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Growing in Place Means New Gym for Illinois Church

Growing in Place Means New Gym for Illinois Church
Grace Valley CRC’s gym building under construction.

For a church located in the middle of cornfields a couple of miles from the nearest town border, the people of Grace Valley Christian Reformed Church have a huge heart for ministering to their community. A new gymnasium is their most recent tool in their kit to further their vision of serving Christ and their neighbours.

“We draw from a 30-mile (48 km) radius from 13 different communities, so it’s important for us to find avenues to connect,” said Jake Ritzema, the church’s pastor. “A couple years ago we hired an associate pastor of outreach and assimilation, and now we have this new addition. Those are both natural outgrowths of our vision to always be looking out.”

The new building includes four classrooms, a family restroom, storage, and the full gymnasium. Construction was funded in part through the church’s budget and loans from Classis Northern Illinois, the regional group of CRC congregations to which Grace Valley belongs. Though it has only been open since the end of January, the church has already established weekly men’s basketball pick-up games and twice-weekly open play times for parents and children.

“What’s better for parents than having a place to come so they can relax and their kids can run off all their extra energy during the long winter?” Ritzema said. “We got a generous grant from our classis, and our associate pastor used it to buy this huge bouncy house. The kids just love it.”

While only the two programs are officially running at the moment, plans are in the works for programs like Coffee Break, MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers), a volleyball night, and pickleball.

The town of German Valley, Ill., two miles (3.2 km) from Grace Valley CRC, does not have a community center of its own, so Ritzema is keen to advertise the new space widely. He said, “We want people to know it’s available to rent for whatever they might need it for; if we’re able to have weddings and other social events that can draw people into Grace Valley, awesome.” Ritzema said the church’s annual free corn boil, attracting about 500 attendees each year, is another occasion to see beyond the pews. “These things give us more peripheral vision; it’s not just about taking care of ourselves but the folks around us as well.”

“We feel we are in the middle of everywhere, not nowhere,” echoed Ken Ross, an elder, who served the church as chairman of the building committee and project manager. “We feel strongly that Grace Valley CRC offers a Big God theology, innovative and informal worship, and a people that want to grow and enfold our neighbors.”

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