It was a sunny April afternoon four years ago that I received an email from Steve Argue with “youth ministry opportunity” in the subject line. At that point I was finishing my senior year at Spring Arbor University, and I had the written goal of serving in a historic urban or suburban church that was effectively rooted in its community. God was faithful in granting the desire in my heart; as I read the email I could not restrain my excitement, even though I had little assurance that anything real would come from this succinct email. However, events were lining up. Already I had been considering seminary here in Grand Rapids, and now I was presented with what was, at the time, at least a strong possibility. After an interview with Father Holmgren and Tina at Rose’s on Reeds Lake, it seemed even more possible. There was a genuine need for someone with experience working with young people, and I deeply desired to offer my gifts to a community seeking to follow the way of Jesus. Plus, I was interviewing alongside a good friend.
Before I knew it, I was headed to HoneyRock Camp in northern Wisconsin in a big van, seated next to Father Holmgren, wondering what the adventure would be like. Needless to say, that first trip was enjoyable. Exploring God’s creation on a kayak alongside fellow journeyers is a recipe for joy. Indeed, this trip was relational treasure. But the journey at Grace has been beyond my capacity to describe.
As one reflects on a four-year season in life, there is an abundance of material from which to pull. Though it’s tough to know where to begin, there are some unarguably hilarious moments – like every single one of Matt Olgren’s announcements – but powerful moments too. I remember my first Harvest Dinner Basket Auction in 2009. Dale Grogan won the [expensive!] bid on Steve Sweetland’s Michigan beer basket – and gave it to John and me. What a warm welcome to the community – it communicated, at once, both trust and generosity. I also remember leading trips to Mel Trotter with our students. We sorted clothing, serving in their massive warehouse. Sheila, one of the workers there, told her story of transformation. Through the power of God manifest in the support of her companions at Mel Trotter, she had forsaken a life of prostitution and brokenness. I remember when Jack Lennon taught us all a new word in Discipleship Formation: “retrograde.” It describes planetary movement, but also related directly to our lesson from the Gospel of Luke. I just can’t remember how right now. This spectrum of hilarious to heart-wrenching is emblematic of the dynamic that I have witnessed at Grace over these years.
My work at Grace has been most closely tied, of course, to ministry with a younger demographic. Gatherings with students have taken various forms: Sunday evening worship and teaching, morning formation, Saturday projects, Thursday evening hangouts at Schulers. Throughout, students have offered their insight, patience, honesty, presence, and trust. It is not easy, much of the time, to know exactly how to communicate the reality of God into the lives of young people. But they have listened, questioned, considered, and embodied so much of the Gospel of Jesus. I remember the time in the stairwell when Colin Grogan told me he was convinced God existed and that he had assurance God was working within his life. I remember sitting at a coffee shop, listening to Emily Batdorf consider the confluence of faith and science and pondering how God has arranged our universe. I know in my heart and from their testimony that many of our students are journeying faithfully with God. I remember quiet conversations, outlandish controversies, and plenty of squirminess during our two-week series on sexuality in early 2012. It has been a quite a time.
Working with the staff at Grace has also been life changing. Tina’s honesty and consistency has helped me grow. Her challenges have worked alongside encouraging feedback. Thanks to her, I understand what a calendar is. Just kidding. Seriously though, she is a blessing to me and to all of us. Father Holmgren has been supportive and gracious at every turn. He has carefully coached me in leadership, communication, pastoral care, and thoroughly enriched my comprehension of church history. Through his example, my insight has been expanded, and my spirituality has been deeply formed. And it is the kind of formation that will remain with me, even though I am sensing that God is gently drawing me out of the Episcopal tradition. God has worked greatly through this pioneer in faith, and I will be forever changed – and forever grateful. John Hamersma and Mary Baas have been such faithful servants, also. I remember making my way to the back of our crowded nave in April of 2013 for the oratorio they coordinated with Grace’s choir and Calvin’s Alumni choir. As we welcomed in brothers and sisters from the Reformed tradition, it reinforced how God had been present in our uniquely Anglican hymnody. Tears ran down my face as I attempted to join in singing “I am the Bread of Life” and “Lift High the Cross.” These songs, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the stewardship of faithful musicians, have soaked into my soul over these four years. I am indelibly changed.
During my time at Grace, our community has been warmly blessed as we have welcomed many new families and individuals. Many of these have been younger families and students. I had the privilege of serving God alongside Kyle Bos for an extended season that came to a necessary end when he left for seminary in 2012. I remember the Easter Vigil – Kyle does too. He was sick for a week after he stayed up all night. But we served, we sang, and we grew spiritually in the relational greenhouse of our church community. Kyle pioneered hospitality afternoons that have continued in his absence. God has been present as we have come together in homes after Sunday worship. Indeed, we have a blessed spiritual family.
Indeed, there is a host of memories. It is not possible to contain them in a letter, however long. And, as always, the Grace community is left the important question of what is to come in the future. According to Revelation 21 and 22, the Scripture I had the privilege of expounding on May 5th, we have an even more exciting hope ahead. What we have to anticipate – eternity with God in a transformed world – this hope shapes our participation in the present. We must continue to foster an attentiveness to how God is leading us to love others and show compassion. We must continue offering hope to the poor and broken. We must continue to advocate for freedom from addiction, confronting the powers that be. My prayers are with each of you as the seasons come and go. And because of the hope that lies ahead, may we continue to love and serve both God and people with faithfulness and singleness of heart, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
One thought on “An Open Letter to Grace Episcopal Church”
This is beautiful, Ben. It’s so encouraging to see be reminded how ministry is a mutual endeavor. You have both shaped and been shaped by the Grace community. Grace and peace to you as you walk towards what is next!