On January 13, Rev. John Visser will be back in the pulpit of Maranatha Christian Reformed Church in Belleville, Ontario.
The Board of Trustees of the CRC, acting on behalf of synod, the annual leadership meeting of the CRC, announced that it has lifted the suspension imposed on Visser by Synod 2012.
Synod 2012 imposed the suspension after finding that Visser had abused his office by soliciting or allowing a counselee and her husband to invest in companies he and his family owned.
Synod also directed the council of Maranatha CRC to contract for immediate and ongoing oversight of the healing ministry at the church after concerns were raised about the safety of that ministry and breaches of confidentiality related to it.
In a statement, the Board of Trustees said its decision to lift Visser’s suspension was based exclusively on information from the council of Maranatha CRC and on the reports of two assessments: the assessment of the healing ministry (known as Restoration Ministries) required by synod and an assessment of Visser’s “readiness for ministry” conducted by a firm in Chicago, Ill.
Maranatha’s assistant pastor, Dave Botting, said that the church had contracted with Phillip Hamberg of Grand Rapids, Mich., for oversight of the church’s healing ministry. Hamberg is a therapist and has taught as an adjunct professor of psychology at Calvin College. He is the author of Attach Me If You Can, published by Essence Publishing, a company owned by the Visser family.
Botting said Hamberg’s recommendations focused on ministry structures and procedures. As a result, Botting will now be the staff supervisor of the restoration ministry instead of Visser; as supervisor he will report directly to the church council.
Other recommendations include weekly ministry team meetings and weekly consultations between Hamberg and the ministry team via Skype. Parts of the ministry handbook will be rewritten, Botting said. The guidelines for confidentiality will be tightened and there will be a protocol for conflict resolution.
“Rev. Visser will be involved as part of the restoration ministry team,” Botting said. “He will be under the oversight of the staff supervisor and Mr. Hamberg and subject to all of the policies and procedures of the ministry.”
Some members of the Maranatha church community are disappointed that the assessment processes did not pursue their concerns about the safety of the healing ministry more vigorously. One of those members is Theo Brunsting.
“We noted that the decision to lift [Visser’s] suspension was ‘based exclusively on information provided by the council of Maranatha CRC,’” he said. “This is very troublesome in that a major bone of contention in the past has been a general lack of transparency on the part of council and leadership.”
Brunsting also noted several concerns about the consultant hired to provide ongoing oversight of Maranatha’s healing ministry. “The person hired by Maranatha has had a book published by a company owned by the Visser family, which raises a legitimate concern about independence,” he said. “The consultant does not live anywhere near Belleville and in fact does not even live in Canada. We wonder if this really amounts to ‘independent, ongoing oversight,’ as called for by synod.”
Brunsting said that for many in the community, the unresolved pain resulting from experiences with the Maranatha healing ministry, coupled with these new concerns, leaves this matter far from resolved.
The Board of Trustees’ decision was announced yesterday at Maranatha CRC by Marty Vanderlaan, council president. “On behalf of council I want to express our gratitude to God for seeing each one of us, including Pastor John, through this,” he said. “Pastor John will be leading our worship service next Sunday.” As part of the service, Visser was recommissioned by the church council.