Thursday, January 14, 2010

Reminiscence --Tribute to Pastor Roger S. Lewis

In 1974, our family with 18-month-old Stephanie and newborn Chrissy first visited the HFM Church on a mid-summer Sunday night when the new minister, Roger Lewis, was being received, with a “pounding” if memory serves me. In a "pounding," people brought “pounds” of food as gifts for the new pastor at a reception. He was handsome and the family beautiful with their 4 blonde teen girls and younger Chip. We had lately arrived for my husband's residency in family practice at Toledo Hospital. We were grads of a Free Methodist College, so wanted to check out the FM churches in the area. We heard the church on the air, when the “song birds, Trudy and Tammy” sang a special, so I’m thinking maybe Roger preached when we heard that service, as I think he was the one who called the girls Songbirds. Or maybe Joe Conklin called them that. Jim Beam and his wife particularly noticed us and took the children to the nursery for us. Stephie loved her "Jim Beam." Ruth Barnes was a lively personality of note whom we came to enjoy. Joe Conklin led the singing in what is now the pre-school section of our church –as that is where the smaller Sunday night meetings were held. Joe impressed me as a male leader in the church, a serious and admirable Christian. We heard that other lay leader, Jim Karns, preach early on, in the transition from the old pastor to the new, perhaps the next Sunday, and I commented to him that he was gifted for preaching.

By Christmas time, I had talked my way into directing a John Peterson choir cantata, “Love Transcending.” Stephanie stood in the pew beside her Grandma, singing “love Transcending” with the choir in her little clarion voice. In those days, we soon developed an annual concert tour to the malls and the prison and a nursing home.

Roger Lewis filled our sanctuary like no other minister we have had before or since. You could count on a stirring, passionate, annointed delivery of God’s Word each week. And that’s not to say our preachers since aren’t also excellent –young Keith is truly under the anointing of God these days with his deep thinking and well-crafted, earnestly-delivered Biblical sermons and I believe we are going to enjoy great growth when we are ready –I believe Keith is preparing us for loving fellowship and outreach that will flourish.

Pastor Neville was also a godly and joyful minister loved by all; he made a successful transition when Roger left—but the fact is, we enjoyed unparalleled growth under Roger’s ministry—aided in part by Jessie Geis’s Ladies’ Bible Studies at Gayle Woods’ home and by Jim Karns’ S.S. and home teaching and community popularity. The church was a revolving door of people coming in-- and going out-- if we didn’t get acquainted and get them assimilated fast enough. People look for friendship in the smaller churches, and we were challenged to stretch out of our comfort zones to embrace all the new faces.

Before Roger, Pastor Kettinger surely laid careful groundwork with the smaller body he faithfully nurtured and discipled. Two of the assimilators of our church were the softball and basketball teams; the latter started under Burt Kettinger; in both we were Winners! The basketball team brought us the aforementioned laymen Jim and Joe, Lutherans who wanted to play basketball together. And they got converted to a more vital faith as a result. And I believe it was Jim who started a Memorial Day tradition at Camp Palmer and there was the successful youth ministry of first Joe , then Roy Webb and then Ike Ruckman and their wives in the Roger Lewis days. Assistant pastor Paul and Cheryl Walter are fondly remembered and also assistant pastor Gene Stevenson's family.

I remember the Roslyn Lewis Winter Picnic for Youth and Others as a well-attended event –and was it Bethels or Simpsons who started the Pokagon/Michindoh weekend in January? Ike always had an annual Cedar Point Day "for Youth and Others.” Aunt Betty always had the affection of the children who remember jr. church with her and the Yoder musicians fondly–and I directed the first VBS (after some years of having none) and we had 200 students and no room for them! (The women’s Bible study group had really promoted in their neighborhoods.) After that, we started to pre-register more and I think we even charged money --attendance dropped in half after that --but more recently we are growing in VBS again under Jenni Klever King.

We are back up to over 130 or so for VBS (total registrants) and 60 or so for CLC. Inga's devotionals in CLC are hitting all of us where we live --she's inspired off the cuff, she says --little prep needed. I'm enjoying teaching 4th graders to find their way around in the Bible and to know what it means to be the "children of God." We are now a diverse group in our children's ministries, racially, ethnically --and it is good. I feel we see growth in these youngsters we've had since first grade, e.g. I can see their little mental wheels turning as they contemplate the Bible verses and how it should impact their relationships and behaviors. Stephanie is teaching them the books of the Bible, Bible verses, Christian attitudes and praise in song. Junior Church always performs in the cantata.

New ministries are Angel Arms (clothing) and Angel Food Ministries --headed up by Sarah Hand. Angel Arms is not run by us but a continuation of the Clothes Closet effort which got stuck in my basement! and we still have the Food Pantry as maintained in the Lewis era. We have a knitting group for charity, also.

Roger was the leader for a lot of leaders (and thus an enabler to them in general) and the Bill Gothard home school movement also brought many earnest Christians to our church and was a discipling means for several families.

With Roslyn’s and Sue's full support and participation we enjoyed many years of a weekly church choir, attracting musicians and a now 35-year-tradition of Christmas musicals, carried on by Steph and Chris.

All of these people demonstrate the difference that committed leadership makes in a church –some events are no longer in our church because the people who led them aren’t doing those things or are not with us any more. In the case of a weekly choir, I was willing, but the singers came to feel too busy for it. I think weekly worship team became so labor-intensive, utilizing so many of our musicians, that we didn't have any more energies for a weekly choir. As it is, the weekly ensembles are sounding lovely, featuring many fine voices and a few instrumentalists.

Dave Simpson is surely the turbo behind our annual mission trips. Who would think our people could afford the cost and vacation time to go outside the U.S. to do ministry projects, as Roslyn did, showing love for Christians abroad? We’re still doing that! Who will take his place in the future to spearhead this ministry? He also took several teams to work on the Katrina relief efforts. Of course, the Winckles are our missionaries in Budapest, investing their lives in that work, sewing seeds for future generations to live out the Gospel in that land.

The Christmas cantata is still an ongoing and cherished tradition with an annual following –audiences were 200 plus at each performance this year. We still have our costume/d├ęcor lady in Sue –and our steady gate-keeper in the house of the Lord, Joe. And their daughters (one moved) who will always be active church teachers and singers. And our Sunday morning men’s meeting. And the Cherry St. Mission ministry. The Worship team and techies under Stephanie’s trained musicianship have improved in harmony—musically and otherwise. Bob Sutton leads the tech fellows now and he and Cindy are active in music and she in women's ministries. Worship services are still very moving, anointed, as in times before. Youth ministry continues under Tom Wood and Patty Bersinger and the Winckles with the Quiz Teams. We are seeing youth attendance in the 20’s –and we sent around 50 kids to the FM camps in Michigan last year. As the well-attended jr. high moves into h.s. we shall probably double or triple attendance in the future, as our CLC grows up and kids bring their friends.

Christmas baskets, funeral ministries under Rhoda's leadership, Operation Christmas Child, --who started that--was it Shidelers? And Salvation army bell-ringing--all thriving ministries at HFM. Sunday School for all ages offers options for adults and draws an attendance of at least 100.

Roger was a pillar of leadership in a continuum of the Free Methodist community of Christ in Holland. And one who put us on the map more than ever before as a dynamic, GROWING church. We have enjoyed many “ups” and suffered some “downs” in the years since –and all of us from Roger’s and Roslyn’s time with us have MANY MANY fond memories of friendships and activities and worship services from those days.

One activity I remember fondly is singing at the annual Thanksgiving and Easter community services at Providence Lutheran and the United Methodist Churches. Keith has recently revived our community involvement which we enjoyed under Roger's leadership.

What’s interesting to me, is that most all of the families discipled by Roger's ministry are still in Biblical churches, still leaders somewhere –we have sent musical leadership out to many other churches, e.g. –and it’s gratifying to see how many of our young men are ministers or leading laymen and even contenders for faith in the blogosphere. Steve Altman pastors a Reformed church; Keith Simpson is our own pastor, grad of Moody Bible Institute. Our Rob, a philos grad, witnesses to atheists at a philosophical level on the atheistic blogs and has led our young adult studies sometimes. Craig and Matt French and Kevin Simpson are church lay leaders in Reformed church and also active bloggers for faith and pro-life. Paul French will be our first to graduate with a masters in church music?, a true professional. Chrissy also uses her masters in choral directing for our seasonal choirs with her sister in charge. Jon Flory is a leading musician/pianist in a charismatic mega-church; our John does church music for us and his wife’s church; Alex Rodewald has come back from the military to bless our young adult group. His sister is a Christian physician in Cleveland. Carolyn Lewis Bell is musically active in a local Assemblies congregation. I know the other Lewis kids have a vibrant faith with church involvement. The Bryants run music at a Church of God. The Zywockis, Shidelers, and Geises followed Carolyn and Chip to the Assemblies Church --and are presumeably all active laymen still. As are the home-schooled Florys, Altmans, Weemes, Eversons and their children still active in other churches. The G. Knapps are active Baptists. The Squiers attend Perrysburg Alliance, where Chuck continues in sound tech ministry. A great loss was the move out of town of the Ruckmans and the Brillharts --blessing other churches, too. Sharon does music still in West Unity FM Church. Ike is a worship leader/guitarist for a small group. I imagine Kristen Klever is church involved with her husband in Spring Arbor area and her mother is with the Apostolic Church of God. I think Woodwards may be at Westgate and Thorntons are at our sister church, Crossroads, nearer their home.

We are happy to have retained many from the Lewis era in our own church, such as the many laymen mentioned above: also Mayor Yunkers, and Twp trustee Bob Bethel and family, Davolls, Phyillis Sullivan, Donna Flory, Fulshaws?, Haines, Mary Harris, Heisingers (Kathy still ministers in many ways --and we hope to get John more for singing), Honeywells, Ilsleys (Robbie Walerius), S. Knapps famiy, Courtney Lucas (Simmons), Konzens, Doris Lyon, Chuck Miller, Wartons , Peg Price, Etts, Rosie Altman, Archers, Traci Squier Bash, Colledges, Harrises (Bea Goodman), Claytors?, Camille Singh? (? means I'm not sure they come when you were pastor or later) --and we have gained many wonderful people since you left, also, like the Dusseaus? Perezes, Swans, Dawleys, Corey Fritch (Eva H's husband), Ringgers, Aaron Patchett and too many others to name --some even I am not well acquainted with yet! I'm sure I missed mentioning several who were and are vital to our church body --forgive me, dear readers. Reminiscing is imperfect --but bringing back fond memories for me and I hope for you, Roger and Roslyn. I remember fondly Inga's parents, Bob and Ingrid Lambert, both in glory now --who would have loved their 5 outstanding grandchildren being raised in our church today.

Some of our church "alumni" are home-schooling who were not home-schooled themselves. And some home schoolers now send their kids to public school! Much of OUR church leadership today came through public school –and our pastor, of course, from TCS. Our Stephanie is home-schooling for the time-being --but made sure she lived where she could have the Anthony Wayne option. She directs a music program with concerts for a home-school co-op.

One of my fond personal memories is when Roger vindicated me before the church cabinet. I had said to some people in our car for the White Water river rafting trip, that Jesus’s words were like the Pearl of the Bible –and trumped any other verses that might seem contradictory to the spirit of Christ. E.G. “eye for an eye” is biblical –but Jesus gave us a higher standard –beyond justice – which is mercy. And someone thought this was heretical to put Christ’s words above anything else, as though to argue with the inerrancy of the Bible.

So when I was brought in with my husband for interrogation on the issue, Roger said, “Is that what you said, Barbara?” “Yes.” And he said, “Well, Gentlemen, she’s absolutely right, you know. Jesus is the pearl of the Bible and His words are.” Thank you, Roger. We don't use the cabinet for such "disciplining" any more, thank goodness.

Roger did allow lay leadership to flourish –and we had many earnest young disciples who could all teach, given the opportunity. And Jim and Joe, in charge of Adult S.S., gave these young men the opportunity to develop. Ted Weemes, e.g., is still earnest in his faith and pastoring a Baptist church himself.

Perhaps some have grown and developed even more in faith and love by branching out and going to different churches. What we learn, for one thing, is that perfection isn’t found anywhere on earth, not even in churches –but God is strong and mighty to keep us on a straight and narrow path for life. Many of those discipled under Roger Lewis’s ministry are still strong in their parenting, their marriages, and their church involvement –still earnestly following Christ-- still Bible-believers and Christ-followers—after the pattern of their pastor and mentor, Roger Lewis --who is still, I've no doubt, an exemplary man of God.

Happy 80th Birthday, Roger! May the Lord bless you and keep you –may His countenance shine upon you –and give you peace! And joy! and healing for your lovely wife Roslyn, whom I also love—though I’m never in touch. I have nothing but high regard for you both and special affection for Roslyn as my always supportive, musical buddy.


Barb for me and Jon


"God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and have eternal life."--the Bible


matthew said...


This article brought back many fond childhood memories.

God bless Pastor Lewis.

Barb said...

I am editing to mention Paul --I was thinking about the musicians who have gone out--of course, we are hoping he can come back to us! We consider him an outstanding alumnus of the music ed, music leadership development and opportunities at our church!

Craig French said...

(violating my self-imposed rule...for good reason, I think)

I always think of Pastor Lewis warmly. I remember when our Grandma French died, he seemed to see how sad I was at a viewing...I didn't want to visibly cry as that was embarrassing to me at the age of 7.

He saw, however, and took the time to come down to my level and speak to me.

I remember those times as being really, really good. I can't imagine there were any other churches around with the sort of fellowship in those years.

It may simply be the glow of childhood reminiscence, but I think I'm right.

Barb said...

Yes --and BTW, your daughter, a judge of good character, likes me, Craig! I'm sure of it!

Craig French said...

Adelaide is a judge of *character*...she knows a character when she sees one ;)

(I should know, she gives me the "you character!" look daily)

Barb said...

I guess I'm in good company!

Barb said...

HA --she'll probably grow up to be a judge like Deborah --or surely not --a minister!

Actually, don't worry, I'm not real enthusiastic about women ministers --but our one FM lady pastor, Brenda, has had a positive ministry and makes a good impression in that role (as many women do not) --with the blessing of her minister husband. I think it's rare when a woman is called to preach, per se --or head a church. So many of them do seem a bit mannish in the role.

It's not the biggest issue of concern in today's churches, that's for sure.

It will make me smile, however, if your daughters grow up with a gift for church administration/teaching of adults, etc. ; D