At eight o’clock this Sunday morning, where the pavement turns to dirt road on the eastern edge of Martin, MI, a group of people will gather at East Martin CRC to pray and to talk about how God has been working. If this sounds ordinary, perhaps that’s because the Holy Spirit still chooses to come in the whisper instead of in the whirlwind.
When Rev. Derek Noorman graduated from seminary in 2014, his path had already taken some unexpected turns. Seminary had never been in the plan, but in his mid-thirties, after a career in construction, that’s where he found himself. Upon graduating, Noorman cast the net wide and trusted God to make the right calling clear. He didn’t expect to pastor a rural church, though, so when someone mentioned to his wife that he should apply at East Martin CRC, he mainly looked them up out of a sense of obligation. In a round-about way, Noorman ended up talking to the search committee and preaching for East Martin as pulpit supply. Within a few weeks, both Noorman and the church knew this was where God was calling him.
Noorman quickly noticed that the congregation was “really good at Sunday” but tended to leave quickly after each service without much fellowship. He also found that as a new pastor, he wasn’t hearing many prayer requests. What he came to realize was that due to the rural setting, the congregation was spread across a 25-30 mile radius. This presented both a challenge and an opportunity for building community. As Noorman puts it, that is a lot of area where God is working in people’s lives outside of Sunday. So he told the congregation, “God is moving all the time. You come and tell me what the Spirit is doing.”
As people started telling Noorman more prayer requests, he started a list. An elder caught wind of this and asked if the list could be shared, so he put a printed copy in each church mailbox. One congregant gave Noorman a huge bear-hug after seeing the list and told him that he’d been waiting for this prayer list for three years so that he could pray for people during the week.
East Martin CRC still continues their traditional 10 minutes of congregational prayer during the Sunday service, and the church now also has an open prayer time before the service. Anyone can come, bring prayer requests, and talk. Sometimes, if most of the time is taken by prayer requests, Noorman reminds the congregation: “There is such a thing as praying with your eyes open. You are doing it now as you offer these requests, as you talk about life and how God is intersecting with your life.”
The cool thing, says Noorman, has been seeing the exchanges. When people hear others’ prayer requests, they catch the Holy Spirit’s breath and find ways to walk with each other. They ask questions: “Do you need a meal brought?” “Do you need a ride to the doctor?”or “Do you need someone to sit with you?” The surrounding community has also begun to notice: one woman asked a member of the congregation if she went to “the praying church—you know, the church that has a list.”
A simple sheet of paper has opened up a sense of vulnerability that is unscripted and open to the Spirit’s leading, and through this, the church has become more of a family. As Noorman says, “If you come as a stranger, you won’t stay a stranger very long. Our people will want to know how they can pray for you.”