President’s Blog 3 – Turning This World Upside Down and Inside Out – Part 1
November 14, 2018
President’s Blog 3
Turning This World Upside Down and Inside Out – Part 1
A few days ago, I visited Second Reformed Church in New Brunswick to participate in the church’s 175th anniversary celebration, and the program’s guest speaker was the Reverend Dr. Norman Kansfield, who is a former president of New Brunswick Theological Seminary. In addition to mentioning that he and his wife, Mary, still belong to Second Church, Dr. Kansfield shared that he also had preached during the church’s 150th anniversary celebration 25 years ago.
For this anniversary, Dr. Kansfield preached the history of Second Church using Haggai 2:1-9, and posed the question “Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now?” Dr. Kansfield shared that after asking the question of God’s people, the prophet Haggai stepped in and reassured them that they should not despair, because God was going to make sure that their latter splendor would be greater than the former. Dr. Kansfield then affirmed the members of Second Church as they prepared not only to celebrate their history, but also to “step into their greater” – a name change for the church and an expanded ministry.
At the close of the service, Second Reformed Church announced its new name, which was followed by a litany and rededication in the new name: College Avenue Community Church (A congregation of the Reformed Church in America). The current pastor, the Rev. Dr. Douglas Shepler, proudly proclaimed that College Avenue Community Church has five different congregations of three different faiths and three different cultures routinely worshipping in or holding prayer meetings in the complex. He voiced the church’s goal to recreate itself as an interfaith/intercultural worship center.
As I listened to Dr. Kansfield preach and Pastor Shepler share the vision for the future, I reflected on how what both men were describing and championing is a form of organizational radical love – the kind that is required to shift from a previous “structure” to a new reconfigured or rebuilt structure, even if that structure is bigger than and more than the building itself.
Since, arriving in New Brunswick in July 2017, I have seen the reconfiguration of another historic church in the area – First Reformed Church of New Brunswick, which has altered the church’s sanctuary. When the church was built in 1812, it was meant to hold a congregation of more than 1,000, and was eventually used by Rutgers University (then Queens College) for the academic institution’s Convocation. The First Reformed Church is even listed as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. However, its congregation is much smaller in membership today, and like College Avenue Community Church, has had to contend with an older, increasingly costly building.
With assistance from the Town Clock Community Development Corporation, the four-story church edifice was renovated to house a smaller sanctuary for worship services, with the rest of the space being converted to apartments and multipurpose community space. The apartments, known as Dina’s Dwellings, are units that feature two-bedroom and one-bedroom living options and seven studio/efficiency apartments. The ministry of Dina’s Dwellings now allows the congregation, of which I am a member, to use much of the space that had been an edifice to help a population in dire need of assistance.
It seems to me that this type of radical church reconfiguration, which may grow out of financial necessity, is much more than what appears on the surface. The courage to transform a space, a name and a mission to meet society’s current needs, speaks to the very heart of Jesus’ ministry: a radical love that led the way to a culturally transformative future.
As College Avenue Community Church (formerly Second Reformed Church) embarks on the next leg of its life and legacy, may the members keep Haggai’s message top of mind and continue to lean into and lead with radical love.
Micah L. McCreary,
President, New Brunswick Theological Seminary