Westminster Presbyterian Churchmen’s Luncheon Marks 50-Plus Years With a Question Mark

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Churchmens Luncheon cutline No. 1235Harry Lantinga has enjoyed attending the churchmen’s luncheon for about 35 years.Harry Lantinga has been a faithful attendee of Westminster Presbyterian Church's Churchmen's Luncheon for more than 30 years.

"It's always a different speaker and that's half the enjoyment," said Lantinga, a retired real estate broker. "The other half of the reason is my friends are here."

50-plus years

The ecumenical churchmen's luncheon has gathered weekly at Westminster Presbyterian, 47 Jefferson Avenue in Southeast Grand Rapids, since its inception in 1957, back when it was initially known as the Businessmen's Luncheon.

Churchmens Luncheon cutline No. 2235A wall displays newspaper clippings that chronicle the churchmen’s luncheon’s milestones.Reasons for its founding include an opportunity to provide fellowship and spiritual enrichment devoid of denominational barriers with the ultimate goal of fostering a greater interfaith understanding.

Many of the attendees are veterans of World War II who are now in their 80s and 90s, said Rev. Don Gordon, who served as an associate pastor at the church from 1960-66 and is the luncheon's chairperson and convener.

"We're gradually dying off," said Gordon.

Amazing variety

Churchmens Luncheon cutline No. 3235Churchmen’s luncheon’s chairperson Rev. Don Gordon: “Our speakers have ranged all over.”But Gordon quickly adds it's important to keep the men's luncheon alive.

"We've had 2,500 speakers who have shared their thoughts and experiences on an amazing variety of subjects that were both sacred and secular," Gordon said.

"Our speakers have ranged all over. They've included world philosophers, theologians, the mayor, U.S. senators, pastors, priests, psychologists, teachers nurses, lawyers and other men and women called to God's service."

On hiatus

March 30, 2016 was somewhat of bittersweet luncheon, because for the first time in its 59-year history, it is going on hiatus for an undetermined amount of time. Westminster Presbyterian will soon start remodeling the area where luncheon regulars meet, which will then be repurposed as a child development center.

Gordon said he is holding out hope the men's luncheon will eventually meet at Westminster Presbyterian again but there is also a possibility of continuing the meetings at another church.

It's too early to say where the luncheon will land, said Gordon.

In the meantime, the standard $5 donation was waived at the March 30 fellowship. Vera Hendricks was honored for helping to prepare the meals since the luncheon's founding in 1957.

Blessed assurance

Hymns were sung with reverence and gusto, including "Blessed Assurance" and "I Know Whom I Have Believed."

Churchmens Luncheon cutline No. 4235Rev. Lew Vander Meer: ““I began to realize a midweek meeting is an opportunity to meet people I might otherwise never hear from.”Rev. Lew Vander Meer, senior pastor of New Community Church in Northeast Grand Rapids who's been a luncheon speaker and guest said he quickly grew to appreciate what the luncheons have brought to his life.

As a pastor, his Sundays and other days of the week are often filled and as a result, he doesn't get too many opportunities to keep tabs on what's happening with Body of Christ at large. The luncheons have it possible to mine a rich vein of ecumenical dialogue.

"I've learned things about missionaries, pastors and denominations I didn't know before," said Vander Meer. "I began to realize a midweek meeting is an opportunity to meet people I might otherwise never hear from."

The meeting ended on an uncanny note. R.J. Poel, who's in charge of hospitality and keeping count of how many attend each week, noted that on the March 30 luncheon, 59 people attended on what is the luncheon's 59th year.
Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
About:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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