A Note from Our Transitional Pastor

Dear Thornapple Covenant Church:

When I was being interviewed by the elders last April for my position as Transitional Pastor, none of us knew how this year would unfold. I remember telling the elders that most churches lose people during a pastoral transition. But added to that, some church advisors were saying that many people may never return to church after the pandemic. Plus we were in the middle of yet another contentious election year. I said I’d be happy to join the church for the transition but “buckle up” because it wouldn’t be an easy year. It certainly wasn’t!

Yet, as we recently learned from “James,” we can consider it all joy when we go through various trials. Trials produce perseverance which in turn leads to our maturity so that we are lacking in nothing. The setbacks our church has suffered this past year has caused some of us to fear the future. But God has us in his hands. He always finishes the work that he starts and I’m confident he’s not finished with us yet!

We have a beautiful building in a strategic setting, but the greatest asset we have, besides God, is YOU… the people. I’ve only met a fraction of the church due to the pandemic, but the people I’ve met have been great; great faith, great hearts, great fun! Your dedication to God and to one another is what makes this church strong and convinces me that we will not only survive our present obstacles but overcome them and be better because of them.

We have an excellent staff and elders leading us. We have incredibly dedicated volunteers. And the search committee is doing a fantastic job of finding the next senior pastor that God has for us. As much as I’ll hate to say good-bye to you all this year, I can’t wait for this person to surface so they can lead you into God’s future.

Thanks for letting me be a part of the Thornapple Story for this brief season. Please celebrate with me as we review this past year and look ahead to the rest of 2021 and beyond.

Thornapple by the Numbers

All-Church Highlights

As Elder Chair, Doug Josephson, said in his letter in the Annual Meeting Pre-Read Packet, Thornapple had two “normal” days in 2020 – January 1 and 2. After that we learned we would be embarking on a search for our next senior pastor, followed by the impact of a global pandemic. Through it all, God remains constant, as does Thornapple’s commitment to our mission to help people find and follow Jesus Christ. This year we pivoted and adapted – prayerfully making decisions and changing ministry processes – but our love for our people and our community still shines through.

Click each section below to read the highlights for each Ministry area. 

  • All-Church Immerse (Beginnings) Reading (January-March)
  • Online Membership Classes (May and October)
  • Tuesday Evening Prayer Services
  • Daily Devotionals at Noon
  • Drive By Farewells for Pastor Rob and Pastor Karen
  • Celebrating Suzanne Roth’s 15+ years of service and retirement and welcoming Angel Baum to staff
  • Summer Sunday Evening Outdoor Services
  • Conference Room turned into a Zoom Room (thanks, David Hartung)
  • Arrival of Transitional Pastor, Remy Diederich and his wife, Lisa
  • Fall Kick-Off Picnic with treats and food trucks
  • Sunday Morning Worship outside in September
  • Sunday Morning Worship inside in October
  • Hiring Peter Ek as our Minister to Students
  • Generous Covenant World Relief and Development (Thanksgiving) and Karawa Coffee Project (Christmas Eve) Offerings
  • Special outdoor Christmas Eve service

Ministry Updates

Children's Ministry

Sunday Mornings

Winter 2020

  • 150 children Birth to 5th grade 
  • 50 regular volunteer leaders for classes in addition to nursery volunteers
  • Classes for 2-year-olds through 1st grade at 9:00 and all ages at 10:30
  • Student-led worship and student volunteers in the classrooms were much appreciated


  • Children’s Worship stories told by worship leaders on video
  • Weekly newsletter with Sunday resources for families to do at home
  • Children’s Storytime for outdoor worship services up to 5th grade
  • Beginning in September, we started TCM in a Box that goes to 69 families each month to serve 140 kids
  • 10 drivers help deliver the boxes
  • 6-8 volunteers help assemble them each month
  • Each box contains a lesson/week and activities families can do together as well as something “just for fun”

Trailblazers (3rd – 5th Grade)

Winter 2020

  • 4 volunteer leaders
  • Average 30 kids regularly attending


  • Zoom gatherings of games and brief lesson
  • Summer – gatherings at different parks on Wednesday mornings
  • Fall – outdoor gatherings with games and lesson at parks and church parking lot
  • Attendance varied between 8 – 20

Family Events

  • Family movie night in January at church
  • Picnics in the park in the summer

Pandemic Pivots

  • Note writing to each child every 6 weeks or so (130+ notes each time)
  • Texting with families to see how they are doing
  • Resource videos and articles for families via newsletter or Sunday Resource folder
  • TCM in a Box has been a great connector with families and for families with their delivery drivers
  • Using social media more to communicate and share experiences
Student Ministries: Middle School

Middle School

What a year! I think we will all be starting with that phrase! I am thankful that middle school ministry was able to continue despite the pandemic occurring. We began 2020 spending time together on Sunday mornings (MS Huddle) and Wednesday evenings (MS JAM) learning about our faith and what it means to follow Jesus. I am thankful for the committed, faithful and Jesus loving volunteers that have and continue to build relationships with students and point them to Jesus. We have amazing role models of faith who spend time with our students.

What could be called regular middle school ministry was thrown out the window in March. We moved on to notes, goodie bag drops and to outdoor gatherings. I am thankful for God’s goodness in giving creativity and flexibility in ministry.


  • One Epic Night happened a week before shut down! Thornapple volunteers gave their time (and gave up their sleep) to show the love of Jesus to nearly 100 area middle school students as we partnered with the YMCA for this event.
  • Zoom was an amazing avenue that gave us the ability to finish the Alpha for Youth series we began in the fall.
  • Our 8th grade graduates read their theological papers on the steps of the Community Center and moved up to HS ministry.
  • Crossover Night welcomed the incoming 6th grade students.
  • Summer pool parties, lunches and games at parks.
  • Three-night Youth in Christ video series lessons and hanging out.
  • Fall Wednesday nights we met at parks for dinner, games and time to learn about Jesus.
  • A bonfire with pumpkin carving and games added to our fall fun.
  • Wednesday nights moved to Thornapple’s parking lot to continue to build community, even in the cold.
Student Ministries: High School

High School

Regular Events

  • Sunday Night Huddle & Small Groups
  • Student Led Bible Study
  • Student Service & Worship Band

Special Events

  • HS Retreat at Portage Lake
  • Pool Parties
  • Summer Giveaways
  • Back to School Party
  • Amazing Race
  • Zoom Christmas Party

In an unprecedented year that has slowly shed that title and become, well, precedented, TSM High School has endured lots of transition. Yet in each arena of heartache and adjustment, we have experienced the blessings of God’s faithfulness and provision. In a year marked by what was not, our high schoolers experienced a wonderful time of community and worship at the Portage Lake Winter Retreat last February. In June, with sadness we said goodbye to our previous Minister to Students, Cory Hendrickson, but were able to gather to celebrate his service and lasting impact with a poolside worship party. A summer and fall full of creativity and outdoor events – an Amazing Race for the ages being just one of them – was all spearheaded by a group of passionate students and an incredibly faithful army of volunteers. A fall and winter pivoting between in-person and online gatherings gave us an appreciation for time together and a Zoom Christmas Party with more than FIFTY PEOPLE in attendance! This season has also provided a unique awareness that we are truly blessed to live in an age in which we can be “zoomed out.” Imagine if all this would have happened just ten years ago?

2020 brought many surprises – 2021 will probably bring some too. Regardless of what may come, we are confident the Holy Spirit will continue to guide Thornapple Student Ministry appropriately. We are confident that our faithful volunteer leaders will continue to serve above and beyond the call of duty. We are confident that the passion of our students will continue to find space to grow and thrive in our community of faith and fun!

Adult Ministries

Women’s Ministry

Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS)

  • Adapted format to a small groups meeting virtually, in-person or in a hybrid format
  • 65 women (plus 13 mentor moms) 
  • Darci Irwin and Kara Vanderpol did an amazing job leading this ministry through the changes
  • 70 kids being served with Moppets packets
  • 145 children (and counting) for the whole group
  • The pandemic has helped us think about how we can include working moms better in the future

Moms on a Mission 

  • Met through the spring, with 40-50 in attendance
  • On hold for fall due to pandemic

Bible Studies

  • Finished the spring online; met in-person and online in fall
  • Morning and evening groups with total of 44 women

Men’s Ministry

  • Men’s Small Groups Studies
    • Four day/time options per week
    • Vanishing Grace winter/spring book studies
    • Life Without Lack fall book studies
  • Two Saturday Men’s Breakfasts with speakers, 1 in-person and 1 online
  • Summer Softball League

Generational Ministries

Young Adults (20s-30s)

  • Daily liturgy online at start of pandemic
  • Met throughout the year – in-person and outside 

Horizons (50s-60s)

  • Official, indoor gatherings limited due to COVID
  • Adapted to more informal, outdoor gatherings and service projects

Prime Timers (65 and older)

  • Soup & Study: In Person (January-March); On Zoom (April-May) 
  • [Not]Soup & Study: Outdoor (September-October); On Zoom (November-December)
Pastoral Care

Stephen Ministry

  • 14 active Stephen Ministers
  • 8 with care receivers
  • Phone calls and connections made with congregants during the pandemic
  • Continuing to develop ways to use these trained volunteers

Grief and Loss

  • 24 people lost a loved one this year (that we know of)
  • Supported families and spouses with Journeying Through Grief books (Stephen Ministry books) throughout the first year of loss

Hospitality + Assimilation

  • Meals provided for families and individuals in grief, illness and crisis
  • College Brunch and 12 Below Lunch in January

Small Groups

  • 28 small groups with about 270 people involved
  • Vital part of our connection and care for people, especially in the pandemic
  • Room for more people in current groups and would love more groups to develop

Marriage Ministry

  • Hosted a Marriage Matters event in February. Used FOCCUS assessment tool for married couples, had short TED talks on each subject, allowed couples to have time to talk alone about their assessments; 13 couples (26 people) attended
  • 6 couples attended Engage in partnership with the YMCA
Serving Others

Love Mercy Do Justice (LMDJ)

COVID changed the world in 2020 and the people and groups LMDJ supports were particularly hard hit.  Needs went up as people lost jobs.  At the same time resources went down as COVID caused financial uncertainty and most organizations could no longer use volunteers. In the face of these challenges the people of Thornapple responded.

  • Provided financial support in the full amounts promised to Next Step Ministries, International Justice Mission, the Hope Project, Degage, Family Promise, Servants Center and United in Christ Ministries.
  • Provided homemade frozen meals to families served by United in Christ Ministries. These families had lost jobs and income due to the pandemic. Meals were collected in a cooler outside of church, stored inside and transported to UICM once a week for many weeks.
  • COVID forced cancellation of our May, September and December week-long Family Promise hosting opportunities so we will start hosting as soon as restrictions allow. Instead of staying at churches, families are housed in motels, limiting their ability to get nutritious meals so we have been collecting and donating easily prepared food.
  • Although local organizations stopped using volunteers this spring and summer, we were still able to have three Glenn VanNoord Short Term Urban Missions participants serve remotely at the Refugee Center, Alpha Women’s Center and Access of West Michigan.
  • Coordinated donations of needed items throughout the year, including 937 pairs of socks for In the Image’s annual program to provide 3000 shoes to students going back to school.
  • Thornapple groups regularly served meals at Degage Ministries until restrictions on volunteers made that impossible. The pandemic restricted our normal contributions to the Degage Christmas store, instead we encouraged virtual/remote donations through financial contributions and online shopping/wish lists.
  • Created Difficult Discussions resources to address the difficult and complex topic of racial justice. The LMDJ team continues to encourage discussion at Thornapple, so that we: understand what is happening and the burdens some face; talk to one another, learning from not only books, videos and movies, but from each other; and most importantly understand what the Bible says.
  • In conjunction with Cascade Fellowship CRC church, we held five very successful blood drives for the American Red Cross. 198 units of blood have been donated. The blood drives will continue in 2021.
  • Individuals from Thornapple participate in virtual justice programs; no official, in-person justice programs were held this year due to the pandemic.
  • Created the Making a Difference page on the website to alert congregants to new opportunities to serve throughout the pandemic.

International Missions

  • Continued support of our ten International mission partners
  • Monthly team meetings
Minutes before leaving this earth Jesus explained to His followers that through the Holy Spirit you will be empowered “to be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  Our Thornapple Missions Team (Walt Wolf, Patti Raisch, David Lieuwen, Pamela Koch, Chuck Hahn, Mark Hunt, Jeff Guikema and Philip Bustrum) is the conduit through which our church enables our 10 mission partners to be witnesses in cross-cultural situations throughout our world. Our task is to care for our partners and  educate our congregation about their work and prayer needs.  Through the generous giving of you, our members, we were able to provide small increases in the financial support of our international mission partners this past year. In the midst of challenges, our task remains the same. “Be my witnesses . . . to the end of the earth.”

Circumstances and other people are not in control of my character or the life that lies before me in the Kingdom of God.
Adapted from Dallas Willard


2020 was a year that really challenged us to get creative with our worship services. 2021 is going to bring some new and unique challenges to our worship ministry, but we’ve been so encouraged by everyone’s commitment to love one another well and to put others first when we worship together. We’re really excited to see what God has next for us!

Here are some highlights:

  • Investing resources and time into developing systems that allow us to stay connected safely by worshipping together online
  • Opportunities to worship together outdoors
  • A memorable (and cold!) Christmas Eve Outdoor service
  • Our wonderful team of volunteers who have time and again made space for us to be together (physically or virtually) for worship, shared their talents in leading music and work behind the scenes to make sure all the technology works together each and every week