Bethel Connection (blog)

Pastor's Reflections

March 01, 2018
By John Lee
Pastor John (right) and Mary Jo Lee

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this first newsletter of 2018, it is perhaps healthy to look back at 2017 and conduct our annual “State of the Church.” We see Bethel’s 95th year as a congregation was a year of milestones, of transitions, of deep community struggle, and yet of signposts of God’s sovereign faithfulness.

  • In church membership, we mourned together 2 deaths, even as we rejoiced together for 17 births. We also witnessed 9 transfers out, 12 transfers in, 9 marriages and 10 professions of faith.
  • In facilities, we tore down the old Lighthouse built in the 1890’s, replacing it with a 10,600 square foot, $648,069 new facility which we dedicated
  • on Oct. 8. In addition to providing new parking spaces and a bus garage, the new facility is designed for discipleship and hospitality and we have been making heavy use of it since the opening.
  • In giving, God blessed us with continued generosity, with our overall donations for the year totaling a record $1,757,597 including an over $58,430 Thanksgiving Day offering. In the spring we engaged in a seven-week sermon series on stewardship, ending with an innovative reverse offering that has produced lots of quiet stories of God’s work through our members.
  • In support of Christian Education, we covered 39 silage piles this fall, netting nearly $120,000.
  • In preaching, God continues to gather us around His transforming Word – including a 2017 series on Nourishing New Year (Christian Living) in the winter, Marking Lent (NT Gospel of Mark) for Lent, “Stewarding Spring” (OT and NT theological) in the spring, a series on Colossians (NT Epistle) in the summer, Sneaky Grace (OT narrative) in the fall, and Father Christmas (NT and OT survey) for Advent. In the PM we continued to work our way through The Heidelberg Catechism.
  • In worship, we sent a first-ever delegation of six people to attend the 30th Annual Worship Symposium at Calvin College January 26-29, joining with 1600 people from 40 nations to learn about worship. On June 11 we celebrated our 50th Anniversary of worship in our current sanctuary and in August celebrated
  • our first adult baptism by immersion. We also joined with area churches for a 500th Anniversary of the Reformation service October 29.
  • In church leadership, we held our first-ever all- council retreat on February 13 where we engaged in strategic visioning and continue to live into our current strategic plan. Lastly, we also secured a competitive Lilly Foundation Sabbatical Grant for the summer of 2018, including almost $11,000 for Bethel’s expenses.
  • In staffing, this has been a year of transitio as we said goodbye to our Youth Director, Emily Entsminger in August and transitioned from Dani Postma to Jennifer Frens as Worship Coordinator in September. In the fall we hired Amy Westra as interim Youth Director and began an ongoing nation-wide search process for a full-time replacement. We have also walked with Kim, our Administrative Assistant, through a very difficult season as she and we have sought God’s leading in the midst of the abuse uncovered at Sioux Center Christian School. Amidst these changes, we also celebrated stability, marking Duane Tinklenberg’s 50th year of ordained ministry.
  • In discipleship, we began the year challenging one another to live our vision of being a “Biblically vibrant community of the cross, praying and working for the renewal of all things in Christ Jesus” – by distributing annual Bible reading plans and engaging a seven- week winter sermon series on our core values. We also participated all year in the CRCNA’s 2017 Faith Formation Cohort group of 18 congregations from across the US and Canada. Our congregation focused on 1) enlivening our celebration of profession of faith, 2) growing a culture of story-telling, and 3) developing a pilot marriage mentorship program. We have also instituted a monthly Faith Formation time into our Sunday school curriculum.
  • In global outreach, we met our expanded missions’ budget and gave $133,267 to global missions outside of budget! Locally, our summer VBS continues to draw community children and our PIECE (ESL) program continues to mature. We also provided community leadership in responding to the legal needs of our immigrant neighbors, including voting to provide diaconal hospitality to any Bethel or Amistad member needing a safe space from which to continue a legal immigration case. At least four other Sioux Center churches have also declared themselves to be either open to providing such diaconal hospitality or serve as a supporting church.

Reviewing the above, we can continue to give thanks to God for another year of His work among us. Strategically, we have continued to implement new initiatives in line with our strategic themes. As clear
from above, the focus of 2017 was “faith formation” – centered on the construction and dedication of a new discipleship facility and participation in the bi-national cohort. A secondary focus was “leadership development” – including sending the delegation to the Worship Symposium, providing a pastoral care 101 class to Care and Concern Group leaders, holding an inaugural council retreat, and funding four members for the Willow Creek Leadership Summit simulcast in August.

The other takeaway from the above is that it was a year of unusual peaks and valleys. Together we celebrated 50 years in our sanctuary and 500 years since the Protestant Reformation – while also together struggling through the painful abuse that came to light in a local Christian school. We have rejoiced together; we have wept together.

Through it all, God is near. As we look ahead to 2018, may we together rest in that living reality.

In Christ, Pastor John

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3/1/18 - By John Lee