When the U.S. Ministry Board of the Christian Reformed Church in North America met last week, concurrent with the Canadian Ministry Board, delegates heard updates from director of U.S. ministry operations Dan DeKam on the status of the potential sale and relocation of denominational offices that have been at the corner of 28th Street SE and Kalamazoo Avenue in Grand Rapids, Mich., since 1956.
The board, acting preemptively, gave its officers the authority to accept an offer on the building at 1700 28th Street SE. The building was listed in September after it was determined to be the best way forward for the now ill-suited facility.
“The fact that this building no longer serves our needs is indisputable,” board chair Michael Ten Haken said. “The amount of unused space in this building right now is staggering.”
DeKam said it’s hard to tell how soon an offer could come, saying there have been a few tours through the building and a couple of repeat tours. The realtor has described the degree of interest as “neither a flood nor a trickle,” DeKam said, adding, because “this type of building is very unique, it’s about what we expected.”
While the board readily supported moving on a building sale, it had more discussion about empowering the officers to act on the potential purchase of a new building.
DeKam recounted the search team’s considerations, saying the current preferred vicinity is the “bigger East Beltline corridor” in Grand Rapids. He noted advantages of proximity to the denomination’s Calvin Theological Seminary and Calvin University; access to an airport, hotels and highways; and that over 50 percent of CRCNA membership is in Michigan and the bordering Canadian province of Ontario. DeKam named three important categories in seeking a new location: sustaining mission, promoting collaboration, and facilitating culture. “Over time these three things diminish if people are separated,” he said. There still is a need, DeKam said, to have identity and culture nurtured in one location.
Jesus Bayona, Classis Southeast U.S., questioned whether buying was necessary and suggested looking for another way to organize that would be “less regionally homogenous.”
“There is a culture that’s being developed that’s not really reflective of the whole of the CRC. I’m concerned that this not be continued,” Bayona said.
Herb Schreur, Classis Northcentral Iowa, remarked that he’s been in the CRC his whole life and has always had a sense that, “If you’re from outside of Grand Rapids, you realize ‘you’re not from Grand Rapids.’” An isolated culture isn’t necessarily related to a building location, Schreur suggested. Instead, “It’s in our hearts and minds. The location of the office is not that critical to changing it.” Schreur expressed thanks for denominational staff working on finding a suitable location, and, “if you have any questions about their abilities,” he suggested to delegates, “just pray that much harder.”
Tyler Wagenmaker, Classis Zeeland, himself from western Michigan, said, “In terms of ministry and in terms of culture I think it would be a mistake to hunker down in West Michigan. Our growth seems to me to be in the south, not in Grand Rapids. We should go more where a lot of the mission is.”
John Lee, Classis Iakota, also encouraged casting a wider net than one particular corridor, saying he hasn’t seen that the current location, despite its proximity to related institutions, fosters the desired collaboration.
Wagenmaker suggested that the practicalities of operating ought not dictate decisions. “I think there would be value in thinking beyond Grand Rapids because we’re not a corporation, we’re a church.”
DeKam said the search’s parameters are not hard and fast walls but represent preferences at this time. “I have appreciated the comments regarding Grand Rapids,” he said. DeKam lives in Muskegon, just over 40 miles to the northwest of Grand Rapids. He said denominational staff are excited to work on what God is doing. “We want to work on building trust,” DeKam said, demonstrating that staff is “working their best to serve the church to the best of their ability.”
In the end the board voted to empower the officers with the ability to make a purchase offer. But Steve Bussis, Classis Yellowstone, noting less urgency in making a purchase offer than in accepting a sale offer, urged the chair, “If at all possible [ahead of a potential purchase], give us a chance to gather together instead of taking the authority we gave you and just acting.”
Wagenmaker and Bayona filed negative votes.