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My wife, Sophie, and I had dinner with five delightful people last Saturday — four of whom I had never met before. They were young, funny, intelligent, thoughtful, kind, and winsome. I left with my stomach and soul full. All of them inhabit a parallel universe that doesn’t often intersect with ours. I never would have met them without an online connection.

It’s called the Reformed Journal.

Our dinner companions included fellow Twelver, Laura de Jong, and frequent RJ contributor, Nathan Groenewold, along with three other bright young Christian Reformed people who were in town for a wedding. We knew of each other solely because of the Reformed Journal.

In some ways, we don’t have much in common. They are much younger than I am. They inhabit that parallel universe known as the Christian Reformed Church. Yet there we were, enjoying pizza and conversation together. Connected, joined, by the Reformed Journal. It makes me smile.

Most of the time the volunteers here at the Reformed Journal are simply scrambling to get stuff done.Trying to squeeze in some time for a few emails, to post an essay, and maybe a quick Zoom. We don’t often step back to ask “Why?” What are we doing? What are we trying to accomplish?

I wrote here before that I never again want to attend a meeting where we have to put sticky notes on a wall or brainstorm with markers on newsprint. That’s still true. Nonetheless, we do on occasion need to ask ourselves some bigger questions, like “What for?”

It’s no small feat to bring into the world a little beauty, some joy, some wondering, some insight, some provocation — something honest, holy, and life giving. You read the blog with your morning coffee, ruminate over a poem, listen to a podcast with a glass of wine. You invest in reading a longer article or review — and then something you found there comes back to you three or four times in the days ahead. That’s what I envision anyway. That’s what I hope.

Is consistently putting out good content enough? That’s our niche, our calling?

Maybe it’s because we’re Reformed — but that individual experience is never enough. We want to instantiate, to connect, to do. Building community is one of our priorities. That can happen simply by reading, writing, liking, sharing, and commenting. Thanks to the internet we can feel connected. People around the world read RJ every day. There’s some sense of community, even if it is a cyber community. We hope the Reformed Journal helps each one of us to be able to say “I am not alone!’ That’s important.

When I find something beautiful or hopeful or truthful, I often whisper, “Not every knee has bowed to Baal” — parroting God talking to Elijah. All you armchair therapists can now mull just how depraved I must be to say such a thing. I concur. Still, when I lean into Elijah, I’m reminding myself that there is goodness out there and I have found a little bit of it. There are creative, faithful, loving people. And it is so good to bump into them. If RJ helps do that, it’s significant.

Could we do more? Pizza in Pella, Iowa with five wonderful people is a start. I seem to recall several decades ago, the Mennonites put out a guide to people who were willing to host other Mennonites traveling across North America. Wouldn’t you like Jeff Munroe to crash on your couch or maybe the Rienstras could pitch their tent in your backyard on the way to some national park?

“Movement” is a potentially dangerous and arrogant word. The Reformed Journal has no illusions of grandeur. What I don’t want you to hear is another obligation on your overfilled schedule, a committee to join, a bandwagon to jump on. The Kingdom of God consists of mustard seeds, yeast, and lost pennies. Realizing that, how do we build community, even galvanize people? We want to serve and to prod the Church. How can we call people, readers — you — to deeper discipleship? Could we call people to action, even collective action?

We don’t know yet. But we do value your input, ideas, and wisdom. Seriously. And if you have pizza with some other RJ friends, do let us know.

I hope you hear an early and unformed desire to connect people, to make a difference. What might that look like? We await the breath of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit speaking through you to help flesh it out.

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell and his wife, Sophie, are the pastors at the Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. Steve has served on numerous Reformed Church commissions and task forces, and also edited the journal Perspectives for many years. Before coming to Iowa, he lived and served as a pastor in upstate New York. Sophie and he have two adult children. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College in theological ethics.

15 Comments

  • Dana VanderLugt says:

    I love so much about this. The RJ has diminished my sense of isolation over and over. And I’m glad for the new tables it has landed me around, the new conversations started.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Steve, wonderful and timely. There is a guest bedroom for RJ readers (and writers) at 1 Juniper Street in New Paltz NY. The pizza here is not so good, but Los Jalapeños is right down the street.
    On another note: I’ve had pizza in Pella twice, at the bar after sessions of General Synod. The pie came to the table, and it was cut, not in slices, but into smaller pieces by all kinds of random zig-zag lines. Still done there? The next night we ordered it with pepperoni, and when it came to the table, we could see none. “Where is it?” I asked. “Under the cheese ” “Why?” “So it doesn’t slide off.” Honest. Still done?

    • Laura de Jong says:

      Still done! We ordered pepperoni and there was one lone pepperoni in the middle of the pie, leading to a rather amusing conversation about where the rest of it was, until discovering it was indeed under the cheese.

  • John Kleinheksel says:

    Because of Covid, we have all been reminded of the need for “embodied” community. We can’t be content with “virtual.”
    The RJ community. With persons present. What would that look like? Friends over a pizza. A day-long get together somewhere, looking at options, celebrating the new things God is doing in our world?
    We’ve been trying to build a “community” as an extension of a blog about Israel/Palestine (Kairos West Michigan). Nothing like being together, in person, building relationships, wanting to take action together, not just individually.
    Quite an opening you’ve given us Steve. I’d be interested to see where this goes. Thanks.

  • Gloria McCanna says:

    Yes, let us gather together, building community, challenging one another to think and act in ways that bless and not curse, sharing whatever is in the cupboard and cabinet. I join Daniel in offering space in New York, just across the river in Poughkeepsie.
    Thank you for the challenge to be a generous people.

  • Linda Terpstra says:

    I was told about the Reformed Journal about a year ago, and have been a daily reader and subscriber since. The posts are always thoughtful, timely, and feed my soul. I’ve even read a couple books by contributors now. I appreciate the ability to occasionally forward an articles to friends who also enjoy the writings. Another way of building community, although in my case it’s of the Presbyterian flavor. Thank you all for what you do for so many.

  • Gail Miller says:

    Wonderful! Twenty years ago or so, I discovered that the Lutherans had a network just like you’re describing. People willing to open their homes to travelers / tourists. This was long before the likes of AirBnB etc…. The church at its best – Christian hospitality!

  • Pizza in Pella? There is not real pizza outside of North Jersey!

    Seriously, good thoughts and good writing but bad pizza.

  • David E Stravers says:

    Gathered around pizza and working together on the Journal — two great expressions of the church.

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Steve, for adding a human touch to the RJ. I appreciate the openness of the editorial staff for allowing some of my comments to be posted. As to pizza, we have the best deep dish, in downtown Chicago, perhaps even a match for the well known North Jersey pizza, that Mark is bragging about. There’s a welcome here if you’d like to try some, or a tour of the top of the AON building (4th tallest in Chi) at the Mid America Club (that’s no relation to the Mid America Seminary). Wishing you all well!

    • Jeff Carpenter says:

      And if deep-dish is too heavy, there’s always myriad options of thin-crust, tavern-style cut (“squares&corners”) throughout Chicago, street-level and up in the skyscraper clouds!
      :?)
      RLG, I have missed your commentary for awhile–glad to hear from you!

  • David Hoekema says:

    The pizza in Heaven, I am certain, will be from Fricano’s. a Grand Haven MI institution. Neither the recipe not the decor at the Mother Ship has changed in half a century. On the menu is pizza and nothing else (plus beverages).
    And there’s a guest room a few miles away to which Susan and I would welcome RJ readers and writers (in the brief intervals when it is not occupied by family and friends).

  • Gretchen Schoon Tanis says:

    The Reformed Journal and The Twelve are indeed read around the world – a faithful reader here in Hannover, Germany. Indeed I often find things to ruminate over, things that add depth and flavor to sermons, that challenge me to think deeply about topics for days. When it’s possible, there is plenty of room for people to stay here in Hannover. The beer and pretzels are fantastic.

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