Van Heest brings trinity of values to Knox Berne churches

HILLTOWNS — After searching for a pastor for nearly two years, the Knox Reformed Church and the Second Reformed Church of Berne have a leader.

Reverend Timothy Van Heest, a pastor for 28 years, is from a long line of Reformed Church of America pastors. He was hired under contract on April 1.
The Knox Reformed Church and the Second Reformed Church of Berne on Thompson’s Lake are "yoked" — two separate churches with different members and boards that share a pastor to lead their Sunday worship services.
"The congregation had indicated they wanted someone who was a good preacher, and he’d indicated to us that’s what he likes to do," said Patricia Gage, an elder and member of the Knox church. She said the search committee decided to hire Van Heest after interviewing him and listening to him preach twice; throughout the process, he showed his "openness," "warmness," and "congeniality," Gage said.
A Guilderland native, Van Heest moved out of state when he was 18 to attend Hope College in Holland, Mich. After completing his undergraduate degree, he then "went across the street" to Western Theological Seminary.

Following seminary, he became one of 10 pastors at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., where he remained for nearly five years.

He then pastored one of the cathedral’s daughter congregations in Anaheim Hills, Calif. The church, he said, had had three pastors in three years — one leaving because of theological reasons and another because of moral reasons — and only had enough money to last through 13 months. He acted as its pastor for 13 years, he said; congregants worshipped in five rental spaces during his tenure.

While in California, his children, Nathaniel and Katrina, were born, he said.
Van Heest then moved to a church in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, where he remained for six years. For three years, he was minister to a "rural congregation" in Kankakee, Ill.
"If there’s been a secret to having an impact on churches or transforming the church or individuals within it, for me it has to do with the integrity, or consistency, between what I say and how people know that I am," said Van Heest.


On Tuesday, Van Heest smiled as he greeted quilters who meet at the Knox church weekly.

Walking the halls and the church’s four levels, Van Heest moved calmly among his new surroundings. Upon returning to New York, he has met people who remembered having his father as a camp counselor, he said.

His father, his father’s father, and his mother’s father, he said, all Reformed Church pastors, had over 110 years of experience in New York churches among them. His father, he said, also had one brother and five sisters, who all became pastors or married pastors, he said.
Van Heest retraced his family’s history. Of his grandfathers’ 40 grandchildren, three have become pastors. "Any thoughts that it was genetic on my part were proven to not be true," he said.

His wife, Mary, is still in Chicago, where their son, Nathaniel, also lives. His daughter, Katrina, is studying for her P.H.D. in California.

His wife has not yet found a job in the Albany area, said Van Heest. Though apart from his wife, living alone in the parsonage next to Knox Reformed, Van Heest said, he is fortunate to have a son who lives near her and technology that allows them to communicate often and quickly.

Goals for the church

Van Heest described his role as a minister, what he wants for members of his congregation, and the difficulties facing churches today.
"If I lose my personal integrity in the sense that people think — I’m just talking, I’m not living — then I lose all my credibility because I can’t make up for it with a good joke or a fancy delivery of a sermon," he said.

If there’s a theme in his 28-year career as a minister, Van Heest said, it would be that people sense he believes what he says and tries to live by what he says.
"That’s a foundation," he said, adding that many things stem from the principle.
"I’m not perfect. I let people down for different reasons," he said. "And it gives me the opportunity then to teach about grace and forgiveness — the spiritual values that make relationships work. Because no one can live up to the expectations others have for them."

God, he said, uses people sometimes more powerfully who are less than perfect but understand truth and grace.
Van Heest said he doesn’t expect people to "show up in droves" just to hear him preach. He has the opposite approach of the Crystal Cathedral in California, which he called "a world-renowned place."
"It’s all about charisma there, and it comes across on the television screen, and I’m just the opposite of that.
"I’m not flashy. I’m not a pulpiteer"I’m more substance than style," he said. "The word ‘minister’ implies you do all the work." Van Heest said he prefers a "more biblical understanding" of the term but is not opposed to others calling him "minister."
"I am an equiper of ministers," he said. "My job is to be a teacher to help other people find what their ministry is." His goal, he said, is to help others minister wherever they are — at work, at home, in the community, and in the church.
"My work is to help each one of them learn how to do their ministry," he said. Van Heest said he has taught in college classrooms and at churches. A church’s attendance, he said, "is just the beginning."
"Get the people here, and then, through that process, help them to grow in their faith," he said.

More Hilltowns News

  • The Berne Town Hall.

    Berne Planning Board member Lawrence Zimmerman resigned in November over frustrations that the town is not following the guidance of its own comprehensive plan. Former town board member Dawn Jordan says that ideology and partisanship got in the way, along with some more prosaic — and even healthy — obstacles.

  • Municipalities have until Dec. 31 to request that the New York State Cannabis Control Board prohibit marijuana dispensaries and consumption sites from establishing themselves within each municipality’s respective borders. So far, only two of the four Hilltowns have initiated public conversation on the matter.

  • Kayleigh Reynolds-Flynn has been riding horses since she was born.

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.