A Cross-Cultural Worship Journey

Written by Terry DeBoer on . Posted in Local

Simpson Jeremy studio shotRev. Jeremy Simpson was a guest preacher recently at Maple Ave. Ministries in Holland.Jeremy Simpson is a perfect advocate for multi-ethnic and cross-cultural worship ministry.

He's lived that role nearly his entire life.

Simpson, 35, is co-director of the Wesley Foundation, a student-based ministry which reaches persons of all faith backgrounds at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

But he has influence in hundreds of churches in his part-time role as a denomination-wide "worship catalyzer" for the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC).


"We are kind of the next step in resourcing congregations, helping them get what's necessary for their ministries," said Simpson. "So we do a lot of meeting with pastors, worship leaders and planners, and liturgists."

As well as preaching and teaching, he's also involved in an ad-hoc worshiping group called "The Pursuit Gathering." It's a West Michigan-based community focused on diverse worship and cross cultural engagement.

A LONG-TIME QUEST

Simpson's trek through his life of faith gave him a wealth of hands-on experience and set him on his ministry course.

A Holland, MI native, Simpson grew up attending the city's only all-black, full-gospel Pentecostal church. While still young he took piano lessons from Hope College music faculty Deborah De La Torre and studied organ under Holland church organist Richard Van Oss.

"I'd go to a CRC church and they would sing the same songs my church did, but with straight up organ and piano," he recalled. "My church sang them with a band and we clapped our hands.

"I always wondered why in worship we were so segregated, and I think that stirred my heart all those years ago toward cross-cultural ministry."

Through his teenage and college years he performed and helped lead music at a variety of area churches – all of them either Reformed (RCA) or Christian Reformed. Even though he attended Grand Valley State, he played keyboards for the Hope College Gospel Choir for more than eight years.

His first "real church job" was as instrumental music coordinator at Maple Ave. Ministries in Holland. Simpson held subsequent positions at Fellowship Reformed in Muskegon and Sunshine Church in Grand Rapids.

     
 

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After a stint at a church out east, he returned to West Michigan in 2016 for ministry at Southridge Church, a Reformed congregation in Portage, MI. He served in community ministry and worship, with added preaching and teaching duties. He also began work on a degree from Western Theological Seminary which he has now completed and has since received his ordination.

NEEDS OF CHURCHES...WORSHIP LEADERS

Simpson offers the top three worship concerns he is hearing from churches these days.

People resources topped the list. "COVID has made is really difficult to folks to feel safe in closed places and the faithful few have given everything they've got; and they're tired," he observed.

The number two need is help in getting worship "online." "How do we do this live streaming thing, how to worship on Zoom and make resources available in a digital world to make people feel they're part of a congregation?"

Another no less important point: churches want to know how to help heal the nation's current racial divide – a key issue for worship leaders and pastors.

Simpson also has some succinct advice for local church worship/music leaders: "Don't ever make it about you. Give God your best, but don't take yourself too seriously. Create an experience for people to encounter God and to be encountered by God."

MORE MINISTRY AVENUES

Despite his various responsibilities Simpson is asked to do occasional guest preaching or worship leading. Recently he spoke at his former church, Maple Ave. Ministries in Holland.

Last summer Simpson was a panelist for an online discussion of topics such as the pressure of being a person of color leading worship in a predominantly white church. And...is multi-ethnic/cultural worship the answer to racial inequality? Those are issues he has faced throughout his various ministry stops.

He also has diversity in his personal life. Jeremy is married to a white woman (Erica) and the couple has two bi-racial children.

Joyce Borger, his CRC supervisor for worship ministries, appreciates Simpson's gifts and flexibility. "His ability to lead in a variety of contexts reflects his heart for the church to bring us together as one," she said.

Simpson continues on the theme. "Throughout scripture – especially in Revelation 7:9 – we see this picture of folks from around the globe worshiping together," he said. "I have always desired a church that was cross-cultural and open to all, that showed everyone that God's love was for them."

Pointing to the portrait in Revelation, Simpson cautions those who think that in heaven things such as worship will be done "our way."
"If that's the goal, then we're missing an opportunity here on earth to live into what heaven will (actually) be like."

     
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Author Information
Terry DeBoer
Author: Terry DeBoer
About:
Terry is a journalist/feature writer for newspapers, magazines and websites, with a background in radio broadcasting. His usual beat is arts and entertainment, specializing in Christian/gospel music. A married father of two, he is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan Contributing Writer: West Michigan Christian News August 2011 – Present Feature writer: -Mlive.com (website and various newspapers) 1988– 2016 -Spotlight New Christian Music Magazine 1997-2008 -Church News Editor, Church Herald Magazine 2004-2009

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