Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Well done, good and faithful servant

It was February 2002 when my wife and I attended Emmanuel Christian Center in Fridley for the first time. Having moved to nearby Coon Rapids less than a year earlier, Jennifer and I felt a tug from the Lord to begin seeking out a new church home (we had been attending my longtime home church in St Paul since we got engaged in 1999). As we got to know people in our community, we began to hear the name "Emmanuel Christian Center" more and more. In fact, the Wednesday night youth service (J.C.'s Place) was attended by a fair number of Jen's 8th grade students. All those factors combined compelled us to attend a Sunday service.

Our very first Sunday was entitled "Missions Sunday" as one of the Missionaries who was supported by ECC financially (in this case, Michael McNamee of Ireland) was in town to speak. What an awesome testimony this gentleman had. It was one of the more uplifting and inspirational sermons we had heard in some time. Upon conclusion of the service, we were told to be sure and come back next week, as the church's Pastor would be speaking. Since we had pretty much decided that particular Sunday that ECC was our new home church, we looked forward to the next service.

It was the following Sunday when we first heard Pastor G. Mark Denyes preach. I couldn't tell you exactly what the grey-haired septuagenarian with the Canadian accent spoke about that day. However, I do recall that I ascertained almost immediately how he was so very dynamic, humorous, insightful and humble with his preaching style. I was even more impressed with his personal story, as he, his wife Shirley and then four kids moved from Chillicothe, Missouri to Fridley, MN in the Spring of 1963 to start a church. In that nearly forty-year span, God's anointing allowed Pastor Denyes to lead a basement church service of 50-plus people in the beginning to over 3,000 (spanning two services) in a large auditorium on an 8-1/2 acre plot of land. Within all that, Pastor Denyes wore his humility on his sleeve. If one ever had the occasion to greet him while he strolled the vestibule between services, he would always answer a "How are you, Pastor?" with a resounding "Blessed!"

In 2006, after 43 years as the one and only Pastor of Emmanuel, G. Mark Denyes resigned his post, but he certainly didn't "retire." There was one point where he served as interim Pastor of a church in Hibbing, driving to from his Spring Lake Park home to the Iron Range every Sunday for several months. He would also grace Emmanuel with his presence by speaking during Sunday evening services.

Sadly, within the past year, it was announced that Pastor Denyes had developed leukemia. He had been seen less and less due to the deterioration of his immune system, which made him highly susceptible to severe illness. This past Sunday his eldest son Dwight, who succeeded his father as Pastor in 2006 and completed his tenure last week, announced that his Dad had entered hospice care.

On Tuesday morning, Dwight posted the following message on his Facebook page:

Last night my father passed away. He's arrived safely there now. He's joined that great cloud of witnesses. He showed us how to live and now he's shown us how to die. We've appreciated your many words of kindness and your many prayers.

Late last year, Dwight announced he would not seek another term as ECC Senior Pastor when his current term expired March 2013. The church board of deacons then submitted one name to replace Dwight, which was that of Nate Ruch, who was ECC's youth pastor in the late 1990s thru 2003. Nate was subsequently voted in overwhelmingly by the congregation.

(l-r) Dwight Denyes, G. Mark Denyes and Nate Ruch

This past Sunday, Nate Ruch was officially installed as Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Christian Center. About 36 hours later, ECC's founding pastor stepped in to eternity. It was almost as if Pastor Denyes ensured that one of his many disciples was successfully installed as the church's leader before answering the call to go home. For years, Pastor Denyes had said we on Earth are in the land of the dying and that Heaven is the actual land of the living. He also said on many occasions that he didn't want to stay here on Earth one day longer than the Lord desired. As such, Pastor G. Mark Denyes now has his great reward.

Well done, good and faithful servant.


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