Why Do We Remodel?

A lot of remodeling is going on in our church. We just finished the women’s bathroom – please see the pictures – that show many of our friends from the Colts Neck Reformed Church who provided a lot of know-how and labor. All of this happened under the joint leadership of Dotty Weidman of the Colts Neck church and Julius Fekete who led the First Reformed team in his well-tried way. The selfless service of both groups was just incredible, and we extend a great thank-you to our sister church and to our own volunteers.

During the month of May, we will begin construction on the outside: church roof and steeple will be our primary projects. And then there is our feasibility study on reshaping the interior of our sanctuary. First results will be presented during coffee hour on May 2nd.

With so much brick-and-mortar work going on, it is important that we always know why we are doing this. It would be too little, if our response were a simple reference to the need of an updated bathroom, a renovated steeple, and a flawless roof. I don’t think that remodeling in churches can be an end in itself.

What then is behind all our remodeling? Peter Drucker, the famous business thinker and doyen of modern management, provides some valuable insight. I encountered his work through a newsletter article by Rev. Tim Halverson. Halverson is pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Cape Coral, FL, where my father-in-law worships.

Pondering the burden of yet another building project, Pastor Halverson remembered one of Drucker’s main insights:

“I thought to myself, ‘Do we really want to go through another major building project?’ Then I remembered that one of Drucker’s guiding principles for modern business management is that an organization begins to die the day it is run for the benefit of the insiders and not for the benefit of the outsiders. Think about this in terms of the church – once we become self-absorbed we lose our vision. In the end, Pastor Halverson summarized, ‘The church that exists only for its members has lost touch with Jesus.’

In a way, we Christians have known this all along. Jesus, himself, said, according to John, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) Drucker’s insights seem to be nothing but a modern application of this principle. From this vantage point it is important to maintain that we have not remodeled our bathroom just for ourselves. Rather, we wanted it functional and inviting for the large number of people who use it every day: The guests of House of Manna, the members of the various community groups that meet under our roof, as well as the partner churches that worship in our halls.

The same can be said about the steeple and the architecture to which our preservation project is devoted. We take the efforts upon us, because we believe that an aspiring city like New Brunswick needs the reminder of our steeple in its skyline. As responsible Christians, we cannot turn our back on this city and the powerful corporations that shape so much of its life. We want to be visible present with our heritage that spans centuries.

We also want to be present for those in need of shelter. Add the enormous space of our sanctuary to Pastor Halverson’s reflections, and you will quickly see one major reason why our Consistory and its Building Vision Team wanted to explore the possibility of reconfiguring the sanctuary. It was their way of taking the benefit of the outsider into account. Ultimately this is why we are a serving church.

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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