Rev. Geoffrey and Rev. Ashley Van Dragt planted a campus ministry in Seattle, Wash., seven years ago. Now, they’re planting a church.
Geoff and Ashley started Graduate Christian Fellowship (GCF), a joint effort of Resonate Global Mission and InterVarsity, at the University of Washington in 2011.
Yet it soon became clear that students and faculty had a need beyond campus ministry—one that reflected the needs of other individuals and families in the University District neighborhood.
A Neighborhood of Differences
“The U District is a really interesting neighborhood full of contrasts,” said Geoff.
On one hand, he notes, it is home to a world-class university and educated faculty and students who generally come from well-off, functional homes.
On the other hand: “You can’t walk a block in the U District without encountering a number of folks who live on the streets and struggle with addiction and/or mental illness.”
Despite the differences, Geoff and Ashley knew the neighborhood’s individuals all had one thing in common: they needed a place of faith to belong.
“[We simply saw] more and more need for a new church,” said Geoff. “Campus ministry isn’t church and it shouldn’t try to be. Church provides students with opportunities for worship, for engaging with non-academics, for connecting with intergenerational community, and for a host of other things that a campus ministry can’t provide.”
While campus ministry is a good avenue for students to grow for a few years, churches provide lifelong opportunities for growth. Mark Wallace, Resonate’s campus ministry leader, notes that one of the goals of campus ministry is to help students discover the importance of belonging to the larger covenant community.
But many GCF students were having trouble connecting with a church community, or were attending megachurches with thousands of members where they felt like a face in the crowd. When students and other individuals and families in the neighborhood began encouraging Geoff and Ashley to start a church, they knew there was a need.
Still, Geoff and Ashley had one more missing piece: they knew they could not plant this church alone.
So, God sent Calvin Chen their way.
The Missing Piece
Geoff and Ashley met Calvin through their mutual work with InterVarsity. On a visit to the ministry’s headquarters in Madison, Wisc., they worshipped at the church Calvin attended: Geneva Campus Church, a multigenerational CRC church.
All three valued the church’s intentional intergenerational approach to ministry and recognized its importance in campus ministry.
“Being part of a truly intergenerational church was a formative experience for me,” said Calvin. “Having people in their 70s, 80s, 90s come up to 23-year-old-me and ask how they could be praying for me, and to share their life story with me, was extremely helpful and inspiring to my faith.”
When Calvin moved to Vancouver, B.C., to earn his Master of Divinity from Regent College, Geoff and Ashley asked him to make the short trip to Seattle and visit them. They pitched their idea for an intergenerational church plant to him and asked him to join them.
Church on the Ave
Both Geoff and Ashley are ordained Ministers of the Word with the CRC, and Calvin will be ordained this fall. They will split their time between the GCF and Church on the Ave, the new church. With support from Resonate, Church on the Ave launches its first worship gathering in its permanent home, a chapel building managed by Missouri Synod Lutherans, on Sept. 15, 2018.
Located in the center of the university district, the chapel building is surrounded not just by university buildings but by eateries and shops.
“There are literally thousands of people who walk by the chapel building every day,” said Ashley. “And it's my hope and prayer that, in time, the church that's planted here will become a part of the neighborhood in such a way that people notice that God is doing a good a beautiful work. I want people from the neighborhood—be they students, business owners, or addicts—to know that inside this building they can find people who care, people who are inclined to love and help.”
Providing communities where people can connect with other Christians and grow in their faith is why Resonate supports campus ministries and church plants. Praise God for Geoff, Ashley, and Calvin who are bridging the gaps between these ministries.