Finding New Friends in Astoria

First Reformed Church, Astoria, Queens

Three years in a row we have had church retreats during the spring. Our recent retreat to the First Reformed Church in Astoria, Queens could not have been more meaningful. We found a most friendly church of exactly the same size as ours (60 active members), a most beautiful but demanding historic building, and an order of worship that made us feel at home immediately. Rev. Dwayne Jackson and the volunteers of First Astoria received us with a lavish breakfast on Saturday morning in Fellowship Hall.
Then we spent the morning and a good part of the afternoon getting to know one another. We talked about how we had come to our respective churches in the first place, and about what kept us there. We shared the plight of declining membership, of grown children seeking other religious affiliations or none, and the burdens of the property, when its traditional guardians, the men, have oftentimes disappeared from our pews.

We also counted our blessings, block-walked the neighborhood together, discussed the emerging visions for our churches, and talked about the different and sometimes unusual ways of filling the gaps and finding solutions. We pondered the need to be more inclusive and looked at some of the challenges ethnic and cultural boundaries provide. It was good to come together from both sides of what presents itself all too often as a gap of race and culture and, usually, keeps us separated on Sunday mornings. In Astoria, we had come together to learn how to bridge some of this. Should this not have an impact on our worship life at First Reformed Church on Sunday morning? So we asked ourselves: Is it time to renew our efforts towards more fellowship?

All the while we were extremely grateful for a great children’s program on Saturday, as well as on Sunday morning. It was wonderful to hear Shirley Smith, a member of First Astoria and RCA staff person, report back to us adults some of the results of our combined children’s group and its discussion of inclusiveness.

There was a lot of fun and fellowship besides these serious subjects. Friday night we went to an Irish pub; Saturday night we spent at the Bohemian Hall where Viktoriya Raufova and her children Lisa and David were able to join us. It was a great evening. And Sunday we concluded with a formal dinner in a filled Fellowship Hall, and a round of Dutch dancing as a thank you to our hosting church. All of us travelers agree: It would be wonderful to host a group from First Astoria here in New Brunswick in return. Thank you, First Astoria, for hosting us so generously, and thank you for your warm friendship as well!

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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