Building a Congregation During the Pandemic

Vernon Hills Staff

The Orchard Vernon Hills staff (L-R: Victoria, Pastor Yoon, Pastor Hwang, Kelsey)

In 2019, God began to call on the members and leadership at The Orchard EFC Church to launch a congregation in a town 12 miles away. Pastor Tom Yoon (MDiv ’10), worship and community outreach pastor at the Orchard Itasca and Northfield for eight years, was called upon to lead this effort in Vernon Hills, Illinois.

Although Pastor Yoon was at the time looking for a lead pastor position at a few other churches, some fear and doubt set in after he was asked to do this work. “I felt convicted through Numbers 13 and as I was preaching, I felt God speak to me directly saying, ‘You need to do this. Don’t fear, go, and I will be with you.’”

Meanwhile, God was calling Kelsey Oldenkamp, 5-year BA/MDiv ‘22 to ministry: “I had an encounter with God and he showed me the ways he was preparing me for ministry, specifically pastor ministry. I reached out to admissions at Trinity and God kept opening doors.” 

The Orchard Vernon Hills church was set to open in May of 2020, but the opening was delayed because of the pandemic and issues finding a building. The congregation began meeting in a hotel when the max capacity was 50 and then it was reduced to 25 to accommodate the COVID-19 restrictions on hotel gathering spaces.


“The biggest blessing has been the people, their commitment to God, to church planting, and to evangelize and to reach the Vernon Hills community.”


“The congregation has been so committed, so patient, and godly through this whole process. The biggest blessing has been the people, their commitment to God, to church planting, and to evangelize and to reach the Vernon Hills community. It’s been touching my heart seeing our members step up,” said Pastor Yoon.

After looking for months, they were able to purchase a building. God provided a place for the church, and they experienced a quick process for zoning approval.

 

Importance of Seminary & Mentorship

Oldenkamp came on staff in October of 2019 as a pastoral intern where his main role is in youth ministry. He has also been helping Pastor Yoon with church admin work, including preparing slides for Sunday morning and aiding in the construction and demo-days to get the building ready for ministry.

“It’s extremely valuable to be involved in a church in some way while in seminary,” he said. “Just last week I preached a sermon, and it was the first sermon I’ve preached after taking preaching classes at TEDS. After having those classes, I wasn’t nervous about the preparation, I wasn’t nervous about delivery, I wasn’t nervous about the content of my sermon. I really felt like I was prepared, and I can almost totally credit that to TEDS.”

Pastor Yoon reflects fondly on his time at TEDS, especially the church planting modular class he took at TEDS: “Trinity’s MDiv has equipped me to truly love and preach God’s Word.”

Through this work, Pastor Yoon has had the opportunity to give back and mentor current TEDS students like Kelsey Oldenkamp.


“It’s very important to mentor guys like Kelsey who want to do ministry, and that’s why I love when TEDS students are a part of this. ”


“It’s very important to mentor guys like Kelsey who want to do ministry,” he said, “and that’s why I love when TEDS students are a part of this. We need more churches planted in the US and I want to pass on that passion, vision, and courage—and that’s what excites me about training up the next generation.”

The Orchard Vernon Hills is open for both in-person and live-streamed services. While they are still renovating the first floor, which they aim to have completed in November, worship and spiritual formation have begun in Sunday services, in youth group, and in the church’s small groups.

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