Meditations on Bethlehem and the Marriage of My Son

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Founder & Teacher,

I think more tears were shed at the Pastors’ Prayer Summit over children than anything else. Few things are more painful for a pastor than the waywardness of his children. One pastor I prayed with grieved over the alienation of his grown children. He said his experience in the ministry had been so embattled that his children simply could not embrace Christian fellowship any more. It is not a rare story.

Which fills me with a trembling gratitude to God for Bethlehem. For almost fifteen years I have raised my sons in this fellowship. I would not trade this for anything. Through all the trials of their lives and mine, there was never a time that their hearts turned away from Bethlehem. Even on vacation, they would say, “When can we go back to Bethlehem?” I tremble because I realize how fragile such a thing is—how precious and rare it is. How utterly dependent I am on God for such a gift! Many pastors leave because their kids just can’t stand it anymore. Often the wife is disillusioned with church dynamics. But, to the praise and grace of God, neither Noël nor my sons has ever pressured me to leave, nor even suggested that I leave. They have loved your fellowship.

The reason I am thinking of this just now is that our son Karsten is getting married on Memorial Day (May 29) in Warroad, Minnesota, to Rochelle (Shelly) Orvis. He just finished his first year of graduate school in Literature at Boston College, and will be returning there in the fall, with my great admiration, as a teaching assistant—and a husband. Shelly graduates from Bethel about a week before the wedding.

So you can see why I am feeling pensive and nostalgic about the last fifteen years of my ministry and Karsten’s life. He was seven years old when we came to Bethlehem. He and Benjamin and Abraham and Barnabas were all baptized here. He went to Sunday School and Worship and Evening Family Gathering every Sunday, and to clubs on Wednesday. When he went to college and began to feel the desire to find a special place for him and Shelly to worship together, they chose Faith Community Church in Hudson, Wisconsin, where Gregg Heinsch, our former Junior High minister, is pastor. I cannot think of anyone I would have preferred for them to choose for a pastor. Gregg has led them in their premarital counseling and will help tie the knot in Warroad on May 29.

I want to thank all of you who have had a hand in making Bethlehem a place where Karsten could grow up in the happy presence of God’s people. I thank you for your prayers—thousands of prayers—for me and for my sons over the years. I thank you for grace shown to me in my weaknesses. I thank you for the freedom you have given Noël to be who she is. I thank you for the love you have shown my sons in encouraging them and teaching them and being examples for them. I thank you for sparing them the curse and slander of gossip, and for putting up with their growing-up (odd clothes, hair cuts, etc.). I thank you for providing for our financial needs. And I thank you for making Bethlehem the kind of cutting-edge, missions-minded, urban-committed, God-centered, Bible-saturated fellowship of fire that it is.

This has kept me encouraged. It has made me feel like my investment is worthwhile. And as Karsten marries a woman of faith and beauty, there is nothing that I take for granted. Every fragment of every day—for 22 years, seven months and 29 days—will have played its part. God is sovereign and God is good.

In celebration of all this, you are invited
to an open house reception for Karsten and Shelly
Sunday, June 11
2PM to 5PM
At Bethlehem, in the Fellowship Hall


Pastor John