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Oak Harbor pastor called to Michigan to reconcile churches
After nine years as pastor at First Reformed Church in Oak Harbor, Rev. Jon Brown has been called to resolve a denominational dispute reaching back into the 1800s.
On June 25, Brown and his family will move to Holland, Mich., where Brown will play an essential role in the move to reconcile the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
In the 1830s, a group from the state church in the Netherlands broke off and formed their own church. They came to America, joined the Dutch Reformed Church and founded the community of Holland, Mich.
In 1857, a small group split off, and then a larger group split off in 1882 and formed the Christian Reformed Church in North America, Brown said.
The Dutch Reformed Church later became known as the Reformed Church in America, which Brown serves.
Recently, the church in Holland, Mich., began to struggle, Brown said.
“They realized they needed to do something significant in order to survive and thrive,” Brown said.
That’s where Brown comes in. Pillar Church in Holland, Mich. asked Brown to be their lead pastor and “lead an expression of reconciliation between the denominations,” Brown said.
“For real reconciliation, you can’t just gloss over the past,” Brown said. “You have to go back to the place of division and make amends.”
The church in the Michigan town will lead the reconciliation because that’s where the church was originally split. However, that church is also significant to Brown on a personal level.
“I grew up in that town. I feel very deeply what the church there is trying to do,” Brown said, adding that his parents still live in Holland.
Brown has been the pastor at First Reformed Church in Oak Harbor since July 2003. He and his wife, Kristyn, raised three daughters in Oak Harbor: Lydia, 6, Tabitha, 4 and Miriah, 2.
“My heart and mind is flooded with memories and gratitude to God for all the things I’ve been part of,” Brown said of his time in Oak Harbor.
Brown started Free Food Wednesday nine years ago as an opportunity for church members to enjoy fellowship and as a way to serve the community. Wednesday nights, they served a free meal. On their final Wednesday at the end of May, the event served 250 people.
“Many were from the community and wouldn’t have eaten dinner otherwise,” Brown said.
His daughters were baptized here and he said it’s been an honor to officiate at a number of weddings and funerals over the years. Brown has also enjoyed his relationship with the Navy as the church greeted new members of the community and sent others off “with love and prayers,” Brown said.
“I have deep gratitude for the church here and how wonderful they’ve been to us,” Brown said.
He’s also eager to begin working toward reconciliation.
“I believe reconciliation is at the heart of God,” Brown said. “I feel this is something God wants to see happen and I’m honored to be part of it.”
First Reformed Church discusses reconciliation
Dick and Ruth Stravers, from Pillar Church in Holland, Mich., will speak at First Reformed Church Sunday, June 17 at the 9:30 and 10 a.m. services.
They will share the story of the split between the denominations and the current work of reconciliation. The church is located at 250 SW Third Ave., Oak Harbor. For information, call 675-4837.