Lent Reflection Guide

A team of people at the Branch have created a guide for Lent.  Each week has a personal reflection, questions to help process the passage, suggested Scripture for the week and a prayer.

You can download the whole guide here: 2016LentGuide

Or, if you’d prefer to read it right here, we’ll post each week’s reflection and resources below:

Reflection 6: the week of 3/21

Read Luke 15:1-10

We live in a culture that likes to celebrate. We get together with family and friends during holidays, and if you’re at all like my family, sometimes several times. We plan elaborate birthday parties for our kids, of which I am definitely one. We celebrate important people and events through marches or parades. We enjoy the celebration.

The thing I’ve been celebrating most in my house is potty-training success. We rejoice when our two-year-old uses the bathroom. We praise her and clap and cheer and give her all the affirming words we can. Sometimes we dance or even offer a special treat. We celebrate.

In Luke 15:4-6, the shepherd searches for his lost sheep and when he finds it he goes back home and celebrates with his friends and neighbors. He rejoices over his lost sheep. In Luke 15:8-10, the woman who loses her coin delights with her community over finding it once again.

At first glance the message behind the parables seem obvious. We know we are the “lost sheep” or “lost coin” and that we are lucky enough to have a God that will search for us when we wander off course. And while I think this is an important message, I think the other piece to consider is whether we celebrate when we, or someone we know, has found their way home.

In order to celebrate, we need to know who was lost in the first place, and that takes vulnerability. Are we vulnerable enough to step forward to say, “I’m lost”? Some people are lost in their relationships, whether it be with a sibling, parent, or a spouse. Some are wondering in faith, asking questions and feeling ignored. Some of us are wandering back from being lost not too long ago. But do we let people into these places with us? If we don’t, then we are missing out on the something we do best, celebrating.

And even though we are excellent at celebrating–who doesn’t love balloon animals, confetti, and a good bounce house?–our celebration cannot compare to the rejoicing that takes place in heaven when a lost child of God finds their way home (see Luke 15:7).

It’s clear that we need to celebrate with one another, and we need to let each other have access to our lives in order to do that. But just as we celebrate, our Father is celebrating even more, delighted and joyful that the “lost sheep” is found.

Questions for reflections:

  1. Where do you feel lost today? Find some time and space to dwell with God in those lost spaces. Listen.
  2. When have you felt like the 1? When have you felt like the 99?
  3. Celebrating our return or another person being found requires that we are close enough to be vulnerable. Where do you see this kind of vulnerability in your life? If you don’t, what is keeping you from vulnerability?
  4. Is there an area in your life that requires repentance? Take a moment to write down what specifically you need to turn from.
Lectionary Readings:

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Philippians 2:5-11

Luke 19:28-40

Prayer: God of patient love,

you await the return of the wayward and wandering

and eagerly embrace them in pardon.

Through baptism you have clothed us with the glory of Christ

and restored our inheritance:

give us generous hearts

to welcome all who seek a place

at the table of your unconditional love.

We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Holy Week – March 21

Lectionary Readings:

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Psalm 22

Hebrews 10:16-25

Luke 22:14-23:56


In this holy time,

as we remember the sacrifice of the cross,

we offer the prayers of our hearts,

that through them we may be transformed

to be servants of justice, love and peace.


Make us steadfast witnesses of our Savior’s reign,

that we may live in the pattern of Christ,

who was faithful in all things,

even death,

and whose darkest hour gives light and hope. Amen.

Join team Branch!

The Branch is looking to hire 1-2 individuals for the BranchKids Director and Administrative Assistant positions described below. We will either hire one individual as the BranchKids Director and one individual as the Administrative Assistant or hire one person for a position combining the duties. If you or someone you know is interested in either of these positions or the combined position, please submit resumes with cover letters to Chris DeBlaay (chris@thebranchonline.org).

Administrative Assistant 

The Branch is a church united with God in the renewal of all things through Christ.  We believe that God calls us to participate in the restorative work God is doing all around us.  This work is carried out as individuals and as a community and requires a strong infrastructure.  The person in this role will be tasked with performing the day-to-day operations that ensure our community’s infrastructure is solid and running smoothly.

Candidates should have past administrative experience and be able to prioritize tasks.  They must be self-led and detail oriented.  Strong verbal and written communication skills are critical as this position involves regular updating of our website and social media presence. Basic knowledge of and experience working with Word Press preferred. Must be dependable and flexible, able to work well within the Branch staff team and with volunteers.

  • This is a part-time role of 8-10 hours per week.
  • The salary is based on $10-$12 per hour.
  • The Administrative Assistant will report to the pastor, and will also have a Steward that they check in with regularly.  This Steward will be a part of their annual review process.

BranchKids Director 

The Branch is a church united with God in the renewal of all things through Christ.  We believe that God calls us to participate in the restorative work He is doing all around us, and part of God’s work is forming and shaping the next generation to boldly follow Jesus.  The person in this role will be tasked with ensuring that our ministry to kids Birth-5th Grade is strong and enlivening.

Candidates should have past experience (preferable in a paid position) working with children.  A degree in the child-development or teaching field is preferred. They must be self-led and detail oriented.  They must also be highly relational — able to build meaningful relationships with both kids and adults.  Strong verbal and written communication skills are critical.  Must be dependable and flexible, able to work well within the Branch’s team.

  • This is a part-time role of 10 hours per week.
  • The salary is based on $12-$14 per hour.
  • The BranchKids Director will report to the pastor, and will also have a Steward that they check in with regularly.  This Steward will be a part of their annual review process.

2016 Strategic Plan (part 2)

We’re taking time each week to write in more detail about our 2016 Strategic Plan (i.e. where we are going to focus our energy and resources in the next year).  If you didn’t catch the first post in this series, we encourage you to do so here.

Action 2: Offering lavish hospitality and care

In the last six months, we’ve taken good steps to be more hospitable, but we believe there’s more to do. Why is hospitality so important to us?  There are two reasons.  One has to do with our theology.  The other has to do with the gift of family.

First, some theology.  Hospitality matters to us because it matters to God.  We believe that it is a central part of God’s character.  The Scriptures reveal to us in Jesus a God that welcomes sinners, pursues those who are lost, strikes up a conversation with the untouchable and invites the denier and deserter to his table.  God is lavishly hospitable.  We are to be as well.

Second, let’s consider family.  We know that the first step in belonging to a community is experiencing hospitality.  Before deep relationships can form, we must know that we are welcome — that there’s room for us — that there’s a desire among those who already belong to include us.

In this next year we will continue to grow in our ability to extend lavish hospitality and care by:

  • Creating a more welcoming environment on Sunday morning
    • We want to build on the growth we’ve experienced in the last six months by making Sunday morning even more friendly to those who are new.  This will mean things like better signage, reworking our information table and training our hospitality volunteers.  But in the end, this action unquestionably hinges on the people of the Branch extending hospitality in ways big and small: simply saying ‘hi’ to someone they don’t recognize, extending an invitation to a Branch event, having someone new over for lunch, etc.
  • Developing clear steps anyone can take to become more connected.
    • We want to make sure we have clear ways for anyone who is new-ish to the Branch to build relationships and start to sense the gift of community that the Branch has to offer.  This will mean — among other things — regularly scheduled lunches for those new to the Branch and developing a process for following up with those who are visiting.
  • Creating a process that helps us respond wisely to the needs of those at the Branch and in the community.
    • Identifying clear steps to take when those from inside and outside of the Branch community — especially when those needs have a financial element to them — approach us for help.  The Stewards will take the lead in creating this.

If you are at the Branch today it is almost certainly because you experienced hospitality and care along the way.  May we all extend that gift to those that join us in the next year.

2016 Strategic Plan (part 1)

Over the last six months we’ve been doing our best to pay attention to God’s leading.  Both corporately and individually we have been listening for God’s voice and working to notice where God is at work.  The result of that discernment is our 2016 Strategic Plan.  While this plan is not a once and for all roadmap, it will serve as a framework for where we will focus our energy and efforts in the next year.

This post, and the three to follow, will give details about the four actions we believe God is asking us to take in 2016.  If you’d prefer to listen to this info, click here.

Action 1: Joining in God’s redemptive work

From the beginning, the Branch has held this hope: that we would be a people actively participating in what God is doing.  So while this is not a new initiative, we do believe that God is asking us to take these specific, concrete steps this year:

  • Encouraging the continued formation of Missional Communities, who share rhythms of life and unite around a common purpose. As their name suggests, Missional Communities (MCs) are groups of 20-40 people who share life regularly in order to pursue a specific mission together.  MCs are something like an extended family — a place to both belong and find purpose.  God is stirring in the hearts of a number of people at the Branch about forming new Missional Communities (that would likely look quite differently than the MCs that have existed up until this point).  We will update everyone as this continues to unfold.  Until then, you are always welcome to join the Madison MC on Thursday evenings.
  • Pursuing opportunities to address racial reconciliation by partnering with other churches that are different than us and/or are further down the road on this journey.  We are located in a part of the city where the racial and ethnic divides are clear.  But so is the call to embody God’s reconciling and uniting love.  In this intersection, a number of people have been hearing God call them to act — to take steps that would create in them the capacity to love more fully and act more justly.  As we’ve been hearing this call, we’ve been invited to join others from the community at Hope Reformed Church (Burton and Kzoo Ave.) throughout 2016.  Hope is beginning to lay the groundwork for starting a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural church service in 2017.  This groundwork will be laid by (1) sharing regular meals with those in the community who want to further racial reconciliation and (2) growing in character and capacity through training.  Anyone at the Branch with a desire to participate in this is more than invited to do so.  More information can be found here.
  • Reinvesting locally by offering CREATE (a week long art camp) in the summer of 2016.  Creativity has been a core value since our inception.  We believe that the more we understand and practice our creativity (of all kinds), the more we understand our creative God and become the people we are meant to be.  For five years (2008-2012) we offered a week long art camp for children in the community.  It was good and meaningful work. But in 2013 we decided that it was time to hit the pause button.  Our people needed to rest.  Vision needed to be rekindled.  And so we also took 2014 and 2015 off.  Then, in the midst of that abiding, a new word was spoken to a group of people at the Branch.  They felt a calling to lead the charge to offer CREATE again.  And so, we’re already working on the details for offering the camp this summer.  If you would like to be involved, even if you’re not sure how, or you’d just like to learn more, email admin@thebranchonline.org
  • Partnering with the Alger Heights Collaborative to empower and serve neighbors in SE Grand Rapids.  Three years ago, a collaborative began in Alger Heights/Garfield Park with the purpose of connecting the resources and skills of the people of these neighborhoods to its needs.  This collaborative is made up of one business association, five churches and two neighborhood associations.  The Branch has been a part of this collaborative from the beginning, but we want to take steps this year to become more integrated in its work.  A representative from the Branch has joined the leadership team and has will be keeping us informed of how we can do that in the coming year.  You can get an overview of the Collaborative here.
  • Discerning what relationship(s) God wants us to develop in order to be a part of God’s global work.  While a good portion of the work we feel called to is in the Grand Rapids metro area, we also believe that we’re being asked to consider how we can be a part of the renewal that is happening around the globe.  We’ll be forming a team of people to help us determine what partnerships are best for us to form in 2016.

A common thread in all of these steps is that the people of the Branch are leading us.  These actions were not thought up in a board room.  These are not one person’s dreams.  Instead, it is the consummation of months of a community talking, dreaming, listening.  We give thanks for this.  

Next week, we’ll look at the action of offering lavish hospitality and care.  Click here to read.

Race and Hope

We are located in a part of the city where the racial and ethnic divides are clear.  But so is the call to embody God’s reconciling and uniting love.  In this intersection, a number of people at the Branch have been hearing God call them to act — to take steps that would create in them the capacity to love more fully and act more justly.  

As we’ve been hearing this call, we’ve been invited to join others from Hope Reformed Church (Burton and Kzoo Ave.) throughout 2016.  Hope is beginning to lay the groundwork for starting a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural church service in 2017.  This groundwork will be laid by (1) sharing regular meals with those in the community who want to further racial reconciliation and (2) growing in character and capacity through training.  

Anyone at the Branch with a desire to participate is encouraged.  Here’s an upcoming calendar.  If you’re thinking of attending, drop chris@thebranchonline.org a note.

February 3 & 17 Building Belonging Potluck.  These potlucks are spaces to build relationships and build cultural awareness.  Bring something to pass.
February 13 – Jazz Concert; an event open to the public at which the vision of this service will be shared
March 2 & 16Building Belonging Potlucks
March 5 – Cultural Agility Training; 4 hours with the Woodrick Diversity Learning Center
March 12 – Ebony Road Players Presents, “Having Our Say.”  This is a play, open to the public.  The vision will be shared.


The Branch is 10!

Please note: our festivities have moved to January 17th!

We invite you to celebrate the Branch’s birthday with us on January 17, 2016 both at our normal 10:30am service and at a skating party that afternoon from 4-6pm! Please save the date and spend time celebrating with us!

The party at Woodland Skating (2100 28th Street Southeast, G.R. 49508) is for all ages and is free (you’re welcome to make a small donation at the door, but it is not required).  With great music and lots of cheesy nachos, it’s sure to be a good time whether you strap on skates or not.

Please check your email for the Evite or find it here: http://evite.me/3wsVWYJsAh. An RSVP is not required, but appreciated.

We look forward to seeing you on the 17th!

Remembering and Celebrating Sasha

Sasha Naomi Hettich (Lewis), aged 27, passed away December 25th, 2015 after having lost her courageous battle with postpartum depression.

Sasha was many things to many people; a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a compassionate friend, but to define her only in these terms would be an injustice. With her sharp wit, her wordsmithing, and her constant consumption of knowledge through books and podcasts, Sasha was not only always challenging herself, but those around her, to be the best versions of themselves. She was an inspiration, a brilliant flash of light that burned out far too soon.

Sasha was born in Crawfordsville, Indiana on August 5th, 1988. She graduated from Crawfordsville High School in 2007 and went on to attend Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. To have known her through this time in her life, one might remember how often she wrote, spilling her thoughts into notebooks and journals in neat penmanship with her abundant supply of gel pens. You might remember the way that she played guitar and sang softly and beautifully, perhaps a little unsure of her talent. To know her was to also be shocked by her uncanny ability to remember dates, proving that there were very few moments with friends and family that were insignificant to Sasha. She also had a knack for commemorating those who were dear to her, both living and gone, her ability to love so deeply was always so beautifully shared with those around her. This was also the time in Sasha’s life that she was falling madly in love with Cody Hettich, the man she would marry on May 31st, 2008.

Almost a year after graduating from Cornerstone, in the summer of 2012, Sasha gave birth to her beautiful daughter, Ember. Sasha was a wonderful, loving, and dedicated mother. If you had the privilege of knowing Sasha through these years, you might remember her love for coffee, and the many pictures of her and Ember sharing drinks from her favorite cafes. Sasha was also passionate about parenting as naturally and organically as she could. While maintaining her own interests, she invested passion in being the best mother to her daughter. Those who knew her through this time would remember bike rides, trips to the library and the Y, and her involvement in her local community and the James Russell house. Sasha was always giving of her time and herself to those around her, sharing her wit, wisdom, and delightful laughter. In the summer of 2015, Sasha brought her beautiful son, Gus, into the world. Her time with him was too brief, but in the time she had with him, she was the best mother she could be.

Sasha’s life was too tragically brief, but those of us who were so fortunate to know her, to love her, and be loved by her, will carry her with us always. Our lives are all the more lovely and bright for having encountered her. She should be remembered always for her love, her kindness, her passion and her bravery.

Sasha is survived by her husband, Cody Hettich;  daughter, Ember Hettich; and son, Augustus (Gus) Hettich of Grand Rapids;  father, John Lewis and mother, Bridget Lewis of Crawfordsville; Sister, Brooke Decker (Shannon) of Crawfordsville; Brother, Seth Lewis of Crawfordsville;   Maternal Grandmother, Norma Wise (Tony) of Crawfordsville;  Paternal Grandmother, Martha Aders of Frankfort.  She is also survived by many cousins, aunts, and uncles.
Sasha was preceded in death by her Paternal Grandfather,  Larry Lewis; cousins, Shane Ellis and Evin Jarman.

A memorial service for Sasha will be held on Saturday, January 9, 2016 at 11:00 am (10 am visitation) at:

Ada Bible Church

8899 Cascade Road SE
Ada, MI 49301

In lieu of flowers, please donate to helping other moms suffering from postpartum depression at: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/momsbloom

Memorial Contributions may be made to help the Hettich family at:

In honor of Sasha’s battle, if you are suffering with postpartum, please seek help

Grieving with the Hettich Family

On Christmas weekend we learned that a dear friend and part of our community lost a long and brave battle with postpartum depression (PPD). Sasha leaves behind husband Cody, 3 year old daughter Ember, and 5 month old son Gus.  We are heartbroken by this loss.

Cody has courageously shared their story [click here].  We stand with him in honoring Sasha’s memory and talking openly about depression and PPD.

A memorial service for Sasha will be Saturday, January 9, at Ada Bible Church in Cascade.  Visitation will be at 10am, with the service beginning at 11am.

If you would like to support the Hettich family, you can do so financially through the go-fund-me page [click here].  There is also a meal train [click here] (need more information about either of these? Email admin@thebranchonline.org).

We will be walking closely with Cody in the coming weeks, attentive to how the Branch can continue to support him and his children.

Finally, we hold to the promise that when we are in the darkest of valleys we are not abandoned or left on our own.  God is with us.  We cling to the hope and strength of this promise together.

James: faith here and now

Faith isn’t just about the future.  It’s not something we have in order to punch a ticket to heaven.  In fact, Jesus is clear: faith is about the here and now – a gift meant to impact every aspect of today.

With that in mind, we turn to James — an ancient and relevant book with deep insight about how faith gets practiced in the ordinary stuff of life. Join us as we explore this book together.

January 3 – Trial and Joy

January 10 – Blessings and Curses

January 17 – Word and Deed

January 24 – False and True Wisdom

January 31 – Judgement and Mercy

February 7 – Self-Reliance and Prayer

Christmas Eve – 5pm

Tonight we celebrate the unlikely story of God coming to dwell with us from 5-6pm.  Together we’ll mark this unending, unconquerable gift of Light through song and candle lighting.  Our kids are also leading the way in giving their gifts through drama, choir, and dance.  Bring the family — bring your neighbor — bring the kids.  We hope to see you!

This Coming Sunday, November 22nd

The Branch is committed to building community, not just within but without. One of the ways we strive for that is building positive and fulfilling relationships with the church communities with whom we share a meeting space. This coming Sunday, November 22nd, we will be combining services with Alas Conexion and meeting at 11:30 (rather than our usual 10:30). Please join us in coming together with our beloved fellow Christians. There will be snacks, coffee and fellowship starting at 11:15, so come early and make a new friend! We look forward to blessing each other with this time.

Anti-Fragile: Staying Rooted in the Middle of Struggle

Wrestling with Scripture is essential in order to grow in faith. As we do this, we should keep this framework in mind: in essentials: unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things: charity

Scripture: Hebrews 4:12 & Colossians 3:12-15

For the Love of Lola: Online and Silent Auction

Information about both auctions can be found here: www.fortheloveoflola.net

Silent Auction

A silent auction art gala is being held November 12th from 6-9pm at Lifestyle Kitchen Studio at 222 E. Fulton in Grand Rapids.  Over 20 pieces of art will be up for auction.  Pieces can be previewed at the website above.

Volunteers are also still needed to help set up and tear down the event.  If you’re able to help, email admin@thebranchonline.org

Online Auction

Click on the image below for details about how you can participate in an online auction taking place November 17th-19th.  There’s also still time to donate a skill, service or item for the auction.  Click here to donate.


It’s far too common today to find Christians who believe that doubt equals weakness — that if we honestly wrestle with the difficult questions or admit our uncertainty, our faith will take a hit (or at least other people’s perception of our faith will). But what if we’re meant to wrestle with God?  What if it’s through the questioning and struggle that our faith becomes less fragile?
In this series we’ll be talking about what it looks like to live an anti-fragile life.  How honesty and authenticity can lead to a stronger faith.  We’ll also tackle some topics that we can tend to shy away from because they are messy or difficult.  Join us.
October 4 – We’re Meant to Wrestle
October 11 – The Idol of Certainty
October 18 – A False Fight: Science vs. Religion
October 25 – Finding God in Pain and Loss
November 1 – Re-imagining Race and Religion
November 8 – Staying Rooted in the Middle of Struggle

Eat Rice and Beans

Link. Love. Lose.  Changing the world takes nothing less.

But living this way requires courage and practice.  To help all of us grow, we’re inviting you to change your diet this week and eat beans and rice.  Click here to watch a short video explaining more.

You can also read more about our denomination’s effort to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe by clicking here.

Cider and Donuts

Does reading that immediately take you to a memory of a fall day with hayrides, pumpkin patches and cider?  If so, you’re in luck because we’ll have cider.  And donuts.  No hayrides or pumpkins though.  Sorry.
Join Mike and Janelle DeBlaay (and Lucy and Teddy) at their house (2034 College Ave SE) on Oct 10th from 9:00-11:00am for a time to hang out and enjoy some cider and donuts in community.
No need to bring anything except a chair to sit in.  If so inclined, RSVP to mike.deblaay@gmail.com, but please join us either way.

Alger Heights and Garfield Park Survey

 Do you live in these neighborhoods?  We’d love to know what you think!
The Alger Heights Collaborative is asking you to please take a minute and fill out this simple survey.  It should only take you a minute or two.   https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3MK3X6F
The survey will be used to determine what types of events neighbors would like to have offered during the year and to establish how residents currently inform themselves about what is happening in the neighborhood.  Your information will be shared with the neighborhood board but your email address will NOT be sold for other purposes.  Questions can be directed to Jennifer Reidsma, Community Coordinator, at 616-988-9268 ext 205 or jenn@tabernaclecommunity.org
Note: The survey will close October 4th.

Mini-Retreat & Sign Up Link

Join us for a mini-retreat, right here in the city.  This will be a time to connect with others, eat together, worship, reflect and have a ton of fun.


Both of the backyards of 2020 and 2030 Madison will be available for anyone to pitch a tent on Saturday night (or even pull in a small trailer), which means people are welcome to spend the night!!!  However, if that’s not your cup of tea — hang out with us Saturday evening and head home whenever you need to, then come back for Sunday morning breakfast and worship!


There is no cost to the retreat, however, we do need to know how many are coming and who is planning on spending the night.  Please sign up here via SignUpGenius.  Please sign up for each part you or your family will be participating in.  In the comments section, please list the names of those who will be participating.  Please sign up by the September 27 deadline!


Finally…we will be asking everyone to bring something simple for Saturday dinner and Sunday breakfast, as well as their own snacks if needed.  We’ll send out a separate sign up for food one week out from the retreat.
Here’s a rough schedule:
October 3rd
2:00pm – “Check-In”
3:00pm – Group games
4:00pm – Free time (including, but not limited to…futsal, frisbee golf, playground)
6:00pm – Dinner
7:00pm – Reflection
8:00pm – Smores
10:00pm – Lights out
October 4th
7:30am – Sunrise worship in park
8:00am – Breakfast
9:00am – Group game
9:15am – pack up/clean-up
10:00am – Prayer walk to the Branch building

Partner Gathering

Our next gathering will be October 25, from 3:30 – 5 p.m. at Seymour CRC.  Partners at the Branch are people who have committed to calling this place home and investing in it for the next 2 years.  In return, the Branch invests back into Partners, strengthening faith, leadership, and community.  If you are interested in becoming a partner, take a look at the partner booklet on the back table and have a conversation with Chris or a steward.