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Connecting with community

Becky Vargo • Feb 13, 2018 at 10:00 AM

SPRING LAKE — Mike Westerveld believes his medical training helped point him in the direction he needed to prepare for his new role as pastor of Spring Lake Christian Reformed Church.

Westerveld started work at the Spring Lake church on Oct. 30, 2017, and was ordained and installed as minister the following month.

“I have a passion for pastoral care,” said the 29-year-old, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park, Illinois.

Westerveld said his emergency medical technician training and consequent work as a chaplain at Metro Hospital in Grand Rapids has proven to be a good background for the compassionate position in which he now finds himself.

The son of Herman and Jackie Westerveld was raised in the Christian Reformed faith, but he’s the first one in his family to enter the ministry, he said. He first felt the call to ministry toward the end of his junior year in high school, he said, and “that was scary.”

His love for science and religion took him to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, where he graduated in 2010 with a degree in religion and a minor in English. He also met his wife, Janelle, at Calvin; they married in 2010.

Westerveld said he completed a year of seminary before deciding to take a break and see what direction his faith would lead him. During that break, he trained to become an EMT, worked at the Grand Rapids hospital and was eventually led to be chaplain there. 

“When I became chaplain, I found a love for pastoral care,” he said. “I felt focused and ready to go back to seminary.”

Westerveld graduated in May with a Master’s in Divinity. His concentration was on pastoral care and leadership.

Westerveld said he developed a connection with the Spring Lake church during his internship at Caledonia Christian Reformed Church. The president of the church council in Caledonia, Larry Plaiser, is the brother of the president of the Spring Lake church’s council, Jim Plaiser.

“Larry gave Jim my name,” Westerveld said.

The young man was invited to preach at the Spring Lake church, and then was interviewed by its pastor search committee. 

Westerveld preached at Spring Lake CRC a second time, and then had a meet-and-greet with the church’s members before the congregation voted and extended the letter of call to him. Westerveld said he and his wife took a week to reflect on the invitation, but they both felt the call to Spring Lake.

“This church reminds me of the church I grew up in,” he said. “You feel like a family. Everyone belongs.”

Westerveld said he was drawn to the church for its primary focus of neighborhood and community.

The young minister’s short-term goal is to focus on the church’s youth classes and groups. They are looking to promote more events to engage youth in the community, he said.

Along with Sunday church service at 9:30 a.m. and Bible studies in the evening, the church will continue its bi-monthly household goods distributions and its Wednesday night Connect, Westerveld said. 

The non-food distribution starts with a meal at 4:30 p.m. and distribution at 5 p.m. Westerveld said there were about 70 people from all walks of life at the last event. Many of them are working but underemployed, he said. 

Westerveld visited each table to get people’s stories.

“Some of them, a bad situation came up that they couldn’t do anything about and there they are,” he said.

Westerveld is also excited about the Wednesday night Connect. Dinner, which is open to anyone, is served at 6 p.m. Anyone who wishes to stay can join the classes or youth groups.

The minister said they also hope to host a sports camp in the summer.

“It’s just our way of getting to know the community better,” he said. “We’re certainly about church on Sunday, but we don’t end on Sunday. Community is the biggest goal.”

Westerveld replaces the Rev. Drew Sweetman, who took a call to First Christian Reformed Church in Fremont.

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