVos and Dan Gillette, pastor of First Reformed Church, (founded after the 1882 split) has been instrumental in the process toward dual affiliation. The relationship had a trickle-down effect, with the churches holding joint Sunday evening worship services and youth programs for the past several years.
Pillar is only the second Christian Reformed church to also affiliate with the RCA, the first being Maple Avenue Ministries, also in Holland.
Pillar will now pay half its ministry shares to the CRC and half to the RCA. Council members will attend the classis meetings of both denominations. Pastors will continue in the pension plans of the denomination that ordained them.
Despite facing big changes, members at Pillar have been very supportive. “It’s been a long process where we’ve learned something personally in terms of our own spiritual life and being a community of faith together along the way,” said DeVos, “and that’s been pretty powerful.”