2017-04-16 / Insight

Pastor fosters growth by keeping it simple at Pilgrim Presbyterian

BY ANDREW DIETDERICH
810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com


The stained-glass windows and bell tower at Pilgrim Presbyterian Church along High Street greet those entering the village of Metamora from the west. 
Photo by Andrew Dietderich The stained-glass windows and bell tower at Pilgrim Presbyterian Church along High Street greet those entering the village of Metamora from the west. Photo by Andrew Dietderich METAMORA — During today’s 138th Easter services at the home of Pilgrim Presbyterian Church in Metamora, Rev. John Belden says their won’t be a lot of what he calls “entertainment.”

There won’t be an altar adorned with peace lilies, draped in white and purple, a cross decorated with flowers, or an Easter egg hunt.

Belden says the only real difference between today’s services and that of any other Sunday will be a slight alteration to his sermon schedule allowing him to address the significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the basis of the Easter Sunday holiday.

The point is by no means to minimize the importance of the day, he says, it’s just that he knows what the growing congregation wants when they head to the building at 58 E. High St. with a history dating to 1878.


Because of the heavy emphasis on the Bible in the Orthodox Presbyterian doctrine, a large version of the book, shown here with Rev. John Belden, is placed in the center of the Presbyterian Church in Metamora. 
Photo by Andrew Dietderich Because of the heavy emphasis on the Bible in the Orthodox Presbyterian doctrine, a large version of the book, shown here with Rev. John Belden, is placed in the center of the Presbyterian Church in Metamora. Photo by Andrew Dietderich “We have our roots in Scottish Presbyterianism and the Reformation during the 15th Century and it really was, what do God’s people need more than anything else?” he said. “They need to hear God speak words of life to them, and so we tend to shy away from the entertainment, the visual stuff, on purpose.”

Belden, 50, has been with Pilgrim Presbyterian Church for about a year.

He grew up in Livonia, and his family moved to Rose City when he was 10. When he was old enough, he went to work in Detroit as a carpenter. In 1991, Belden says he “came to faith in Christ.”

He took a position as a volunteer coordinator for a housing ministry in Appalachia in 1993, and five years later, after he says God called him to gospel ministry, he began attending Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He graduated in 2004 and was ordained pastor of Neon Reformed Presbyterian Church in Neon, Kentucky, where he served for nine years.

But it wasn’t without a price.

Belden says the demands of the job in Kentucky “broke him,” and left him feeling burned out.

“God showed me how broken people can really be,” he said.

He left Kentucky to manage a Christianbased camp in North Carolina, something he says was a good fit for him at the time.

“It was outside and I needed that physical work where I was going out and sweating every day,” Belden said.

He preached from time-to-time at small country churches in the area, and kept involved in the ministry at the camp.

After about three years at the camp, Belden says he started to feel as if he “could get back into the game again.”

“I really started to feel like I wanted to be back in ministry again, just preaching God’s word, preaching his grace, and teaching some of the things he taught me,” Belden said.

He had the support of wife, Sara, and their five children.

Concurrently, Pilgrim Presbyterian was without a pastor at the time, trying to find someone for the job.

A Pilgrim Presbyterian church member heard an audio recording of one of Belden’s sermons that had been posted to a church website.

“We were casting a wide, wide net and someone said ‘You gotta hear this guy,’” said Gary Mason, 60, Dryden, who has been attending Pilgrim Presbyterian for about 20 years and was involved in finding Belden.

“We didn’t know if we were going to get him, but we were like ‘Well, if you don’t try, nothing’s going to happen,’” Mason said.

Belden and his family moved to Lapeer County on Feb. 11, 2016.

“One of the things that attracted me to the congregation here is that they had some people who had gone through some pretty rough times,” Belden said. “I could just tell it was a congregation that wanted to hear God’s grace. We were very well-received.”

The church is based in a structure with a history dating to 1878, when Civil War veterans erected the building to serve as home to what was then known as Pilgrim Congregational.

The building has undergone several renovations throughout the years, including the stained glass windows that were dedicated Dec. 7, 1941 as Pearl Harbor was attacked.

“The rumor is people waited outside of the church to tell those inside what had happened,” Mason said.

Since 1964 the church has been affiliated with several Presbyterianbased organizations until becoming an Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1985.

Pilgrim Presbyterian is the only Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the region, with the next closest locations in Southfield, Farmington Hills and Brighton. There are 19 Orthodox Presbyterian churches in the state of Michigan.

Pilgrim Presbyterian has about 80 members, though there are several people who attend church as visitors, something Belden said the church welcomes and encourages. In the last year, there’s been an uptick in membership, he said.

Belden said some parishioners drive to services in Metamora from places like Auburn Hills or Davison.

Part of the growth can be attributed to church outreach. The church uses its website at pilgrimmetamora.org and recently launched a Facebook page to reach more people. Sermons are posted to church website, too.

But Belden said he believes the primary reason for growth is a desire for people to connect with God in a way that doesn’t stray from teachings in the Bible, which is the basis for every single thing at Pilgrim Presbyterian.

“I definitely believe that there’s nothing more relevant and needed right now than for people to hear God’s speak through his word,” Belden said. “That’s what we’re all about.”

Mason said Belden is successfully carrying on what his family has appreciated about the church for more than two decades.

“Not to say anything bad about anyone else, but our former preaching had been about what happened during the week, what happened to the pastor, funny stories, and things like that,” Mason said. “And we came here and were like ‘Wow, we’re going to learn about what the Bible says? This is a great place to be.’”

TIMELINE OF PILGRIM PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

• The second church established in the village of Metamora.

• First organized as Pilgrim Congregational.

• Records show the fellowship’s first meeting was March 13, 1878.

• On July 1, 1878, the congregation extended a call to Rev. M.A. Bullock to become its first pastor. Later that year, the congregation began work on its church building on High Street.

• The cost of the original building was $3,200.

• On Dec. 2, 1878, the building was dedicated by the congregation.

• Stained glass windows replaced the original windows in 1941. They were dedicated Dec. 7, 1941.

• Newer pews, lights, and a pipe organ were added in the 1960s. These changes represent the only alterations to the main sanctuary.

• Pilgrim remained in the old Congregational Association of 1878 until 1964, when it was received into the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference.

• On July 15, 1974, the congregation adopted a constitution that committed it to Reformed theology.

•In 1979, the church withdrew from the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference and became members in the Fellowship of Reformed Congregations in Grand Rapids.

• On May 9, 1984, the congregation voted to adopt the Westminster Standards and Presbyterianism.

• The church was received into The Orthodox Presbyterian Church denomination on May 5, 1985.

• The church basement was renovated in 1998.

• An addition to the fellowship hall to add a barrier-free restroom and kitchen were completed in December 1999.

What is Orthodox Presbyterian Church?

According to the website of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), the church was founded on June 11, 1936, in the aftermath of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, under the leadership of J. Gresham Machen, a longtime professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, who also founded Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929.

As the website says, “With the infiltration of theological liberalism, the mainline Presbyterian Church in the USA had departed from historic Christianity, including the rejection of doctrines such as the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, and the substitutionary atonement. Originally calling itself the Presbyterian Church of America, the young church was forced by the threat of a lawsuit to change its name in 1939, and it adopted the name Orthodox Presbyterian Church.”

In nearly eight decades since its founding, the OPC has slowly grown to over 30,000 members in more than 300 churches throughout the United States and Canada.

More information about the beliefs of the OPC can be found at www.opc.org/beliefs. html

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