Laura DeJong, a native of St. Catharines, Ontario, became the church’s 17th pastor on Sept. 1.
“Second Church called Laura because she was judged to be the best fit for the church among all the candidates considered,” according to former interim pastor and search committee member Duane Kelderman. “Her ministry to this point has strongly confirmed that judgment. I'm very confident that she and the church will flourish in ministry together.”
The 26-year-old graduate of Calvin College said it was during her last semester at Calvin Seminary that Kelderman approached her with the idea of becoming the Lakeshore church’s next pastor. DeJong said she worked with Kelderman regularly at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.
Church Council Vice President Ken Terpstra said DeJong’s level of spiritual maturity made her stand out among the other candidates.
“Even with limited life experiences, she has the ability to take that scripture passage and make it applicable to daily life,” Terpstra said. “She is very naturally herself. You can trust her to be who she is.”
Terpstra said that DeJong conducted her first funeral last week and has also made visits to older members of the congregation at nursing homes. In those situations, her compassion and ability to get along with people of all ages was evident, he said.
“From the pulpit, she has a refreshing voice. People respond to her leadership,” Terpstra said. “There is just a real sense of joy in the congregation. You can tell in their voices when they are singing.”
Although women have only been accepted as leaders in the Reformed Church for the past 20 years, the majority of the Grand Haven congregation has been accepting of their new pastor.
DeJong said that a few people left when she took over, and that makes her sad. But Terpstra said many more people have started attending to the church thanks to the new, younger leadership.
DeJong wasn’t even on the search committee’s radar when former Pastor Mike Koetje left to go to another church almost three years ago. Koetje had been Second CRC’s pastor for 10 years. DeJong still had two years left in seminary.
But the search committee’s first choice declined the invitation. After a series of interviews, two more candidates backed out before receiving a call. That’s when DeJong was brought to the church’s attention.
The church had just completed a Renewal Lab — a process that takes up to three years, DeJong said. They were looking at ways to be more invested in the community and more inviting, she said. DeJong was brought on to help keep that momentum going.
Terpstra said the search committee had three priorities when selecting a new pastor: preaching ability, missional outreach and pastoral care. Despite her youth, DeJong fit the requirements, he said.
DeJong said that she appreciates the opportunity to stay in the area and her parents are supportive.
“I’ve been this far (6.5 hours) away from home for eight years, so nothing changes,” she said. “I was open to staying in the states, but subconsciously thought I always would go back to Canada.”
But in Canada, she might have been a lot farther away from home.
DeJong can’t remember a time when the church was not an important part of her life.
“I grew up in the Christian Reformed Church,” she said. Her mother was the administrative assistant at their church for many years.
DeJong said she would go to the church and hang around with her mom after preschool. She was a member of GEMS (the girls club) and the youth group, and started singing with the Praise team at age 13.
DeJong said Second CRC really values its worship and people love what the liturgy has looked like historically.
“I want to hold onto what they love, while making it more accessible and inviting,” she said.
The church doors are open most of the week, so people from the community can see the art gallery and use the gym. DeJong said she wants to keep fostering the open door policy and to make the church more of a community place.
“I would love for us to be a part of the community,” DeJong said. “I don’t want us to have a savior complex. I want us to engage in the community simply as a neighbor with no strings attached.”
DeJong said it is her goal to help make the church a place where you can go any day.
“This isn’t just a place you go on Sunday and leave,” she said.