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KOEDYKER: Church buildings may be beautiful, but it’s the people who make the difference

• Aug 8, 2018 at 4:00 PM

I was visiting a parishioner the other day at one of our local assisted living centers. As I walked down the hall, I noticed that there were pictures on the wall from years ago — Grand Haven of long ago.

I found them interesting, especially in that I could easily tell where the pictures had been taken. Washington Street and many of the buildings that are still there today are readily recognizable. Dewey Hill was there in the background, still keeping watch over the Grand River and the city itself.

Then, as I found myself outside the room of the church member I came to visit, I saw a framed photo from long ago of First Reformed Church, with its clock tower and all. It felt good to know that the church was right outside my friend’s room. His church!

For those of us who are Christians, our church means a great deal to us. It’s our home, our family. It is where we learned Bible verses and stories about Abraham, David and Peter, James and John. It is where we learned songs and hymns that we still remember the words to. It is where we made some of our best friends, some who are still our best friends. And also, it’s where we learned that Jesus is a friend who will never forsake us.

In my life of six decades-plus, I have probably had more church homes than most people. I have had approximately 10 churches in my life that have significantly influenced my life. Each one has contributed to my spiritual growth and well-being. I am truly grateful for each one.

The old photo on the wall of the assisted living center here in Grand Haven made me think of the old church where I was first taken by my parents. It was a structure not all that different in architecture from First Church in Grand Haven. In fact, it too, was a “First Reformed Church” — First Reformed Church of Roseland, Chicago, Illinois.

And recently, I had the opportunity to drive through the old neighborhood and see the church. It’s still there. Built in 1894, it is now called Lillydale Progressive Baptist Church. Although the Dutch immigrants are long gone, the place they built for worship is still ministering in that community. I am grateful for that. The people change, but the work of the church continues.

Church buildings are certainly important. It’s where the church’s worship and ministry takes place. But as I reflect on the importance of the church on my life, it’s the people of the church that have had the most impact on my life. At each of the churches that I have attended or pastored, I can recall certain ones who have meant a lot to me. They have prayed for me, counseled me, encouraged me, taught me and been there for me. Yes, it’s the people!

Church architecture and their aesthetic nature may be striking and perhaps even inspiring, but it is people who have really made the difference. I would not be the same today without them.

I’m reminded of something my uncle taught me when I was young. He taught me to intertwine the fingers of my two hands together so that they formed a church. Then he taught me to say these words: “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple. Open the doors and look at the people.” At the words, “Open the doors and look at the people,” he taught me to open my hands so that my fingers were exposed, representing the people. “It’s the people who are really the church,” he said.

God never intended that you or I be alone. The term “solitary believer” is really a contradiction in terms. Instead, the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting with one another, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” (Hebrews 19:24-25)

The other important thing I have learned about the church is that when believers gather together, the Lord himself also shows up! “For where two or three gather in my name,” Jesus says, “there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) And to experience the presence of the Lord is to know the greatest person of all — one who loves us and cares for us more than any human being.

I sincerely hope that you have a loving and caring church home. It’s tough going through life all by yourself. There are some wonderful churches here in our community. Why not check one out next Sunday?

— The Rev. John Koedyker is the pastor of congregational care at First Reformed Church of Grand Haven.

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