Henry Wildeboer's first person narration “When God Shows Up" is structured chronologically around his pastoral journey and is aptly subtitled as such. The story is divided into two parts: Preparing and Serving. The preparation consists of his early experiences as youth and as student and the serving is chaptered around his three pastoral charges: Sunnyside Washington, Calgary Alberta and Oshawa Ontario.
It is a compelling read because Wildeboer engages his reader: an engagement that stems from his natural ability to tell a story and even more from his willingness to show his unabashed vulnerability. The reader cares for his story and in the end, for him.
The major conflict in the narration is centered internally in the person, Henry, and externally in the congregations he serves. Is Henry Wildeboer a gentle affirmer or a driven motivator? Does pastoral care mean caring for reclined congregants or does it mean pushing congregants out of the comfortable pew? Is Henry a caretaker or a care- shaker? What is the good news for a broken person in a broken world? And how is that news shared?
The settings for this conflict are his two major parishes: Calgary and Oshawa.
Both congregations were started by post-war Dutch immigrants who, shortly after arriving to Canada, felt the need to find community in a familiar neo-Calvinist Theology set in their native language and custom. The (American) Christian Reformed Church met both criteria. These early Canadian churches were doctrinally/confessionally oriented and its members made sacrifices willingly and readily to build houses of worship and schools for learning. They expressed their piety in financial sacrifice and faithful church attendance. Mission was for foreign lands. The nineteen fifties and sixties were periods of rapid growth as many new immigrants arrived from the Netherlands. Both Calgary and Oshawa were such places of growth, but the arrival of new immigrants stopped. There was a need for growth at the same time as there was a charismatic renewal in some Christian denominations. Henry committed himself and his ministry to growth in number and in piety. It wasn’t easy.
Henry’s narration deftly develops not just the plot, but also the characterization of a number of protagonists and antagonists. And he does it lovingly. He is generous with praise for the like-minded and charitable to those who oppose him. In a few lines he reveals the irony of unnamed opponents of glossolalia when they admit at a meeting of classis that they could not get the negative vote against the practice out of their mouths. It is of course his own character that the reader grows to respect and, yes, to love.
His readiness to admit his own innermost doubts, struggles and crisis and his consequent visits with a loving, understanding and encouraging counselor are at the heart of why his journey is an important story.
I’m glad he told it.
When God Shows Up