Passing the oar

Becky Vargo • Jan 24, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Bruce Ballast said the love of his congregation kept him warm after his slightly unexpected move from California to Michigan.

“This church is such a unique place,” said Ballast, 65, who will retire after preaching his last service this coming Sunday, Jan. 28, at Covenant Life Church in downtown Grand Haven. “I am so thankful for the day I found it and they found me.”

Ballast grew up in the Grandville area, attended Calvin College and then left for a warmer climate after graduating from Calvin Seminary in 1978.

“I swore I’d never live in Michigan again,” he said while contemplating the past 11 years in Grand Haven.

Ballast said he prayed for guidance when it was time to find a church.

“I wanted to go south. I got Plainwell,” he said.

That was Calvary Christian Reformed Church, but at least that was 35 miles in the right direction. He served there until 1983, and then received a call to CrossPoint Church in Chino, California — where he and his wife, Patrice, raised a son and two daughters.

After 23 years in Chino, Ballast said it was time to move on. His future opportunities included one church in California, one in Indiana, “and this one (Covenant Life) — I had never heard of it.”

Ballast said that at some point in Covenant Life’s search process, he received a wooden box with the church logo on it. Inside the box was information about the Grand Haven area, some chocolate-covered blueberries and DVDs with information about the church.

“That came as a great surprise back here because they said they never sent me a box,” Ballast said. “But that began a bunch of contacts between us, that they admitted. It was God’s will.”

Ballast joined Covenant Life Church as its lead pastor in 2006.

“This has been a delightful experience,” he said. “This church has such a heart for God, for Jesus (and) a heart for this community.”

The giving at Covenant Life is much more than he has experienced at other churches, Ballast said.

“We have concrete floors and plastic chairs,” he noted. “Here, it’s more — who can we help and how can we help?”

One example of the giving, according to Ballast, was when a family took a significant step to help out the missions program, though it strained their finances. Someone walked into his office one day and gave him a check to help out the family.

“A few years ago, we needed more children’s ministry space,” he said. So the church built the space for $1.7 million, paying off the loan at the end of 2017. A loan-burning ceremony took place last Sunday at the church.

The church has a “bunk bed” ministry. The church has a full-service workshop on the third floor where volunteers build the beds from scratch.

“If you don’t have a proper bed, your child can be removed from your home,” Ballast said. 

Passing the oar

Bob DeVries, who joined Covenant Life Church as co-pastor about six months after Ballast started, said he will miss Ballast.

“He’s a gifted leader with a pastor’s heart,” DeVries said. “His focus is always on others and sharing the love of Jesus with them. Bruce is a guy that’s really been captured by God’s grace. He knows the life of forgiveness. He has been faithful to his call throughout.”

DeVries noted that he and Ballast have been rowing the boat for a long time. On Sunday, Ballast will give an oar to DeVries, who will serve as pastor to the congregation until another co-pastor is found. 

The future

Ballast said he plans to stay in the area while his wife continues her career as an adjunct nursing professor at Muskegon Community College.

He plans to take a break for a couple of months, using some of that time to pray to see where God will lead him next.

Ballast said he would teach online through the Christian Leaders Institute of Spring Lake. He is also training to be a transitional minister. He might even start writing down some of the stories he has been telling his grandchildren over the years.

Ballast reminisced about how he wanted to be a musician as a young man, but he felt a call to the ministry while in high school. At least he could still be on stage, he said.

In his 39 years in the ministry, “it’s been God on stage and I’ve had a first-row seat,” Ballast said.

Ministry highlights

Pastor Bruce Ballast noted some highlights while ministering at Covenant Life Church:

— To see peoples' lives changed. It has been a joy to see people grow as individuals and in their faith. It is a special thing to see how Jesus Christ can bring life-change. I've had the privilege of knowing many who have recovered as drug or alcohol-addicted people, who have been homeless and hopeless, who have redirected their lives, and many who were centered on self who became servants of others.

— To see people make an impact. One man in this congregation was an exceptionally quiet person and, as a result, I didn't know him well. At his funeral, there were dozens of people who stood to tell about the impact he had on them. He was the sponsor with AA for all of them.

— To work with volunteers here. I am always amazed at the people who step up to fill our needs. In all of our building projects (there have been three of them since I've been here), we have saved many thousands of dollars by doing all of our own painting and much of our own building of walls.

— To see the generosity of people. I will remember well the people who came into my office when they heard there was a financial need in the life of the church or in the life of a family in the church, and they wanted to meet the need. Last year, I asked publicly for people to donate to cover the cost of a food truck that we were supplying in this community. I had a lineup of people ready to give significant dollars.

— To experience grace. This congregation knows what it means to be a place of grace. People are not judged when they come to us. Instead, others gather around them to walk with them, wherever they have come from and whatever they have done.

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