Whether you call it a miracle or a happy coincidence, sometimes life delivers an opportunity you simply can’t pass up.
When Julie Van Til and her family visited Flossmoor Community Church for services, she said they greatly enjoyed the atmosphere, people and message they encountered.
“It felt like home. Before I even knew they were looking for a pastor, I saw them as a welcoming community, and I knew they were open and affirming,” Van Til said.
Too perfect to pass up
While chatting with a church member, Van Til talked about her career in spiritual leadership. The FCC member told her the church was seeking a new pastor to replace the retiring Fred Lyon, who had been pastor for nearly a decade.
Though Van Til worked for years as a youth minister at First Reformed Church of South Holland and then pastor at The Community Church in Ada, Mich., she most recently had been working as an independent spiritual coach with a focus on personal and professional development.
“I wasn’t really planning on going back into full-time ministry. But this felt like it fell in my lap,” Van Til said.
She was attracted to FCC’s inclusiveness and commitment to community outreach. Conversational meetups about racism and white privilege, service to the homeless population through the PADS program, hosting LGBTQ pride events — Van Til said she felt a kinship with the values FCC promotes.
“One of the things that impressed me during the interview process was that I was asked by multiple people, ‘How do you approach having people of different faiths or no faith in our community and church community?’” Van Til said.
“Just that was enough to tell me so much about who they are trying to be. No church is perfect, but the fact that they’re already on that road resonated with my heart.”
Celebrating Christ and diversity
A non-denominational Christian church, FCC promotes most of its events as open to the public. Most recently it has invited the community for conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Van Til said she appreciates the way FCC incorporates the community into its mission. Regardless of whether community members ever join the church, they can feel welcome and have positive interactions with FCC staff and members.
She referenced the church’s motto: “Where Christ is central and diversity is cherished.”
“I know so many people have been hurt by the only expression of religion they know,” Van Til said, adding that she’s felt heartbroken over “the marginalization of LGBTQ people and the resistance to gaining a greater understanding of human sexuality with God’s love in the church.”
Working her way back to ministry
Van Til attended Lansing Christian School and Illiana Christian High School. Her bachelor’s degree is from DePauw University in central Indiana. She was the first person in her family to go to college.
Van Til also earned a Master in Educational Ministry degree from Huntington University Christian Graduate School in Indiana. She decided to become an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America, and went on to earn her Master of Divinity degree from Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich.
She created the youth ministry degree program and taught at Kuyper College in Michigan.
“I loved the students and the opportunity to teach,” she said. And I knew after doing it for two years that the red tape of an academic institution was not for me, and I really wanted to be in a church getting a little lower to the ground where I could help a community of Jesus’ followers to make a difference.”
Now Van Til’s life has circled back to that mission. Her role as pastor at FCC comes at a time when many people feel uncertain about the future.
It’s a challenging time, she said, to start a new job and move to a new area with her family, which includes her husband, Andrew, and their children, Eva, 14, and Everett, 12. They plan to move into the H-F High School district, Van Til said.
“We’re so excited to make H-F our home and be a part of what everyone seems to love,” she said. “I’m so excited to work with a dedicated, gifted staff who lead a church that is full of committed, generous people who know that the ministry of the church is their ministry — it’s not just the pastor’s ministry.”
- Related story: FCC pastor Fred Lyon retires