For All Generations: Princeton Christian Reformed Church, Kentwood, Michigan
Kristy Ruthven has two titles at Princeton Christian Reformed Church: youth director and director of worship and music. In the eyes of Ruthven and her congregation, the two jobs are integrally linked. Princeton worships with a vision for intergenerational unity, and the task of reaching out to youth cannot be separated from the practice of worship.
Ruthven credits the congregation’s patience and curiosity for worship that is both varied and consistent, engaging members of different age groups. “Princeton is a very kind congregation, very willing to learn new songs, and sometimes old songs in new ways,” Ruthven says. “There’s such a huge variety of musical styles in our church, with so many generations represented.”
Testimonies by Youth
One of Princeton’s most innovative attempts to engage youth in worship is a new practice it has introduced during services of profession of faith. In March, Princeton began PowerPoint presentations of youth testimonies to accompany their professions of faith. The testimonies are played during the offertory, which takes place later in the service, after the formal professions.
Ruthven said the idea originated in a discussion with the parents of four youth preparing to make profession of faith about how to have these young people address the congregation. They had something to say, but they were shy.
“We said, how can we do this in a way that’s going to be meaningful to them and to our congregation without being scary?” Ruthven recalls.
With the help of their pastor, Dave Poolman, the youth, ages nine through twelve, wrote out brief personal statements of belief and made audio recordings of them. The recordings were incorporated into a PowerPoint presentation, along with pictures of the youth and the text of their testimonies. The text was also printed in the bulletin for the benefit of the hearing impaired.
“The reason I am doing this is because I believe this is the next step in my spiritual life,” one statement began. “I feel closer to God by professing my faith. I believe that God is all powerful and created this world. I believe that God’s Son, Jesus, died to save the world from sin. I also believe that the Holy Spirit empowers us to share the gospel with other people on earth and helps us know when we have done wrong.”
“Today, I want to make profession of faith because everyone should know how much I love God and to feel like I am part of the church,” said another. “When I take part in the Lord ’s Supper it reminds me of how undeserving of God’s grace I am but [I am] also so grateful he loved me enough to let his only Son suffer and die to take away my sins.”
“The testimonies that they wrote were a lot more in-depth than I thought they were going to be,” Poolman said. “To hear the level of their faith at a young age was very impressive. I intentionally did not see the whole presentation until that point in the service. I had tears in my eyes.”
“It’s just amazing to see how these kids are thinking about their lives right now and really acknowledging the character of God,” Ruthven says. “A lot of people were just blown away that kids are thinking about these things.”
Poolman said the presentations were so well-received that the practice will continue with the next profession of faith class. “It’s important for them to share something of their faith story,” he said. “Otherwise the only ones who get to hear that are the elders. It’s great for people across generations, and for peers, to hear it—to say, God is doing something here.”
Not that the formal profession of faith is neglected. The formal questions and answers of confirmation are followed as they appear in the Psalter Hymnal of the Christian Reformed Church. In addition, Princeton invites family members, council members, and other church members to come forward and encircle the children during a post-profession prayer. It visually illustrates the role the family and congregation has played in the children’s formation of faith.
Ruthven says the testimonies also complement the public confession of creeds. About twice a month, the congregation stands to recite the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, or portions from the Belgic Confession. In fact, the lines of the Apostles’ Creed are inscribed on the octagonal walls around the sanctuary—in effect surrounding the congregation as they worship.
“The personal stories sort of spring from the creeds,” says Ruthven. “The creeds are those fundamental, foundational truths about God, his church, who God is, and the way he works. The stories are our response to the creeds: “This is how God is working specifically in my life. This is what I can see about God’s nature in this situation. It’s sort of like teaching, and then asking, how is it being applied?”
An Across-the-Board Congregation
Founded in 1963, Princeton has a membership of nearly five hundred people, over half of whom live with in a three-mile radius. Members describe the church as missions-oriented; the church staff listed on the bulletin and website reads “Ministers: Every Member.”
Poolman, who came to Princeton in 2003, says the congregation is hard to categorize. “We have people here from across the board politically, educationally, some very well-off, some not,” he said. “In the congregation I’ve seen a large amount of unity in spite of this diversity. Sometimes I’m pretty amazed by people’s ability to put some things aside for the greater good, and know that there are going to be differences, but differences don’t have to be divisive. These were the things that initially impressed us when we came to Princeton.”
The Worship Space
Princeton’s sanctuary seems to enforce the sense of community in worship. The pews wrap around the front so that the outer benches face the front on an angle, softening the separation between congregation and leaders. The praise band is placed to the side, so that the musicians are not the focal point of the singing. The music includes hymns sung from the Psalter Hymnal and accompanied by piano and organ, and contemporary songs accompanied by piano, keyboard, guitar, and drums (and, at Christmas, strings).
The space is dark and reverent but not overly somber. A new addition in 2000, which includes an arched sunroof over the fellowship area, is starkly bright and cheery by comparison.
Intergenerational Leadership and Learning
One of the ways the congregation’s broad participation in worship is encouraged is by varying the guest leaders of the praise team and the Scripture readers. One week, Ruthven will be joined in leading the singing by a mother and children; the next week she invites an older couple—so “it doesn’t look like a closed group,” Ruthven explains.
Princeton by the Numbers
- Founded in 1963.
- 450 members, approximately half of whom live within three miles of the church.
- Wide variety of age and income.
- Services: 9:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
- Staff: pastor, administrator, church secretary, custodian, KIDS HOPE USA director, worship and youth director.
- Website: www.princetoncrc.org
I believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that he came into this world to die for my sins. He did this so that I can be forgiven, so that all my sins are gone, and so that I can go to heaven.
I believe that Jesus lives in my heart and will help me through my whole life.
Jesus loves me and I love him and I want to live for him.
I want to profess my faith so that I can be part of God’s family and so that Jesus can say that I am his.
I think that it is important for me to profess my faith so that everybody knows I love Jesus.
David De Rooy
I love Jesus because he died on the cross for me. He is my best friend and I can always talk to him about anything. He listens to me when I have troubles or when stuff is going really well or when I’m excited about something. I know that Jesus lives in my heart because I invited him in and I do my best to show others that Jesus lives in me and that I am a Christian, but no one is perfect.
I want to make profession of faith because I want a better and closer relationship with God. Taking part in the Lord’s Supper makes me feel serious about loving Jesus and more like a member of the church. I want to continue to learn more about Jesus and everything he does for me so I can show him how much I love him.
Victoria De Rooy
I love Jesus because he loved me first and died for me on the cross to take away my sins. Jesus lives in my heart because I asked him to come into my heart and be my Savior.
Today I want to make profession of faith because everyone should know how much I love God and to feel like I am part of the church. When I take part in the Lord ’s Supper it reminds me of how undeserving of God’s grace I am but also so grateful he loved me enough to let his only Son suffer and die to take away my sins.
I love God and I want to tell everyone about him.
I am happy to make my profession of faith today. The reason I am doing this is because I believe this is the next step in my spiritual life. I feel closer to God by professing my faith.
I believe that God is all-powerful and created this world. I believe that God’s son, Jesus, died to save the world from sin. I also believe that the Holy Spirit empowers us to share the gospel with other people on earth and helps us know when we have done wrong. I believe that the Bible is inspired by God and that it contains stories of God’s love, power and forgiveness for His people. I want to read, study, and live by the Bible because it is God’s holy Word.
In everything I do, I want to give glory to my Lord.