Hawthorne Gospel Church

August 28, 2006

I had a great time preaching yesterday at Hawthorne Gospel Church in Hawthorne, New Jersey. My head is spinning a little bit because I flew in on Saturday, had supper with Kevin McCullough and his family, and preached three times on Sunday morning. Pastor Russell Huizing took me out for lunch, then I preached again on Sunday night, met a lot of people, signed some books, and went out later for some authentic New York pizza. I got up this morning at 4:25 AM to catch my flight back to Tupelo.
HGC is one of the best-known evangelical churches on the East Coast. Here’s an astounding fact. Since its founding in 1925, the church has had two pastors–Herrmann G. Braunlin and John W. Minnema. Pastor Braunlin served for 61 years and Pastor Minnema has just finished his 20th year. The church started having summer Bible conferences in 1928. Over the years their list of speakers has been a Who’s Who of evangelical Christianity–Harry Ironside, A. W. Tozer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Jack Wyrtzen graduated from the Bible school at HGC. They used to have services that lasted all summer. Now they have guest speakers every Sunday during July and August.
I preached in the gymnasium because the sanctuary is undergoing an extensive renovation. I would estimate that we had around 1700-1800 in the three services–the last one was totally full. I had a wonderful time preaching on the providence of God from the story of Joseph in the Old Testament.
I ran into many old friends yesterday. Nate and Kim Burk were there. Nate is the son of Calvary missionaries Larry and Linda Burk. I met John Potes who served as a junior high leader at Calvary during his Moody years. Today he serves as Junior High Pastor at HGC. Mike and Karen Pirolo attended Calvary in the 90s and then moved to the New York area. They came to the 11:15 AM service. Kevin and Aimee and Rosemond came to the service last night, as did Jim and Arlyn Reed, former Calvary folks (Arlyn also taught at OPCA) who live in northern New Jersey. Plus I was pleased to meet friends from Word of Life, including Bill and Jo Thomson plus several people who are part of the weekly sermon email list.
One other personal connection. The church has its root in a 1915 Billy Sunday campaign in nearby Paterson. Out of that campaign came a ladies’ Bible class that eventually led to a Sunday afternoon service that led to a Sunday School that led to the founding of Hawthorne Gospel Church. He is buried in Forest Park, IL, and for many years I portrayed Billy Sunday during the annual Tale of the Tombstones.
I was struck by the friendliness of the people and their eagerness to hear the Word of God. God has given the church a rich ethnic diversity. You see all sorts of people in the congregation, from every possible background, all of them gathered by a common desire to serve the Lord. It’s easy to see why this church has been so influential for so long.

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