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Bringing Leaders and Congregations Together

May 22, 2024
Members of three Kalamazoo, Mich., congregations were part of a joint choir for Ascension Day.
Members of three Kalamazoo, Mich., congregations were part of a joint choir for Ascension Day.

On Ascension Day (Thurs., May 9), three congregations in Kalamazoo, Mich., joined together for an evening worship service. This special joint service was planned by worship director Seth Koerner (Grace CRC), worship pastor Rev. Audrey Edewaard (Third CRC), and worship director Kristina Jipping (Westwood CRC) and was the result of the relationship they had formed over a shared commitment to worship.

The three began meeting quarterly several years ago to talk about worship practices in their respective congregations. They developed a collegial friendship that led to mutual support for worship challenges and opportunities that each of their churches might be facing. They also began to dream about hosting a service in which all three churches would not only attend but participate. 

Since none of the three congregations were in the practice of celebrating Ascension Day, these worship leaders decided to take the opportunity to try something new. 

“Ascension Day doesn't get the attention that it deserves,” said Koerner. “Some might argue that it is more important than Christmas or Easter! I thought this would be a good chance to give it some more emphasis and maybe even start a new tradition.”

Under the leadership of their worship staff, the three congregations were fully represented, with participants leading liturgically and musically. Jipping, who has a choral background, pulled together a joint choir, and Rev. Scott Hoezee from the Center for Excellence in Preaching was invited to deliver the sermon. 

The service was well-attended and was followed by a time of food and fellowship.

After the service Edewaard said, “The biggest joy for me was worshiping with the capital ‘C’ Church. When I’m worshiping with people I don’t know as well as my own congregants, it reminds me that God is so much bigger than I can imagine. It also reminds us that God is on the move both within and outside of our small church family.” 

What began as a collegial cup of coffee turned into an idea for shared worship, which led to a beautiful combined service for three area congregations. 

Starting this fall, Thrive will regularly be hosting “Thriversation” conversations for church leaders, with a goal of connecting them with each other in a way like the Kalamazoo worship leaders were able to do. 

“Pastors have the opportunity to connect with other pastors regularly at classis meetings and pastoral retreats, but other congregational staff do not often have the same opportunities – not only for spiritual encouragement but for resourcing and sharing as well,” said Katie Ritsema-Roelofs, one of the organizers of Thriversations. “Thriversations will bring church roles from the same geographical classis together in hopes that the seeds for organic relationships will be planted. With cultivation and nurture, we pray they bear fruit like this beautiful worship opportunity for three neighboring churches.”