Vision Casting in the Library

Dear Friends:

Fortunately, casting a vision comes without the lead sinkers required when casting a line. From this standpoint, the retreat of our Vision Team on June 9th was perfectly safe in our new church library: when we left, there were no scales or saltwater spots on the carpet, and neither were there sinker-caused holes in the Sheetrock of the walls.

And yet it was a profound retreat, because we, who participated, gained a much stronger understanding of the interface between vision and reality. The more we have progressed in vision casting, the more real our visions and dreams have become.

Part of this reality was to accept that combining our ministries with the Suydam Street Reformed Church will not work at this time. After all, the retreat had been planned as a bilateral endeavor, but turned out unilateral although it had been rescheduled already once.

The reasons for this are manifold. In addition, the building project at Suydam Street progresses at a much slower pace than anticipated. So we retreat participants spent some time in counting our blessings. What did we learn from the project, and how has it helped us defining our future more appropriately?

We also pondered some of the theological thought at the base of our experience. If we wanted this cooperation with our sister church, why did God not grant it? For the purpose of finding an answer, we watched one of the modern video clips of Rob Bell. Here he shows that being a parent cannot mean to grant each and every wish of our children. His infant may yell, “But I waaaant it!” and even finish by saying, “I thought you love me.” But even this does not put a dent in the truth that parents know better what is good for their child and what isn’t.

Who knows why the opportunity with Suydam Street did not work out? Did it address the most important needs in our town? We thought. But God may think otherwise. Perhaps this whole endeavor was just preparation for something else?

As we discussed the possibilities, we also grew aware of some of the consequences of the visit of Rev. Bitar from Lebanon with us this past winter. Rev. Bitar has opened our eyes to the high number of Protestant Arabic-speaking Christians in our area, and he reiterated the need for ministry for them. Consequently, our Vision Team discussed these opportunities as well. How would an intentional ministry to Arabic-speaking Protestants from First Reformed Church look like?

Exploring possibilities like these naturally raises the question whether such exploration is a good use of our time and energy. Our discussion during the retreat only touched the issue. My opinion is this: as long as our church is not fully self-sufficient in terms of membership and resources, we cannot but explore alternatives to the current status quo. To say it a bit bluntly: the drain is not with future possibilities, but in the current situation. Something will have to change, and I am rather proactive than sitting back and letting it happen. From this perspective, Susan and I are grateful for each new opportunity that God seems to bring our way. With each one we grow and learn a little more about what it means to serve our great old church in the crossroads of Central New Jersey.


Some Vision Team members: (from left to right) Gary Bernhofer, Pastor Susan, Joan Fekete, David Blevins, Josh Bernhofer, and Lauren Bernhofer… Pastor Hartmut is taking the picture.


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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