Len’s observations from poking around the CRC

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California Dreaming

All Nations Church, Los Angeles

On a visit in late October, I found California to be an interesting laboratory for the multi-cultural future of the CRC.

It’s hard not to be impressed, pulling up to the 17-acre property of the All Nations Church in the northern foothills of the Los Angeles basin, three-time host to the CRC Prayer Summit. A huge parking lot leads to an imposing California-style sanctuary that must seat at least a thousand. Beyond that lie covered courtyards where each Sunday the church serves lunch to some 1,500 people who are charged $1. Then there’s the large full-court gym and a number of low buildings containing classrooms and offices.

I met with Tae Kim, the young copastor of this over 2,000-member congregation. Rev. Kim comes across as a savvy, energetic, and deeply committed pastor whose Southern California English is spot on.

A few years ago, founding pastor Jin So Yoo envisioned a pastoral structure quite unprecedented among Korean churches—a copastorate. He especially wanted someone who could relate to both English and Korean speakers. Korean churches tend to be structured in line with their cultural heritage, which emphasizes hierarchy, with a strong senior pastor. While the change is coming gradually in the consciousness of  the congregation, Pastor Yoo remains committed to the vision.

Pastor Kim leads an English-speaking service of 150 to 200, comprised mostly of young adults, while Pastor Yoo leads the Korean-speaking services in the large main church. Pastor Kim also preaches there in Korean once a month. 

When I asked about the issues in his church, Tae Kim echoed the concerns that occupy many Korean churches. He said that if there is a 50 percent fall-off of youth in typical North American churches, it’s more like 80 percent among Koreans. Kim believes this is largely because so many parents feel uncomfortable speaking English, while their children are thoroughly Americanized. Within this cultural gap, young Koreans often feel that the largely Korean-speaking churches don’t speak their language—both literally and figuratively.

Another concern for Rev. Kim is the tendency of Korean Christians to emphasize the discipline and commitment of Christianity while sometimes losing sight of the gospel of grace itself. He mentioned the word gospel over and over as the center of his ministry and his aspiration for the church.

Nevertheless, the sheer size of the congregation, along with the visionary and energetic leadership of its pastors, bodes well for the future of this congregation. All Nations Church is also a leader in drawing the Korean CRC community more fully into the orbit of the CRC. By hosting the Prayer Summit and the pastors’ strong involvement with Classis Greater Los Angeles, this congregation may hopefully be a bellwether for the deeper involvement of Korean CRC churches in the denomination.

Bethany CRC, Sun Valley

Driving the 15 minutes directly from All Nations to Bethany CRC in Sun Valley, the difference was striking. Bethany somehow looks like a CRC (not sure I can explain it), but it is relatively small, tucked away in a middle class neighborhood. Just driving there, I already knew that this was a multi-ethnic community and was sure that this must be a significant part of the congregation’s story.

Bethany goes back to the 1930s, when mainly Dutch CRC folks moved up from Bellflower dairy country to farm and ranch in what was then quite a rural setting. The congregation thrived into the 1970s, especially with the leadership of Pastor Bill Bierling. Then, as the community grew and changed, many of the original folks moved away, and the congregation began to shrink. By the turn of the century, it realized it needed a new vision.

Church Administrator Katie Venhuizen was there at the time and was also taking courses in multicultural ministry from Fuller Seminary. After a visioning process supported by then-Home Missions coordinator Peter Holwerda, there were seven alternatives on the table: from disbanding to staying the same to becoming a multicultural congregation that mirrors the community. They decided the latter, almost unanimously.

A second visioning process in 2008 was funded by a Healthy Church Initiative Grant from the CRC. The church hired a noted multicultural church expert to help them work out a more effective strategy. A number of what Katy calls “God things” happened along the way, such as gifted and committed international people showing up and the important ministry of Pilipino Associate Pastor Julius Umawing. 

Just two years ago, Bethany called Micah Bruxvoort, a young Calvin Seminary graduate who had spent significant time in Mexico and Cameroon, as their pastor. Micah is trilingual in English, Spanish, and Swahili, which fit the community, with significant numbers of Hispanics and African immigrants, perfectly.

While there are some financial struggles, with about 120 attending Sunday worship services, Bethany is well on its way toward fulfilling its vision, with Anglo-Americans as a happy minority in this colorful congregation.

It’s gratifying to see how the CRC helped this congregation along at crucial moments in its life with financial support and consultation, as well providing programmatic support through such ministries as Gems and Cadets. As a result, the congregation is solidly Reformed in its worship and teaching, and its leadership is deeply connected to the classis and denomination.

 

About the Author

Len Vander Zee is a retired CRC pastor now serving as interim minister of preaching at Church of the Servant CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.