In the CRC we commonly distinguish between “established congregations” and “church plants.” Stereotypically, the former have many worshipers from Dutch backgrounds and the latter are more community-oriented.
So what happens when a long-established church is reborn as a church plant?
That’s exactly the process that Mount Hope CRC (formerly Mount Hamilton CRC) is going through now. Once the largest congregation in the greater Hamilton area, a variety of factors led to a significant decline in membership. The church was faced with a difficult matter to discern: Do we close, or do we seek rebirth?
After years of prayer, reflection and conversation, the congregation sensed the Lord sending them six miles south to the community of Mount Hope, where a United Church building was for sale. They purchased and renovated the building, sold their old building, the church was renamed, and a church plant was (re)born!
And the long-term challenging work of rebirth is just beginning. Rev. Roelof Peereboom recently arrived, convicted that he is called to help lead this huge transition.
The outreach team has invited the congregation to participate in a “Heart Songs” project as part of this transition. Eager to grow into a fresh openness in coming to know their new community in Mount Hope, the team decided to feature a kind of song testimony each week. One worshiper would write a brief testimony reflecting on the role a particular worship song has played in his/her life, and that song would be sung during that week’s worship.
For example, outreach team member Marlene Knevel reflected on the song “Trust and Obey:”
My Heart Song is “Trust and Obey.” This song has always had special meaning to me and my extended family. Just before my older sister Debbie died, she was learning this song in school and she really liked it. It was sung at her funeral. When my other sister, Wendy, became sick and also passed away, we sang it at hers.
But it hasn’t always been a song that has signified passing away; it also signifies rebirth. As each child has been born into our family, we have sung this song at baptisms as well.
This song tells me that no matter what is happening in life, whether it be sad or happy, throughout our journey we know that when we walk with God, we are NEVER alone, and He is always there for us.
The outreach team, chaired by Tara Vreugdenhil, recognizes that congregational rebirth is a gradual, long-term process, and she and her team are up for this persevering challenge. That’s why I find their project so rich. Imagine three years from now: as the project continues, more than 100 heart songs will have been shared. Worshipers will see the heart of Jesus beating in one another through fresh eyes. And—so we pray—Mt. Hope’s new neighborhood will also come to see the heart of Jesus alive in this worshiping community and join them on this journey.