Designing New Worship Space

We are blessed to have the professional leadership of Architect Gary Wagner as we go about the creation of the new worship space in the church building. Gary has been a very sensitive moderator of our discussions, and he has come several times now to worship with us, so that he can know our ways.Gary’s discussion with the Liaison Committee and members of the Consistory on October 12 was very fruitful. Together, we gathered our dreams for the new worship space. So far, the wish-list encompasses the following:

  • Kids area
  • Projection capability
  • General versatility of the space for use by the community (moveable seats, instruments and chancel furniture)
  • Consideration of arts performances (readings, dance, etc.)
  • 200 seats
  • First class accessibility (elevator by main door will not require detour to hidden place).
    Sense of sacredness
  • The overall appearance of the space should be “simple” but still representative of “church”

In the light of the sad reality of the pews now removed from the lower part of the sanctuary, it is important for us to focus on the positive prospect of the new worship space and to funnel our efforts and energies into making it the best possible space.

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News from the Lunchtime Recital Series

It is always amazing to experience the quality and high standards of the performers at our Lunchtime Recital Series. On October 8, the Series featured Sean McCarther as baritone and Carlos Cuestas on the lute and theorbo. They played a selection of Renaissance and baroque music. And if there were any doubts that the predominantly Latino fifth graders from the Livingston School could relate to this, they were dispersed within the first few minutes. The class was mesmerized! So were our seniors from area nursing homes. The following Question & Answer session involved children and senior citizens and did not want to end. I had to intervene so that the volunteers in the kitchen did not have to serve cold soup and hot dogs.

I learned two things that day:

  1. Out of approximately 10 students of the Livingston School raising their hand when I asked whether they played a string instrument, none of them played the guitar. It was all violins and celli!
  2. After the concert, Mr. Cuestas explained to a few people the history of the theorbo. This peculiar string instrument has Moorish and Spanish roots and is therefore a bridge between the Muslim and the Christian cultures of its time. Then the medieval Medici family got involved when they needed particularly loud instruments for a wedding party. Since then, some theorbos are taller than the musicians who play them.

On October 22, we featured another very interesting concert, this time with Ben Berman on the harpsichord and Perry Sutton on a baroque trumpet. Mr. Sutton had even brought a collection of trumpets to show the audience various stages in the historic development of the instrument – until the 5th graders from the Livingston school were able to recognize the instrument currently used in many marching bands.

It is really unique how we are blessed here at First Reformed Church to bring together such interesting history, such superb musicians, and such an attentive and intergenerational audience. A great thank you goes out to Janet Waanders who has chaired these efforts for several years now.

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Rutgers Civic Engagement Fair

October 9 brought us an opportunity to participate in another one of Rutgers University’s Civic Engagement Fairs. Our church table was right next to the table of Pine Grove Nursery School.


These fairs are important to us, because that’s where Rutgers staff and students can encounter our church. It is from here that we receive many of our student volunteers for the manifold historic preservation projects here at the church.

The banner of the church table gave a good summary of why Rutgers students need to know First Reformed Church. The banner read:


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The Pews Are Gone but not the Church!

The pew removal was a sad task, and, understandably, many of us could not help to move the boards out of the sanctuary. But folks from the Suydam Street Reformed Church helped! This is what it’s all about when we say that we are sister churches. The event took place on October 11.

On October 19, we received help from the Princeton Athletic Club: Rugby. Their team members removed the two 18-feet pews that we will retain for display purposes later. We are so grateful for all this help from the near and far community without whose help we would never have gotten the job done.

I have heard now several voices cautioning against emphasizing the feelings of sadness and pain of that day. Rather than dwelling in negativity, it is better to look forward and to anticipate the great things the reconfigured church building will allow us to do. I agree wholeheartedly with this advice, but have some additional thoughts:

Maybe some of the sadness is good lest we forget that this is not a self-serving endeavor!

The grandeur of the Dina’s Dwellings project has it that there is not too much time for the more usual community activities of our church. We don’t offer the graveyard tour, and there is a host of other issues and causes in which we are currently not participating. But the reason is not that we have now turned self-serving, rather, we are pursuing something truly big: the provision of permanent supportive housing for a group of women and children who need it the most, because they are completely underserved in our state! And serving costs effort and pain. Otherwise it’s not serving. So, from this vantage point, it is better not to completely deny some of the blue feelings we have. It’s just part of what it means to take up the cross and follow the Lord.

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Annual March and Rally Against Domestic Violence


View/Print DV March and Rally flyer

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Concert @ FRC

Dear Friends and Supporters: Please join us at First Reformed Church on Sunday, October 19th at 7:00pm for an evening of song. Hyang-Soo Heo, mezzo-soprano, Eunhye Grace Kim, soprano, and Sohee Lee, piano will perform works by Chopin, Berlioz, Brahms, and others. Enter the church at the glass door on Bayard St. While there are no tickets, please consider making a donation of $15, or $10 for seniors, or $5 for students. The concert will be held in the Randolph Room next to Fellowship Hall. Please tell your friends about our concert, and about our concert series. See the flyer for more information. Consider posting it wherever you can. Thank you, as always, for your kind support. I hope to see you on the 19th.

Sincerely, Benjamin T. Berman


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From Pastor’s Desk

pc_hartmutRoom for All (RfA) is an organization whose mission is the welcome and full affirmation of LBTGQ people in the Reformed Church in America. Supporters of the organization in West Michigan are planning a major fundraising dinner on October 28. In order to have a meaningful resource table for the event, RfA Executive Director Marilyn Paarlberg has asked all supporting churches to provide short statements on what it means for them to be an open-and-affirming and RfA-rostered church.

What does one write in response? Here at First Reformed, our most pronounced statement on our stance is found in the church’s Bylaws. Article I, Section 4 reads: “Candidates for the ordained offices of the church (Deacons, Elders, Pastors) will not be discriminated against on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, or physical disability.

As progressive as this text is, it hardly displays much trailblazing quality. We are in the Bylaws here, a genre of text not usually known for its visionary or programmatic quality!

And maybe this is okay at least in parts. The normalcy of including LGBTQ persons in all aspects of congregational life may very well be at odds with attempts of turning a spotlight on LGBTQ people. We would not do this for people with heterosexual orientation. If something is considered “normal”, it does not have to be the focus of attention.

But is this really the main reason why not more is found as far as our congregation’s self-presentation on the issue? For it is also true that we do not have a lot of structure in place to intentionally ponder these questions. And it is still overwhelmingly evident that in reality LGBTQ people have not made it into the mainstream of normalcy, neither here at First Reformed nor in the Reformed Church in America.

So back to the request from RfA! What evidence could we provide that we are serious about being open-and-affirming? What does it really mean to be on the roster of RfA registered churches? Should our Invitation & Outreach Committee launch a congregational discussion on this? Should Consistory take up the issue in its wider planning and visioning efforts? Should we start an LGBT focus group?

These are all viable possibilities. However, as so often in life, if there are not intentional individual people behind it, these things will not happen and thus remain forever in the realm of the good ideas on which we forgot to act.

So what does it mean for us right now to be on the roster of RfA? It means to be open to the organization’s challenges and reminders that there is work to be done in our midst. It means to stay open to the call to get involved and to join with others in furthering much needed change. It may also mean to learn from other roster-churches what they have done.

In all of this, may our thoughts be guided by what the Lord once said according to Matthew: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:40)

With fond wishes,
Pastor Hartmut

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