Where are they now? Miriam Ippel

Former pastoral intern Miriam Ippel shares about her ministry in our second installment of “Where are they now?”.

1. What does your current ministry context look like?

I serve as the solo pastor of The Reformed Church of Canajoharie in Canajoharie, NY. Canajoharie is a village of about 2,000 people (although there are probably 5,000+ in a 10 mile radius) in upstate NY. We’re right off the NYS Thruway and about an hour from Albany. Canajoharie was once a thriving mill town, the home of Beechnut (most recently known for making baby food), and a town along the Erie Canal. Since we moved here 4 years ago, Beechnut has left the community, adding another big vacant factory building to the roster. For being a small town we deal with all the same things as most urban contexts, except for gang violence. There are many, many needs in the community.

Our congregation first organized in 1827. 186 years later we’re still here and trying to make an impact. For the last 12 years the church has grown a ministry known as Comfort Zone. Once a month we provide household supplies (toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, diapers, laundry detergent, etc.) to families in need. This ministry has helped us to build some wonderful relationships in the wider community.

2. What have been some of the biggest joys and struggles of ministry?

There was no youth ministry in place when we moved here, so Eric and I started a youth group with just 3 students our first year. We have now expanded the ministry to other churches in the area and have had as many as 12-14 students on a Sunday night. Sunday evenings in the parsonage are a highlight of our week!

I’ve also really enjoyed planning worship services and teaching the congregation new music. We’re adding the new RCA/CRC hymnals to our pews this summer which is really exciting!

Finding and building community in and outside the church has been a struggle. The congregation is very friendly on Sunday mornings, but many of the relationships don’t extend beyond those 1-2 hours on a Sunday morning. And like most churches, getting and equipping volunteers is a struggle. The average age in our congregation is probably 55 or higher which adds to the challenge.

3. How did you time at Trinity form you for your ministry?

My three years at Trinity were wonderful preparation for ministry. It was so helpful to get experience in all different areas of church life: pastoral care, children and youth, planning and leading worship, community outreach, etc. I attribute my time at Trinity to my willingness to even seek a call in parish ministry after seminary! I continue to thank God for all of you and the journey we shared together. We continue to pray for you and your ministry in NW Grand Rapids.

Friendship Ministries Trip to John Ball Zoo

Friendship Ministries has concluded for the year with our annual trip to John Ball Park Zoo.  This occasion was especially meaningful because all the friends were able to attend this special event.  We gathered from 6:30-8:00 PM on Tuesday, June 18th.  We started out as a big group, but soon split into smaller clusters depending upon what we all wanted to see.

The highlights for me were the otters, the monkeys, the snow leopard and the petting zoo where the goats chewed everything within their reach.  They chewed quite a few things in all the bags that were on my chair, (serves me right, I suppose).  On the other hand, the otters were cute and comical as they swam around together.  The snow leopard sat silently as he stared at us on his mountain-high perch.

We ended the night with all of us going home, looking forward to our third year together starting the fourth Thursday in October.  Blessings to all!   2013 IS HALF OVER…summer is here…GO TIGERS!

An Exciting Direction for the RCA

Our denomination, the Reformed Church in America, has been on a journey the last three years as to where we are headed in the future. This journey has involved an RCA wide event called “Conversations” that Deb Swanson attended in Florida in February of 2012. During conversation they we are able to identify eight areas of focus. These ministry priorities where then refined at General Synod 2012. (General Synod is the annual gathering of delegate pastors and elders to make denominational decisions). Next came Discovery events. These were events held in churches throughout the United States and Canada. I was able to attend one near Grand Rapids earlier this year. My experience at the event exceeded my expectations. In this process groups of us gathered in a rooms to talk about the areas that had been identified. As I sat down with others from around the denomination, I was worried. I knew we didn’t agree on everything. We would come from different worship styles and theologically perspectives. But as the morning progressed, I realized that none of that stuff really matters. What matters is that God loves us and we want others to experience that love. For me, it was a time of real unity. Out of those discovery events came a document that was designed from the data collected. The document called “Transformed and Transforming: Radically Following Christ in Mission Together” can be found online at: http://images.rca.org/docs/synod/Synod2013-R9AsAmended.pdf.

It was passed at General Synod. After the vote came into approve the document, there was really unity in the room and Holy Spirit’s presence was felt. The doxology was sung and hands were held. It was a beautiful moment.

-Amanda Bruehl

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Where are they now? Andrea and Drew Poppleton

Former pastoral interns Andrea and Drew Poppleton share a little from their lives in our first installment of “Where are they now?”.

1) What does your current ministry context look like?

We are serving Heartland Community Church of Lafayette, IN.  We came here as co-pastors in 2005, but since then, we have had two children and Andrea spends much more time at home.  In the current arrangement, Drew serves full-time and Andrea’s only paid responsibility is to preach once a month.  However, she has many other responsibilities.

2) What have been some of the biggest joys and struggles of ministry? 

There are two great joys in our ministry life.  First, working together.  We are so blessed to have each other.  As we journey together and overcome obstacles, our love is deepened and our partnership is strengthened. Second, to walk with others has they grow in their faith.  There’s nothing quite like participating in God’s great redemption story. We have front row seats to some awesome transformations.

Right now, we feel as though we are facing many struggles.  The biggest struggle is with cynicism and resignation.  We rearrange our lives so that we can pour into others and sometimes we get a lukewarm response and a shattering of our expectations.  Lately, we feel like part of our job description is “to compete for people’s time.”  Naturally, we have no desire to get paid to compete for people’s time.  That sucks the joy right out of ministry.  Lastly, we are wrestling with our call–wondering exactly where we fit.  We realize this is typical for people in their mid-30’s, but that doesn’t make it any more comfortable.  Part of it is fun because we have a growing sense of our true gifts and passions, but it’s still a struggle to live into God’s design.

3) How did your time at Trinity form you for your ministry? 

Oh Trinity!  We have such a mix of emotions about you.  In one sense, our experiences there set us up for disappointment because very few church environments are like Trinity.  In that way, we sometimes pronounce curses over your name.  ;-)  In another sense, we wouldn’t trade it for any other experience.  We fell in love with the place and the people.  We still love you and we delight to interact with so many of you on Facebook.

Welcome to Trinity, Amanda Bieri

Get to know our new summer intern, Amanda Bieri.

You go to school at Duke Seminary, which is in North Carolina.  What are some of differences between Durham and Holland, where you grew up?

While I love being able to call both Holland and Durham home, they definitely have their differences. Recently named the “Tastiest Town in the South”, we can eat pretty well in North Carolina. But, while I’m missing the food in Durham these days, nothing can beat living next to Lake Michigan.

What is your favorite story from scripture and why?

My favorite story from scripture is the book of Ruth. I love Ruth’s story because it is such a beautiful story of love and God’s covenant faithfulness. Looking ahead to the New Testament, the inclusion of Ruth in the genealogy of Jesus is so cool for us gentile Christians. Her story is a great story that also gets to be ours.

What your favorite hobbies and activities outside of the classroom?

When I’m not in school, I love to be outside. I enjoy running, hiking and road biking. I’m so excited to be in Michigan this summer because I get to spend time swimming in the Lake Michigan! Another one of my favorite things is grabbing a cup of coffee with friends or hanging out with my family.

Who have some people that have especially impacted your faith formation?

Hmm… There are so many people who have impacted my faith formation and it’s hard to pick just a few. I grew up in a wonderful family that continues to be formational for my faith. When I was in high school I had a YoungLife leader who was very important in shaping my faith as I headed into college. At Hope College, the mentorship of a few of the college chaplains was influential as my faith continued to mature and as I discerned a call to seminary.


Amanda Bieri (amandabieri@gmail.com)

From the Deacons, April ’13.

From the Deacons, as reported by chair, John Kozminski.

Easter is such an uplifting season where many emotions come into play in our lives and the lives of those around us. What an opportune time to be involved in stewardship in our lives, the lives of our immediate families and the individuals and families around us.

Trinity demonstrates a very active role within our church community, the neighborhood community, and our world community, of which we live through several formal outward activities like Community Kitchen, Food Pantry, Meal’s to Homes, Music Ministry, Schools of Hope (Y.E.T.), Children in Worship, Midweek Manna, Second Chance, Deacon’s Fund, Sunrise Ministries, Global Missions, and Youth Missions.

The physical property with which we have been blessed as a church provides other opportunities for us to apply our stewardship responsibility. Recently a group of talented men, led by John Swanson, have been working every Wednesday remodeling the “Bat Cave”, the area where the pipes for our retired pipe organ were maintained. If you are, or are not familiar with this room, you might wish to pay a visit. Another group of our congregation, “Grub & Scrub”, led by Bruce Menning, and Sue & Dick Olthof, meet for breakfast once a month and then take on what their title expresses: light breakfast and then a few hours of cleaning. This past week all the chairs in the sanctuary were scrubbed.

As we approach the end of six months within our current budget, we encourage everyone to invest in some prayer and discernment over your stewardship activity. If  you are called to serve with your time, talents, and/or gifts and are unsure of where you might invest, please contact any Deacon, Elder, or Staff Member for direction

An Interview with Garret regarding his Immersion Trip to India

An interview with our Seminary Intern, Garret Szantner.

February, 2013

You’ve recently traveled with a group of Western Seminary students and faculty to India for an inner cultural immersion trip.  What were your first sights and sounds of India?

Our group landed in Bangalore, India at midnight, a time of day when everything is quiet and still—a remarkable reality for a city of 8.5 million people.  The first thing our group noticed was the complete disregard for traffic laws.  People use all of the space allotted for their side of the road, and frequently pass in the other lane, only alerting persons around them of their maneuver by a couple “beeps” of the horn.  As the dawn broke and the sun began to spread itself over the city, the streets began to buzz and pulse with the expected business of any other day in India.  However, the foreign sights, trees, idols, aromas of cuisine, traffic, and people all contributed to a sensory overload beyond what I am able to describe.  The city of Bangalore, and the country of India, is a beautiful place, but much different from our own.  What stuck out to me most is the vast difference between cities in America and those in India.  After being in India, I have come to realize the segregation of American cities. In India, the poor, middle class and wealthy all live in close proximity with one another.  In every part of the city one may witness the shanty of a poor person, the humble abode of a middle class family, and the luxurious high-rise fit for many millionaires; all of these in a row.

How do some of our mission partners in India bear witness to the gospel?  What might look a little different from how we do so here?

The mission partners we have in India are JP Sundararajan (a Western Seminary graduate) and his family.  JP and his family have a ministry in Bangalore where they translate the Bible into different languages and distribute them among different people groups.  The witness of the gospel we observed in India was in seeing the value of persons hearing the Word of God.  India’s dominant religion is Hinduism.  JP said that these people live their lives thinking that they need to appease the gods of their religion, and do well or else they will experience a much harder time in the next life.  He then told me that in listening to the gospel people receive it with thanksgiving and praise—for in hearing about Jesus they finally receive the good news that God is One who seeks after and loves them. I believe it is different in America because most people have some idea of what the Bible says and who Jesus is (regardless of if they have read the Bible or not); in India, however, most people are hearing about Jesus for the very first time.

What was your favorite moment during the trip?

My favorite part about the trip was going to a leper colony. All persons at this place are fully healed but they are unable to enter back into their communities because of the social stigma of having once been a leper.  These are people who were kicked out of their homes and communities at a very young age and are unable to return.  Most family members never speak to them again, and in the rare case they do make contact it is to gain access to the land rights.  After hearing their stories I asked them, “What has knowing Jesus meant in your life?”  They all unanimously answered, “that Jesus has healed me of all my diseases and iniquities, and that he walks beside me every day.” I admire them, for they see with the beautiful eyes of faith that our God reigns and that means something for everyday life.  These are people who live out the meaning of what Jesus said when he answered Satan in the wilderness, saying, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew— 4:4)

How has your faith been impacted?

This is a very hard question for me to answer, but if I had to narrow it down to one thing I would say it has shown me what true faith looks like.  During Advent and before I went on the trip I was praying, “Lord, help my unbelief.”  After witnessing the leper colony and the way Christians live in India I now pray, “Lord teach me to have a faith like the leper.”

Janet’s Article on Sunday School

Worship Arts Sunday School

 Sunday School for children at Trinity has taken many forms over the years as we have tried to keep up with ministering to the spiritual needs of children within the reality of changing cultural dynamics and the pervasive business of family life.  Trinity’s current worship arts, large group Sunday School for children is the result of ongoing adjustments as the Children’s Ministry Team strives to provide the best possible educational experience for children in the face of specific circumstances and needs at Trinity.

One of our most important motivations for providing Sunday School is our desire to enfold children into the body of Trinity in such a way that they feel both competent and vitally necessary in the life of our congregation.  This includes developing their artistic talents and leadership potential, giving them concrete opportunities to use these gifts, and teaching them about the meaning of the various elements that are part of our weekly worship.  Often, the children want to share what they work on in Sunday School with the larger congregation, and we work to include their ideas in worship periodically.

Of course, we also desire to immerse our children in the foundational stories of the Christian faith.  Exploring seasonal scripture through various worship arts is an extremely effective way of accomplishing this goal.  We especially strive to incorporate music into the Sunday School hour, knowing that music often penetrates the heart more effectively and lastingly than other forms of learning ever can.

Exploring scripture through art, drama, music, and dance allows us to offer whole body, active learning opportunities after children have been more sedentary in worship for the hour previous to Sunday School.

Finally, one of our most difficult realities is that Sunday School attendance fluctuates wildly from week to week.  It is so unpredictable that dividing the children by grade can often result in only 1 or 2 children in a group, making drama, games, movement, and other group activities awkward, if not impossible.  Combining several grades into one large group enables us to provide collaborative and group learning projects.

Sunday School resumes on January 6, immediately after worship.  A snack time especially for children is provided in the basement of the sanctuary building.  After snacks, infants through 3 (or 4) year olds meet in the Little Lambs room in the basement of the CE building for the remainder of the Sunday School hour.  Children 4 years old (if parents believe they are ready) through 5th grade stay in the sanctuary basement area for their worship arts class.  Our next unit will focus on the Luke 15 “Lost and Found” stories, and we will be working toward helping lead worship next during Lent, on March 10.  We warmly invite your children to join us and look forward to rich, deep, formative learning experiences in 2013!

Annual Youth and Children’s Advent Liturgy (December 23)

Annual Children and Youth Advent Liturgy

      Our annual Children and Youth Advent Liturgy is scheduled for Sunday, December 23, at 10:00 AM, during morning worship.  Children and young people in preschool through high school are encouraged to participate.  Now is the time for instrumental musicians of all ages to begin practicing.  If you would like to play your musical instrument in this year’s liturgy, please work with your music instructor now to select and begin practicing appropriate Advent/Christmas worship music.  Children may choose multiple parts, including instrumental music, singing, movement, speaking or non-speaking, costumed or non-costumed parts.  To sign up, please contact Deb or Janet.  We look forward to incorporating all your gifts into Advent worship this year!

Rehearsals:  Every Sunday during the Sunday School hour we will be learning the Advent songs and creating decorations for the sanctuary.  Full rehearsals will be held on Sunday, December 16, during the Sunday School hour and Saturday, December 22, from 10:00 – 11:30 am

Nursery Update from the Children’s Ministry Team

 Nursery Update from the Children’s Ministry Team

 Over the last several months, the Children’s Ministry Team has been hearing from more and more parents and caregivers about improvements they would like to see in our current nursery ministry.  After considering all the parental and caregiver input received at our last two meetings, we have recommended and obtained approval for the immediate and long-term actions which follow.  It is our hope and prayer to make immediate improvements in the quality of care we offer in our nurseries and to continue working to make long-term improvements, as well.

The immediate action involves hiring a qualified, trained nursery attendant, on a trial basis, for the duration of the current program year.  This person would be from outside the Trinity family, for ease of supervision, would be assisted by an adult Trinity member, and would become a familiar, consistent presence that children will be able to count on from week to week.  This trial action will not burden Trinity’s tight budget because a donor saw a longstanding need and generously agreed to cover the cost.  At the end of the trial period, we will evaluate how this has impacted children, families, and our other Sunday morning ministries and make further recommendations, based on our findings and in cooperation with Consistory.

The advantages of a consistent, paid nursery caregiver are many.  Among other things, we will be able to foster a sense of security for our infants, toddlers, and parents (by having the same, reliable, familiar, qualified person supervising nursery care from week to week), free up parents and older siblings to participate regularly in worship and Sunday School, and provide hospitality for visiting families with young children.  A reliable attendant will also alleviate the difficulty of caregivers not showing up when scheduled.


Long-term actions would begin with the formation of a task force to address parental concerns about the cramped conditions of the infant nursery space and the isolation of the Little Lambs space.  This task force would also grapple with overarching considerations of our nursery ministry, such as safety, quality of care, and hospitality and be charged with evaluating the feasibility, costs, and benefits of various improvement ideas and synthesizing them into a long-term, cost effective recommendation to the Consistory and the congregation.

Ultimately, we believe that the high quality of Trinity’s ministry with infants and toddlers is directly related to faithfully fulfilling our baptismal vows and maintaining the health of our congregation.  It is just as important as any of our other ministries, and we must create the most excellent care and nursery experience for our youngest children and their families that we are capable of.  Please pray regularly for our families and ministries with children, and contact Janet or one of the Children’s Ministry Team members with questions, concerns, or to get involved.