"How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God." Psalm 84:1
The congregation of First Christian Reformed Church in Fulton, Illinois had become too large for its building. About 35 mostly young families expressed a desire to form a new congregation. When we accepted the call of Bethel CRC in Fulton in 1965, the congregation was meeting in a double room of the Fulton Christian School.
They had a building committee and in every meeting of the Council there was talk of the progress of the building committee. When the time to build came close, there were meetings that lasted until midnight. Major decisions had to be made, especially whether to have a basement for classrooms or not. Some members wanted a lower level for classroom space, others wished to build barrier-free.
When that huge decision had to be made, I remarked that this decision was too big for any of us. It is to be God's house. Let's ask him what he wants. So, many of us got on our knees and pleaded with our heavenly Father to let us know what he wanted for his house. When we got up from our knees, the vote was taken to build barrier-free. Through that whole process, I do not know of any anger on the part of people whose ideas were not adopted.
When Rev. Hank Van Wyke was serving Fourth CRC in Roseland, IL, some wanted to change the text that was written above the pulpit. Others did not. He said, "We had so much disagreement about that, I don't know how any church can survive a building project." But God blessed the wonderful, "salt of the earth" people in Bethel Church with harmony and joy through the whole process as they knew they were doing God's will. The work was finished in 1967.
Some people still remember the transition service. We began the service in the Christian School through the reading of the Ten Commandments and the assurance of pardon. Then we left the school and walked in procession several blocks to the new church. As pastor, I carried the pulpit Bible, the elders carried the communion ware, the deacons carried the offering plates, and the congregation carried the pew Bibles and the Psalter Hymnals. It was sheer joy! It was unforgettable!
When we arrived at the beautiful building, we concluded the service. The text for the message was Psalm 84. In it we observed the wonder of our new surroundings, its location on top of the hill, its windows, and its steeple pointing upward to God, topped by the cross with its continual reminder of Jesus, his suffering and death at the center of time and in the center of our hearts.
But we observed that a deeper beauty than the building was the hearts of the many people who had invested many hours of planning and working, all to express their love for Jesus and his church. Here, longing hearts would come and hear words of comfort. Here, sinners would come to confess their sins and receive forgiveness. Here, all would be exposed to the beauty of God himself: his grace, mercy, truth, and holiness, all revealed in our blessed Jesus.
Our hearts exclaimed,
How blessed is this place
Where our Redeemer God
Unveils the beauty of his face
And sheds his love abroad.
None of the fair palaces
To which the great resort
Are once to be compared with this,
Where Jesus hold his court.
(Source of poem unknown)