Knox Reformed Church seeks a pastor

The Knox Reformed Church

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

The Knox Reformed Church, in the center of the Knox hamlet, has been without a pastor since Timothy Van Heest’s contract was not renewed six months ago.

KNOX — Timothy Van Heest preached his last sermon at the Knox Reformed Church on Sunday, March 10.

“I moved out at the end of April. They gave me that amount of time to pack up 12 years of life,” Van Heest told The Enterprise this week, reached by phone in Chicago.

A number of the congregation of an estimated 60 members left after Van Heest was let go. Several, who did not want to be named, said they were not given reasons why Van Heest’s contract was not renewed close to his retirement. Letters from a score of congregants commenting on Van Heest’s worth were submitted to the Albany Classis.

Asked what he was doing in Chicago, Van Heest told The Enterprise, “I’m looking for a church … I don’t have one at this time.”

Asked about his departure from the Helderberg Hilltowns, where he had been the pastor for both the Knox Reformed Church and the Second Reformed Church of Berne on Thompson’s Lake, Van Heest said, “The classis is not wanting me to say anything about it in public.”

The Knox and Thompson’s Lake churches are “yoked” — two separate churches with different members and consitories, or governing bodies, that share a pastor to lead their Sunday worship services.

Van Heest did make two comments that had nothing to do with his departure. “I felt — and still feel — very good about the people I met and served alongside,” he said of his time in the Helderbergs.

Van Heest also said that it was “a very good thing” to be back with his wife, Mary, who had been living in Chicago. They had just been able to visit one of their grown children together in Michigan, which they wouldn’t have been able to do if he were still in the Helderbergs.

A member of the consistory — made up of four elders and four deacons — at the Knox Reformed Church declined to comment on not renewing Van Heest’s contract and referred The Enterprise to Robert Hoffman, pastor of the First Reformed Church of Berne.

Hoffman made it clear that his church is in a different classis, or governing body, than the Knox church. “I have no authority or intimate knowledge,” of the situation with Van Heest, he said. “I can only speak to you about the normal process.”

Hoffman explained that he has a permanent position with the Berne church while Van Heest’s post was based on an annual contract.

“The governing body of the church has the ability to make a decision,” Hoffman said.

Referring to the prior pastor of the Knox Reformed Church, Daniel Carlson, Hoffman said, “Daniel received a call from another congregation, which he accepted.”

Hoffman cautioned The Enterprise that there aren’t “any secrets or hidden problems to expose” and referred The Enterprise to Matthew van Maastricht, the pastor at the Altamont Reformed Church who teaches about polity.

The process

The Reformed Church of America has about 200,000 members nationwide and is headquartered in Michigan.

Van Maastricht explained there are several different classes in the area. The Altamont Reformed Church is in the Schenectady Classis; the Berne church is in the Schoharie Classis, and the Knox church is in the Albany Classis, he said.

When it comes to finding a minister, van Maastricht said, “There are a couple of different categories: what usually happens and what has to happen.”

What usually happens, he said, is a church forms a search committee, which puts together a 15-page church profile, including such things as “what is important in a minister and where the church wants to be.”

“They can circulate this profile or send it to the denomination,” van Maastricht said. “Ministers also have a profile form where they answer different questions … Hopefully, the search committee will get a few profiles.”

The committee then interviews those ministers.

“What has to happen,” van Maastricht said, “is the committee makes a recommendation to the consistory.” Usually the candidate preaches at the church.

“The consistory is required to learn the mind of the congregation,” said van Maastricht, adding that this is usually done with a vote.

“The consistory then decides whether to issue a call. They submit that to the classis, which has to approve it,” van Maastricht said. “Then it goes to the minister.”

Asked to describe the process of how a Reformed minister leaves a particular church, van Maastricht said, there are two different ways a minister can be connected to a church.

The first, which he called “the normative way,” is semi-permanent, and the classis has to approve the minister’s leaving.

The second, he said, is the minister serves under contract, which has to be renewed every year. In this case, which applied to Van Heest, the classis had to approve his appointment but didn’t have to dissolve the relationship.

“That happens at the church level,” said van Maastricht.

The Enterprise asked if, in the same way the consistory has to know the mind of the congregation to hire a minister, if it is required to also know the mind of the congregation to not renew a contract.

“No,” answered van Maastricht. He explained that, even in hiring a minister, the mind of the congregation has “a significant weight but is not binding.”

“When a minister is leaving, the congregation doesn't need to be consulted,” he said. “It’s an issue between the minister and the consistory.”

Van Maastricht stressed, “There are different ways churches can do it. They have some discretion for how to do it.”


Van Heest, a Guilderland native, had been a pastor for 28 years when he was hired under a contract on April 1, 2007 by the Knox and Thompson’s Lake churches.

He came from a long line of Reformed Church of America pastors; his father and both of his grandfathers were Reformed Church ministers.

When he was 18, Van Heest went to study at Hope College in Holland, Mich. After graduating, he “went across the street” to Western Theological Seminary. After being a pastor in California for 18 years, where his two children were born, he moved to a church in the Chicago suburbs for six years and then was a minister to a rural congregation in Kankakee, Illinois.

When Van Heest was hired for the Hilltowns, Patricia Gage, an elder in the Knox church said, “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.”

The two churches had searched for a pastor for two years and, Gage said at the time, 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 in 2007.

“I stand by those comments I made 12 years ago,” Gage said this week, declining to comment further.

Van Heest was the pastor when the Knox Reformed Church celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2017. At that time, it was estimated the church had 60 members.

Van Heest told The Enterprise the year he was hired, that, if there were a theme in his decades as a minister, 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. “I’m not perfect. I let people down for different reasons. 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.”

He also said, “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 …

“”I am an equiper of ministers,” he concluded. “My job is to be a teacher to help other people find what their ministry is.”

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