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Gift of the City

April 13, 2022

Rev. Joel Van Dyke will be helping to facilitate an all-day workshop visiting and learning from urban ministries in Chicago on Friday, Aug. 5, during Inspire 2022.

Van Dyke is a long-time urban ministry practitioner and leadership developer who served in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Central America and is currently a copastor at Lee Street Christian Reformed Church in Wyoming, Mich. 

“The idea for doing this came out of a project I have been part of as a member of Resonate’s Mission Innovation Team, in which we interviewed more than 125 urban leaders from the CRC and RCA,” said Van Dyke. 

Those interviews and subsequent research produced a Concept Paper titled “The Gift of the City” and a design team of urban ministry innovators that has been meeting monthly to explore how best to encourage, connect, and resource urban leaders and congregations. 

“I believe that many in our denomination have not realized what a rich legacy of urban mission we have and how many people are engaged in innovative ministry in our rapidly urbanizing world. These are leaders who have been serving faithfully on the streets of Chicago and in many other vibrant cities around the world.”

Jodi Koeman, who serves as Church with Community Coordinator for World Renew, will also be helping to coordinate what is being called a Workshop on Wheels.

“I'm excited for this workshop facilitated by Joel,” she said. “This is the only workshop where participants will not just talk about the gift of the city but will be immersed in it. It is so important for us to share and hear stories of hope and hurt while learning to embrace the heart of God for the city. The CRC has a deep legacy of urban ministry engagement in Chicago, and leaders from the past and practitioners in the present have much to teach us about opening up the gift of the city.”

An event designed specifically for ministry volunteers and leaders from CRCNA and Reformed Church in America (RCA) congregations across North America, Inspire 2022’s theme, “Inspired to Be One,” will focus on celebrating diversity in the CRCNA as a denomination and on the need to come together as one church. Inspire will connect people across generations, cultures, and missions, reorienting participants in the hope of God’s kingdom.

Each day will include spirit-filled worship led by a diverse worship team, workshops on topics covering every aspect of congregational life, and plenary speakers who will challenge and equip us to return to our local congregations with new ideas, renewed passion, and deepened commitment to God’s kingdom.

“We see this as a great opportunity for learning, wonderful worship, and ample time for mingling and fellowship with others – possibly friends you haven’t had the chance to meet and speak to because of the COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place for more than two years,” said Kristen deRoo VanderBerg, the CRCNA’s director of communications.

While the workshop-on-wheels will be visiting Chicago ministry sites to learn from current ministry, it will also offer attendees a chance to talk about the writing and work of innovative and historical urban ministry leaders with connections to the city of Chicago. 

The workshop will visit at least three sites in Chicago, including two on the West Side of the city, focusing on the legacy of urban church planting with Spirit and Truth Fellowship around Humboldt Park, and the history of Lawndale, the site of a bitter dispute involving the integration of a Christian school in nearby Cicero in the 1960s. 

On the south side of the city, Roseland Christian Ministries will provide the setting for rich reflection on congregational mobilization in the city and on urban Christian community development. 

Spirit and Truth Fellowship developed into a network of urban church plants birthed from the work of Manny and Blanca Ortiz and Randy and Sue Baker. They were urban pioneers who began several ministries in Chicago before moving with their families to Philadelphia, where they taught at Westminster Theological Seminary and continued with church planting and a variety of holistic urban ministry initiatives. 

In Lawndale, workshop participants will learn from James Wolf, pastor of Lawndale CRC, the first organized African American congregation that sought to send some of its children to Timothy Christian school in nearby Cicero in the late 1960s. Timothy leaders, for various reasons, refused for a painful period to allow African American parents to enroll their children there in the late 1960s. But parents and others fought back, drawing widespread attention as they sought to integrate the school. “We want to learn from Pastor Jim, who has pastored at Lawndale for more than 40 years, and unpack what happened with the school from Lawndale members so that we can learn from and celebrate those who fought for integration,” said Van Dyke.

The time with Roseland Christian Ministries will be curated by Rev. Roger Nelson, who will be helping to set up opportunities to learn from the rich history of a congregation, a Christian school, and integral Christian community development.

“As part of this visit,” said Van Dyke, “participants will learn about the work of Tony and Donna Van Zanten, who served faithfully in Roseland for decades.”

Van Zanten, another urban pioneer for the CRC, first served as a pastor at Madison Avenue CRC in Paterson, N.J. from 1965-1976, helping to shepherd the congregation through significant cultural shifts.

He later moved to Chicago to serve as director of Roseland. During that time, said Van Dyke, he and Donna helped the ministry to expand into a 23,000-square-foot ministry center. Once a car dealership, the property had also served as  headquarters of the Back to God Hour (now ReFrame Ministries) and as an office of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (now World Renew).

Over time, Roseland included a shelter for the homeless, job training, legal aid, and a drop-in center, among other things. Ministry there was hard and full of daily ups and downs, but it was satisfying and taught other members of the CRC that God is alive and well in the heart of the city.

“This truth is self-evident,” said Van Zanten in an interview for the book Flourishing in the Land. “To be CRC, urban, and black is not a contradiction. I really believe that there is a cadence, and a really good beat to all of the work that we are doing here.”

“This workshop on wheels,” said Van Dyke, “will explore the Chicago chapter of the incredible legacy of innovative urban ministry that we as a denomination have been engaged with in cities all over the world. What a gift this opportunity will be during Inspire to explore opening the gift of the city.”

Advance registration for this workshop will be required, and space is limited. Guests who have registered for Inspire 2022 by the early-bird deadline of April 30 will be given the first opportunity to select workshops. Register today.