Hope Community Christian Reformed Church in Lawrence, Ind., no longer exists. It closed in December 2020 but its generosity and passion for serving the community globally and locally has had a lasting impact. At the time of its closing, Hope Community CRC gave over $500,000 to more than a dozen organizations in order to continue furthering God’s kingdom.
The church in its later years had become a congregation of seniors. Pastor Michael VandenBerg said that they were some of the least served people in the area, many living away from family in senior living homes. “Many times,” VandenBerg said, “they were forgotten.”
In 2014, Hope Community CRC sold its facilities and belongings and moved into the local YMCA for worship, hoping to make connections with younger people. “God had other plans,” VandenBerg said. “We found that those who were most in need of Hope church were the seniors living around the YMCA and attending their facilities.”
When many seniors found it difficult to get to the YMCA, and when one of the coordinators of a senior living center asked VandenBerg for pastoral care after a cancer diagnosis, the ministry of the church shifted to take services to the people. They served Greentree Senior Living for five years and added others until VandenBerg was preaching five times a week in five different centers.
Despite the lively schedule, the COVID-19 pandemic that began sweeping North America in the Spring of 2020 made it difficult to serve seniors. Most did not have access to computers for streaming services. But that wasn’t the deciding factor as the church council deliberated, according to VandenBerg. “Ministries that our small congregation had begun were mostly self-sufficient.” VandenBerg said. “Other ministries that were part of our life were now being maintained by other congregations.” Worship life, he said, was also served through other congregations, chaplains, and pastors. “This led (the elders) to believe, after much prayer and discussion, that the time to close was God's direction for Hope church, but (we) all firmly believed that the congregation would live on in the members and ministries that had been who we were.”
VandenBerg, a minister with the Reformed Church in America, was called to Hope Community CRC in 2008. He said that when the church closed, the congregation wanted to share its remaining resources so that the work God had started in them could continue.
The YMCA was one of the organizations to receive funds—$25,000. Jenny Sera, a vice president of the YMCA in Greater Indianapolis, said that they will spread the money over two years to offer support to older adults in the Lawrence area. “We plan ... to help re-engage the older adult community after the social isolation that was experienced by so many during the pandemic,” Sera said.
Rev. Joshua Amaezechi, the missionary president of the LEMA Institute, is also grateful for Hope Community’s generosity. “The donation from Hope church was a Holy Spirit-led kingdom investment that will continue to bear fruit into the future,” he said. The fund is already helping a graduate of the Leadership Education Mission for Africa to plant a church. Amaezechi said, “LEMA students in both Nigeria and Uganda are learning using computers provided through this fund. The donation to LEMA is a seed that will keep multiplying and growing! We are thankful.”
The church also gave $50,000 to Classis Kalamazoo, the regional group of churches to which it belonged since 2018. Stated clerk Dan Sarkipato said that the gift is to be used for Kalamazoo’s church start fund. Each congregation in the classis also received $10,000, with instructions that it be shared between benevolence and ministry to seniors, Sarkipato said.
“We decided that the best way to thank classis for their welcoming spirit and nurture was to encourage them directly,” said VandenBerg. (Synod, the CRC’s annual leadership meeting, approved Hope CRC’s transfer to Kalamazoo three years ago. Grounds included that Hope was not connected “in either representation or involvement” with the churches of its original classis, Agenda for Synod 2018, p. 309.)
VandenBerg said that he is proud of Hope Community’s congregants who recognized the gifts they held to be God’s. “I think churches get into trouble and confusion when they begin to think of the church's resources as theirs and not God's to move and use as he sees fit,” he added.
The Banner published two other stories related to church closure or re-invention this year: “Facing the Realities of When Churches Close,” Jan. 22, and “‘Rebirth’ for a Wisconsin Church,” May 6. Do you have a story of a church coming to grips with closure or transformation? Feel free to let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.