In 1850, a former slave named William J. Anderson built a church building in downtown Madison, Indiana. Anderson had escaped the clutches of slavery and made it just across the Ohio River into Madison. He became a conductor on the Underground Railroad and, with his skills as a brick mason, he built the African Methodist Episcopal Church building in town. Anderson was its first pastor. In the basement, congregants added slate to the walls for chalkboards and educated Black children before it was legal to do so. Over the years, the occupants of this historically significant building have changed, but the structure itself remains. These days it is the meeting place for Madison Reformed Church, a URCNA church plant and the first congregation in many decades to use the building for its original purpose.
How We Got Here
I am a born-and-bred Madisonian. The town is in southern Indiana, right on the Ohio River, roughly midway between Cincinnati, OH and Louisville, KY. Having discovered the treasures of the Reformation and somehow ending up at Westminster Seminary California, the time came for me to think about what might come after seminary. There are countless wonderfulpeople in Madison, but no NAPARC congregations, nor have there ever been. So, my wife, Nicole, and I began praying along these lines. Our former pastor, Rev. Danny Hyde (Oceanside URC), put us in touch with Rev. Zac Wyse. At that point, Zac was nearly five years into planting Westside Reformed Church in Cincinnati, only 70 miles from Madison. For some perspective, picture the U.S. map: there are a handful of healthy clusters of URCNA churches here and there, but Westside is 240 miles from the nearest one. After some correspondence, we decided to pursue a long-term plan for planting in Madison. This included exploratory efforts, such as a summer study on covenant theology, and return trips to Madison for events like a mini-conference on the Reformation. Each step was contingent upon the always and everywhere-present condition: “If God opens the door.”
When 2020 arrived, a couple of families were waiting patiently in Madison to begin core group meetings. But COVID19 is no respecter of persons or, apparently, church plants. Yet, the Lord opened many unexpected doors to allow us to commence in July 2020. On Sundays, we all traveled to Cincinnati to worship with the Westside congregation. During the week, we met as a core group for psalm singing, catechism devotions, and event planning. The rest of the calendar year was devoted to raising awareness in town about our group.
One of those events was a gathering we simply called “What is a Reformed Church?” This was in November 2020, during another spike in reported COVID numbers. Even so, the attendance was better than we anticipated. Some of the attendees have become persistent supporters of our church; others have orbited around our congregation, learning more about the Reformed tradition over time. We pray they stick with us.
At the end of November, Westside’s consistory called our first service in town and several members traveled to Madison to support us. From then on, we held informal services. In 2021, I was ordained, and we began formal worship services on April 18. A generous U.C.C. congregation allowed us to use their campus for our Sunday gatherings. We worked around their schedule by holding a Bible study hour on Sunday mornings in their fellowship hall, and our worship service in their main building in the evening. As it turns out, if you yell “new Reformed church!” loud enough, all the Reformed people in a certain radius come running. Thus, during these transitional months, some families with backgrounds in Presbyterian and Reformed churches began attending, willing to travel from outof town. This led to a season of regular attenders becoming members—a joyful time for us.
Over the summer of 2021, we unexpectedly had the opportunity to host a VBS. Jim Iwema at Reformed Missions Services organized a team of 17 people from three URCNA churches to travel to Madison. They came with all the materials necessary for teaching curriculum from Great Commission Publications. Without their help, it could not have happened. It was a way to bless our congregation’s children and to invite others from the community. We then took advantage of the autumn weather by having a booth at Madison’s annual Soup, Stew, Chili & Brew festival (it is as great as it sounds) and hosting a midweek, outdoor Bible study.
By the end of 2021, we realized it was time to find a new place to worship. Our congregation was able to fit into a smaller building, and we wanted to move our evening service to the morning. The fine folks at Historic Madison, Inc., a local preservationist organization, suggested renting one of their properties—the AME building mentioned at the beginning of this essay. This new space has been a wonderful blessing. We have been worshiping in it for only a couple of months and, in the Lord’s kind providence, are recognizing that we may outgrow it sooner than we thought. Beginning with 15 people, including children, in July 2020, the Lord has added to our number six other families or individuals who are now in or pursuing membership, other frequent attenders, and an unbaptized friend with whom I meet weekly to work through the Apostles’ Creed. We are averaging 35 people in our weekly services, all glory to God. In our new, one-room building, the seating is cozy and the singing is loud.
What We Do
Our Lord’s Day gatherings currently look like this: a morning service, followed by a brief break for refreshments and personal engagement, and concluding with a Bible study hour. This last feature has been useful to teaching on a series of important topics inductively—types and shadows, the doctrine of the church, and the gifts of the Spirit. Over time, with the addition of songs and prayers, this study hour will become our catechism service. In our service, we have covered Ephesians, Proverbs 1–9, and are about to begin a series in the Gospel of Mark.
It is our great privilege each week to hear the summons of our King, to draw near to him with faith in Jesus, to raise our voices to him through the Holy Spirit, and to worship in the freedom provided by holy Scripture. In short, MRC exists to “worship one God in Trinity and the Trinity in unity.” This is what we do, and all else is ancillary.
Surprisingly, this is actually a hard commitment to maintain. It is a powerful and discouraging thing to meet a new visitor who never comes back. The ancient serpent slithers in at just such moments to raise his perennial question, “Did God actually say…?” Did God really say, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ?” What about, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” or, “Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness,” “with reverence and awe?” As it turns out, he indeed said all those things. I meet plenty of people who say they love the Bible, but these kinds of words from the same Bible are a stumbling block when the prevailing model of a worship service is concert and a TED Talk (a comparison Scott Swain recently made).
We have learned that there are very few instances in which someone visits us, gets excited, and wants to join forever. The sacred burn is a slow burn. Sometimes visitors recognize that we take the Bible seriously, and that elicits their excitement. The ordered structure of our worship or the presence of children in the service, however, tends to raise major questions.
The church planters I have the pleasure of knowing have taught me, by precept and example, that establishing a church is truly a spiritual work, and usually slow. “What you win them with is what you win them to,” I heard one wise pastor say. We want to win them to Christ with Christ, the Savior graciously offered in the Word and the sacraments.
The building in which we worship has been a great reminder of the past. We were not the first Christians in this space, nor are we the first Christians to read Scripture or to ask what our worship should be like. It is my prayer that by maintaining our connection to the past through the ecumenical creeds and Reformed confessions, Madison Reformed Church will be a resting place for the spiritually malnourished and those still walking in darkness.
How to Pray for Us
- for our growth in grace
- for our children to profess faith
- for the Lord to raise up men to serve as deacons and elders
- for all our outreach efforts, corporate and individual, to bear fruit
©Collin Welch. All Rights Reserved.
- Support Heidelmedia: use the donate button
- How To Subscribe To Heidelmedia
- The Heidelblog Resource Page
- Heidelmedia Resources
- The Ecumenical Creeds
- The Reformed Confessions
- The Heidelberg Catechism
- Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008)
- Two Big Events In The Life Of A New Confessional Reformed Congregation
- Alumni Spotlight: Rev Collin Welch
You’re always on the prayer lists. It is great to read more about Madison Reformed, brother Collin. Keep up the great work. Soli Deo Gloria!
Keep on! It’s encouraging to read this article. I’m praying for you all today.
thanks so much for this well written update and history of the church. I am sorry to say that
we can not send you any more families from CA. We are now under 35 and you are over it!
Your Gospel Comrade,
Pastor David Inks