News & Updates
Rev. Chandler Stokes has announced his retirement from congregational ministry. Below is his letter to the congregation in mid-April sharing about his decision and next steps into retirement. For a PDF version of the letter, click here. Chandler's letter was also accompanied by a letter from Steve Baron, our elder for personnel,offering his best wishes and the next steps for us as a church family in this new season of growth.
Dear beloved members and friends of Westminster Presbyterian Church,
This letter will come as a surprise to most of you. After much discernment in prayer together with my family and longtime friends in ministry, I’m writing to announce my retirement. My last Sunday with you will be June 24, 2018.
I am deeply content with my time as your senior pastor. You are such a healthy church. When I tell people about you, I say, “They simply don’t know how to turn a molehill into a mountain.” You constantly look toward the future. You truly care about the world beyond the church. You show up. I cherish worship with you, surrounded by your singing. And I’ve personally experienced the grace and compassion you offer when, with great kindness, you saw me through the loss of my parents.
Although many of you have been through changes in pastoral leadership before, some of you have not. I remind you that the church is its people and not its pastors. There is no rogues’ gallery of former pastors on the walls of Westminster. This is a congregation who understands that pastors serve with their particular gifts, and then they move on. Jack Stewart, Bill Evertsberg, Riley Jensen—our most recent senior pastors—were great leaders of the church. They all moved on and Westminster has thrived. It will happen again.
I always wondered if I would know when to retire from congregational ministry. I know of preachers who died in the pulpit. That’s not me. Though quite recovered from my stroke in 2016, my brush with mortality inspired me to reflect on my next chapter of life. I’m curious and confident about a new pace and a new life. Karen and I plan to stay here in Grand Rapids near the kids, and I plan to do more singing and playing. I also look forward to continuing my work with CREDO, mentoring early- and mid-career pastors in intensives around the country.
I have loved serving as your senior pastor. I am deeply grateful for what you’ve invited me to be a part of here for ten years. Although I didn’t expect to feel such clarity at this point in my life, I feel a sense of closure and completeness about my ministry. I am, as ever, excited about Westminster’s future and feel clearly that it’s a good time, the right time, to invite new leadership to head this amazing team.
With special gratitude to the members of the Pastoral Nominating Committee who invited me to Westminster and to all of you for affirming my call to the most rewarding season of my 35 years in ordained ministry: Thank you.
And now, as the earliest of letters in the Church always concluded, I say, Grace and peace,
Rev. Chandler Stokes, Senior Pastor and Head of Staff
I began thinking that this trip would be simply about our witness: Jews, Christians, and Muslims traveling together in peace. It was that. It will continue to be that, but traveling together is an opportunity truly to deepen relationships. So, it is really a whole lot more. In the short run, it seems to be about relationships. Maybe in the long run too.
Thanks be to God.
When we visited the site of the Dome of the Rock, our companion, Imam Sahibzada, was as animated and ebullient as ever. His joy throughout this journey was greater than anyone’s, it seems. And there was just a moment when he asked Rabbi Ellen to take his photograph in front of the Dome. She did it gladly. Their mutual smiles were genuine, heartfelt, and full of gratitude in the giving and receiving. It was just a moment among many, but emblematic of our journey.
The site of the Dome of the Rock is greatly contested among some: some Muslims claim that the Jewish Temple never stood there, and some Jews in Jerusalem have made sure that as many Jews as possible can live as close to the Temple Mount as possible, challenging the Muslim claim and putting facts on the ground to contradict it. Even how one names the place is a source of tension. And yet, among us, a devout Muslim and a devout Jew, supported one another in their pilgrimage. Our religious convictions were not a source of conflict, but a source of mutual support.
Thanks be to God.
A day or two later, Bob, my Lutheran colleague, and I were sitting at a rooftop restaurant for lunch—nothing fancy; it just happened to be in the Old City of Jerusalem with a great view of the city. We were slack-jawed at the view and at the truth that he and I… were in Jerusalem. We were reflecting on the significant moments of the trip. It was a long list; we didn’t finish, but one thing was clear. It was this. We had gone to worship at a Lutheran Church in the Old City that morning. The lectionary gospel text was the story of Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law in Capernaum. And that particular story had been the center point of our time in Capernaum just a few days before. So, when the preacher, a wonderfully gifted woman from the States, read the text, we laughed at the synchronicity of the reading with our experience. The one clear thing: we will never hear the text quite the same way again; we will share this deep connection to it and to one another, and we will never be strangers to one another again.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Chandler Stokes
It’s so very difficult to keep up with my own daily life here in Israel, let alone find a way to put into a few words what any of the many experiences here have meant. Every day seems to have four to six components—and those are just the planned ones! Even though I know that we are nearing the end of our time here—and it has flown by—it feels like it has been at least a month since we left.
The following is just one day's experience:
Yesterday was a particularly long day. We left at 6:15 a.m. for Harem esh-Sharif (the site of Mohammed's ascension to heaven) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque; thus, the Dome of the Rock and the site of the ancient Jewish First and Second Temples, and we were first in line to go through the checkpoints leading up to this holy and contested site.
The day before, while we were in the huge complex of buildings, holy places, and archeological digs, we heard some of the history of the Jewish and Muslim claims on the places at the top of this rise in Jerusalem.
When we entered the entered the great plaza, our friend, Sahibzada, entered the mosque to pray while we walked around outside and took in more of the history and reflected for ourselves on the meaning of this place. There is so much more to say about my own experience there, but that was only the start to the day.
From there we went around outside to the Western Wall, where we were invited to pray. I was accompanied by one of the rabbis in our group to stand, touch, and pray at the 2,000-year-old supporting wall which was underneath the Second Temple. Then, we walked from there to the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, which included our visit to the Davidson Center and the Southern Wall Excavations. We were again under the insightful tutelage of our guide, Uri.
Then we met Rabbi Noa Sattath, Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, near the campus of Hebrew Union College, where she talked about the complexities of the religious pluralism in Israel, a country where there is no barrier between church and state. She was brilliant, incisive and committed to being a part of building a just Israel. Her work has a long trajectory and her commitment was palpable.
After a couple of stops in Jerusalem to look at and hear about some of the political background to the areas “behind the fence,” we went into Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity. It was moving and complex, as it is a site “hosted” by three different churches: The Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, and the Roman Catholic Church. As well as being the traditional site of the birth of Jesus, it is also the site where St. Jerome is said to have written his translation of the Bible.
While we were in Bethlehem, we also got to hear from Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Noor A'wad, who are central members of the Shorashim Project (also known as Roots) in that city. They are committed to peacemaking, reconciliation, respect, and communication between Jewish settlers and Palestinian Israelis—a very, very difficult (even seemingly impossible) prospect, toward which they are making inch-by-inch progress.
After a late dinner, we got back to our hotel at about 10:30 p.m.
That is just the surface of what we experienced in one day in Israel. The Temple Mount and the Church of the Nativity were sufficiently moving all on their own—for our own experiences, and the experiences of our co-travelers, but in between were profound conversations about contemporary issues of peace, justice and community transformation. There is deep conversation with other religious leaders over the theology of Incarnation, pilgrimage, holy places, and formation.
This is just the surface. It will be good to talk to you about it all when I get home. I thank you again for the privilege it is to be on this journey. Great blessings to you all!
We are reaching out to let you know that Westminster Presbyterian Church received a threat of violence that led us to close our doors yesterday. However, in close collaboration with law enforcement, we are fully open as usual today.
Late Monday afternoon, the Grand Rapids Police Department informed us that Westminster was listed as a primary “target” alongside other faith communities within a suspicious package discovered in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. We did not open our building yesterday (including Westminster Child Development Center) until we could learn more about the nature and severity of the threat. At this point in the open investigation, local and federal authorities have told us that Westminster does not appear to be in ongoing danger.
As we recently shared with you, Westminster is making every effort to be proactive in preparing for and responding to critical incidents. For a year now, Westminster has worked closely with Secure Education Consultants, a firm that designs customized emergency and critical incident response plans and training. Our staff and volunteers recently completed a lengthy, interactive safety training; WCDC staff did the same training specialized for their space. As of last week, printed emergency plans are posted around the building detailing various emergency responses, and we encourage you to review them. We also have trained volunteers serving on a security team every Sunday morning.
We are a downtown congregation with our doors open to our community during the week, always mindful of a balance between hospitality and security. We are steadfast in our commitment to creating a hospitable and gracious environment for our city and neighbors, while doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our staff and daycare families.
If you have any questions, please contact Heather Colletto, Director of Communication and Mission, at (616)717-5536 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A personal message from Rev. Chandler Stokes:
I’m in Texas leading an event for the denomination, but staff have kept me actively in the loop. My confidence in them has only grown through this incident, but it’s not easy to be away from you now. You are never far from my heart, and you have the prayers of the people here. I will be glad to be reunited with you. This type of threat is something that other perpetually marginalized faith communities have dealt with for a long time, far too often. We pray to continue our witness undeterred in our commitments to interfaith solidarity, justice, and peace among people. By God’s grace, we will continue to go into the world in peace, have courage, and hold on to all that is good.
Register online below:
The WPC Art Gallery is currently featuring the work of Alan Adsmond. Alan is a member of Rivertown Artists’ Guild whose watercolors have been juried into area art shows for many years. Alan studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art, served in World War II and then studied at Los Angeles Art Center school. He was employed as a commercial artist for 40 years and concentrates, in retirement, on watercolor landscapes, figure work and portraits.
This is an excerpt from a sermon by Rev. Chandler Stokes on January 29, 2017 and includes the letter we sent to the members of the four mosques in our city. The letter was signed by more than 260 members of Westminster.
Last Sunday, we were anticipating a gathering that occurred last Thursday at one of our local mosques. Members of all four local Islamic communities and a number of Christian communities were gathered. It was, in fact, a capacity crowd. And our Muslim sisters and brothers were very grateful for our presence. Each of the imams spoke of how moved they were to have us there, because, as I shared with you last week, they have felt afraid. We shared a meal. We talked. We laughed. They were greatly moved to have us there, and I was also moved by the gathering and by the words of my fellow clergy—Muslim, Jewish, and Christian. When I was asked to speak, I talked about our history and why we were there. And then I said something like, “In my tradition I don’t have the authority to commit my congregation to anything, but I know their hearts, and I promise that we will stand by you. We will not abandon you.” Swept up in the moment, I testified, but I believe it would be deeply meaningful, if you could back me up on that one. I do know you, but let’s show them. Let’s bless them. The place was so small that we could have only a dozen of our folks there. It would be so great to send them lots more names. So, we have a letter, to which you can add your signature, if you would like. It’s very short; it’s addressed to the four Muslim congregations and their imams. It simply says:
We add our names to this letter to echo our delegation’s words of support to you at Thursday evening’s dinner—January 26, 2017.
We vow our support to you. As we work together with the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, we hope to back these words up with concrete and well thought out activity as plans develop.
We see you and we want you here. We love you and stand united with you. We are grateful to live with you in this community.
You are our neighbors. More than that, you are our brothers and sisters, and we are your sisters and brothers.
God bless you.
…you can add your name to the letter, if you’d like. Just words, but a self-involving gospel word that affects the hearer. As we have put the word of blessing on our lips today, so we seek also to incarnate this gospel word of blessing in our hands, as we write our support.
Related statement from the Presbyterian (PCUSA) Mission Agency (January 31, 2017)
The current featured artists at Westminster Presbyterian Church are sisters, Leilei and Beibei Chen. The pieces on display feature spheres in their fragile environment series. The spheres represent both the planet and the microscopic images of pollutants in the atmosphere. Some of the spheres include images of Chinese philosophers who spoke of the importance of a balance between the physical and natural environment. The pieces will be on display from February through April on the walls in the Gathering Place.
The Volume 2016, #1 issue of Chimes: The Geography of Mission is now available. In this issue:
- Introducing Linking Lives
- Rev Stokes Letter: Mission 2016
- The Geography of Mission
- Mission Committees
- Camp Henry Forest Management
- Black Lives Matter
- Much more!
Pastor Abel Mirabal Padilla is visiting from Cuba—he is the pastor of the Guines Presbyterian Church (outside Havana). Abel is in the United States visiting several partner congregations in Illinois and New York as well, who, along with Westminster, help support the ministry of the Guines congregation. Pastor Abel will participate in the services this Sunday and will hold a “Meet and Greet” time at 9:30 a.m.—everyone is welcome!
Interested in joining Westminster? Absolutely everyone is welcome! If you'd like to become a member or simply want to learn more about the life and mission of Westminster, our next New Member Orientation is scheduled for Wednesday, October 7 & 14, 5:30-8:30p. New Members will be received during the 11:00 worship service on Sunday, October 18. To register, contact Susan Jennings at email@example.com or 616-717-5542.
The Dining Hall is the oldest building at Camp Henry. Originally built in 1936, it has had additions added to all four sides. Every camper or guest that has ever been to Camp Henry has utilized this same iconic building.
During the Winter of 2015/2016 a significant renovation of the Dining Hall will take place – increasing the capacity from 187 to 300 and providing a brand new commercial kitchen, new bathrooms, a walk up snack window, and a new conference room – as well as over 3,000 square feet of additional storage.
We are thrilled to be able to retain the current Dining Hall while at the same time making these significant and necessary additions.
The August issue of Chimes is now available. In this month's issue:
- Focus on Worship: Confirmation Series Fall 2015
- Educational Programming
- Much more!
We now have a plan for the construction being funded by your MissionMatters pledges, and work is moving forward.
At the joint Session and Trustees meeting on Monday, June 1, the leadership of Westminster developed a plan for the construction being funded by the capital campaign:
Phase 1, replacement of the Sanctuary roof, was completed in 2014.
Phase 2, remodeling and expansion of the Camp Henry dining hall, will begin in October 2015.
Phase 3, work at 47 Jefferson Street SE, including remodeling of and improvements to the Westminster Child Development Center, the Downtown Food Pantry, and the Columbarium, will begin in spring 2016.
Because building permits could not be obtained before July 6, and because construction at 47 Jefferson is estimated to take five months, this three-phase schedule allows all construction to proceed at a reasonable pace and without impacting Westminster programs this fall.
We are now within reach of our goal to have 90 percent of the funds for the projects pledged or in hand before Phase 2 begins. The schedule also provides additional time for us to continue to seek outside grant money, such as that already pledged by the Frey Foundation.
As of June 1, 72 percent of the $2,500,000 goal has been met. With your prayerful support and pledges, we will soon have the additional 18 percent needed to begin construction of Phase 2. If you have not already made your pledge to MissionMatters, please do so as soon as possible. You can pledge online, contact the church office to have a pledge card mailed to you, or pick up a pledge card at church. Absolutely every gift matters.
Thank you for your participation, prayers, and pledges.