Reformed Church in Kinnelon was in despair over the damaged classroom—until the typically quiet church treasurer spoke up to offer an important reminder.
Pastor Beverly Sullivant wasn’t at home the week in August 2016 when storms ripped through Kinnelon, New Jersey, damaging homes, businesses, and churches. She was on a much-needed summer vacation. And, while Sullivant is an important piece of the life of the Reformed Church in Kinnelon, the experience—and what has followed—has inspired grassroots leadership in the church.
The church was virtually shut down the week of the storm: no meetings, camps, community outreach, or pastor in her office. Strong winds tore apart a downspout above the Children and Worship classroom, allowing water to rush in. It was five or six days before anyone entered the building and smelled the telltale sign that all was not well: mold.
“The damage was complete because of mold,” says Sullivant. “Drywall, carpeting, padding, ceiling tiles, paint. You name it, it had to be replaced or redone.”
To make matters worse, there were asbestos tiles under the carpet. They didn’t come up easily, requiring tedious work to chip them out a piece at a time.
Not surprisingly, there was some despair as the extent of the damage became known. Estimates came back that had jaws dropping and people talking about giving up on Children and Worship and using the classroom for another purpose.
It was at this point that the church treasurer, typically a quiet man, asked the congregation to remember. His name is Charlie Haas. At a meeting of the disheartened congregation, Haas, a longtime member of the consistory, remembered the story of God.
He said, “We are a biblical people. We know the stories of the flood, and we need to be in step with God in the restoration.”
Almost 30 years prior, the Children and Worship classroom was first outfitted for the Montessori-based children’s curriculum. Stations were built to accommodate experiential learning at a child’s height. One member of the congregation, Gary Van Schaick, had built a sand table (called a “desert box”), carved wooden figurines, and used his engineering talents to help bring the room to life. Others had also pitched in, and their contributions helped carry the Children and Worship program for an entire generation.
Now, inspired by Haas’s faith, the small congregation resolved to trust the God of restoration and face the $2,000 damage to the classroom. Many of the same folks who first worked on the room were galvanized again.
“Because of the history of Children and Worship in this congregation, there’s lots of ownership that was rejuvenated,” says Sullivant. “They remembered when they [helped build the room], joined in the work of cleanup, and blessed the new room with a celebration. It happened without much involvement from me at all.”
Donations from a GoFundMe campaign supported the process. Both the classis and the region contributed financially. In addition, word of the church’s need made it to a Reformed church in Pennsylvania that was closing and donated funds they had to disperse.
At the time, the Reformed Church in Kinnelon was also participating in the Reformed Leadership Initiative, a collaborative network of churches in the RCA and Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC) that supports the ongoing development of leaders within congregations. At one of their gatherings, Charlie Haas told the story of the damage to the Children and Worship room and of God’s promises of restoration.
Moved by Haas’s story, someone from another church gave a large financial gift to the Reformed Church in Kinnelon, and that donation expanded the congregation’s capacity to dream beyond the renovation of the physical space to the restoration of a whole ministry.
“We had one long-term teacher in the Children and Worship room, and the restoration gave us a vision to train more,” says Sullivant. “I started looking for trainings and found out the only option available at the time was to schedule one at our own church.”
So in June 2017, the newly finished room became a training space for 20-some volunteers from both RCA and CRC churches, including three from the Reformed Church in Kinnelon. Adding to the sense of God’s abundant provision was the fact that churches that were no longer using the curriculum donated lesson materials to share with the churches at the training.
All told, donations came to more than $4,000, and the Reformed Church in Kinnelon restored its Children and Worship room and resources with plenty left over to provide scholarships for the training and a fund for the future of Children and Worship at the church.
“The blessing of a denomination our size and its structure means that people know who you are,” says Sullivant. “Your story is their story, and what aches in your heart spurs them to help. Smaller churches can feel isolated, but when you connect in bigger circles it pulls you out of that.”