A Great Church Retreat to Astoria / Queens

Many of our churches ask themselves serious questions these days. One of them is a question about our heritage. Given the current membership decline in many of our congregations, should we concern ourselves with leaving behind a well-preserved footprint in history, or can we still expect our tradition to have an impact on society today? It’s a clear fork in the road. One side leads into a museum, the other into the world. Which do we choose?

Our sister church, the First Reformed Church of Astoria, has been exposed to this question just as much as we have here at First Reformed Church of New Brunswick. On the occasion of their 176th anniversary, their current pastor, Rev. Dwayne Jackson, likened the situation to cooking from a cookbook. If there is no support from a parent or grandparent, the attempt oftentimes fails. Letters without spirit are dead. By the same token, church ceases to exist when there is nothing left but a well preserved heritage. You can’t do ministry from that. But as long as the Spirit is present, a church will always be more than a museum. Rev. Anna Jackson, who preached the afternoon sermon, focused on this especially.

Filled with the Spirit, the Astoria church had invited us to join in the celebration of their anniversary. Many churches do this now annually. But this is not the point. The point is that we met and encouraged one another; that we joined in shared experience and that we expressed God’s life in us. Ten of our members responded to this opportunity, and Gary Bernhofer was so kind to organize a van for us and drive us straight through Manhattan into Queens.

It was a wonderful day. We adults enjoyed the fellowship with friends we had first met in 2007. Our children heard from the witnesses of the day what it means to stay committed to the church for life. And altogether we saw once more that “church” is bigger than the local congregation. Thank you, First Reformed Church of Astoria, for your warm hospitality!

About Rev. Dr. Hartmut Kramer-Mills

Hartmut Kramer-Mills, a native of Jena, Germany, began his theological education at Heidelberg University. After the Middle Exam in 1986 he received a scholarship from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches for McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He graduated from McCormick with a Master of Divinity in 1988. He graduated from Marburg University in Germany with the Ecclesiastical Exam in 1990, and received a Dr. theol. from Greifswald University, Germany, in 1997. From 1990 to 1991 he was vicar at St. Wenzel in Naumburg, Germany. He was ordained minister of word and sacrament in 1993 through the Protestant Church of the Church Province of Saxony. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant pastor in Stoessen, Goerschen, and Rathewitz, Germany. At the same time he was lecturer for Church History at Erfurt College in Germany. From 1999 to 2000 he served the Spotswood Reformed Church in New Jersey as interim pastor. Since 2000 he and his wife serve the First Reformed Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey, as co-pastors.
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