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Celebrating 100 years: New Jerusalem church has roots in Vandercook

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Above, Reverend A. A. Meyers, original minister at Vandercook Community Church in 1920, and the original church building.

By Rev. Bob and Shelley Norman
New Jerusalem Christian Fellowship

New Jerusalem Christian Fellowship had its beginning in 1920. At that time, the church was called Vandercook Community Church, under the leadership of its founder, Rev. A. A. Myers. Over the years, the name of the church has changed several times from Vandercook Community Church to Summit Gospel Center, and to its present name, New Jerusalem Christian Fellowship.

Rev. Myers was a Congregationalist missionary in the Cumberland Gap area.  He had succeeded in opening the Harrow School, established for the purpose of providing elementary education to African-American children.

As the legend goes, in 1863 Abraham Lincoln suggested to General O. O. Howard, a Union Army officer, that when the Civil War ended, he hoped Gen. Howard would organize a great university for the people of this area. On a visit to the area to give a series of lectures at the Harrow School, General O.O. Howard remembered his commitment to fulfilling Lincoln’s request and he joined Rev. A. A. Myers, M. F. Overton, C. F. Eagar, A. B. Kesterson and M. Arthur in establishing Lincoln Memorial University. The institution was chartered by the State of Tennessee on February 12, 1897.

Although it is not certain what brought Rev. Myers to Michigan, he landed at Vandercook Lake and established Vandercook Community Church in 1920.  After eight short years of ministering at VCC, Rev. Myers passed away in 1928. The community church held a memorial service on May 6, 1928, commemorating his work.

It is not known who immediately pastured the church after A. A. Myer’s death. The following people shepherded the church throughout the years: Rev. C. E. Roberts 1934-44; Rev. Raymond DeVito 1944-45; Rev. Bessie Wright 1945-50; Rev. H. E. Taylor 1950-67; Rev. Robert and Lola Lamberg 1967-1969; Rev. Ernie and Helen Norman, 1969-1983; Rev. James and Patricia Norman 1983-1987; and Rev. Bob and Shelley Norman 1987-present.

The Norman family has led the church for the last 51 years. It began with Rev. Ernest A. Norman pastoring what was then called Summit Gospel Center (formerly VCC) until he was called to the mission field in 1983. He and his wife, Helen, spent seven years in Haiti. They worked hand in hand with Rev. Patricia Gruits of Bethesda Missionary Temple, in Detroit, to establish a medical clinic for the people of Haiti. After seven years, they came back to Michigan, where Ernie worked at Jackson Christian School until the year 2000. He also helped to build the church now located at U.S. 127 and served as an elder of the New Jerusalem Christian Fellowship.

Rev. Bob Norman and his wife, Shelley, have shepherded New Jerusalem Christian Fellowship since 1987. The church has been led by the Norman family since Rev. Ernie and Helen Norman were at the helm from 1969-83.

While Ernie and Helen were in Haiti, their son, James Norman, became pastor. Jim ministered at the church until 1987 when he left to form his own church.

In 1987 Ernie’s youngest son, Bob, became pastor. Feeling the call of the Lord to move to a new area, in 1990 the Board of Elders sold the old church building at 202 E. McDevitt in Vandercook, after being there 70 years, and leased a building in Addison area formerly called, “Marilyn’s Country Bargains” to begin a fresh start. The church grew in numbers steadily from a remnant of 22 people, who came from Vandercook to the Addison area, to about 80 people.

In 1995, after 4 1/2 years, the board was prepared to purchase the building when they were informed by the Jackson County Health Department that there could never be a church in that location due to unsuitable soil conditions. Regardless of the It seemed the health director’s heart was hardened. Thankfully, the elders realized that God had something much better for NJCF.

In 1995, the congregation moved into the Addison Middle School for Sunday services. Being in the school was a great blessing allowing for a much better relationship with the school and having better involvement with the students. Because of this move to the school, NJCF was able to save and raise $80,000 while maintaining and increasing other programs. Their goal was to purchase land and build a new building.

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Having been given a vision, former Pastor Ernest Norman said he was traveling up a long hill on the highway (U.S. 127) and saw a church on top of the hill. He knew that was the location where God wanted the new church to be built. It didn’t take too long to find out who owned the property and let them know of NJCF’s plans to build a church. The portion of land that the owners wanted to sell was not suitable for residential usage. Their problem became NJCF’s solution.

Believing God was directing the leadership of New Jerusalem Christian Fellowship, they entered into a 40-day period of prayer and fasting. In early 1998, they prayed for repentance and revival, but also for God’s leading and provision to build a church. During this time of fasting and prayer, Pastor Bob received a response to a grant he had applied for from the Merillat Foundation in Adrian, Mich. They received $200,000 with a promise of another $200,000 which was to be matched by others. They held a fundraising banquet in August of 1998 and God again answered their prayers. They raised $200,008 through cash, pledges, and land donated, which was all matched by the Merillat Foundation.

Construction began at 14977 Harper Road in Cement City and the building was completed in March 1999. A dedication service was held in April 1999 with Rev. Paul Johansson, a long-time friend, and former president of Elim Bible Institute, presiding. The building was filled with people and the next 20 years flew by.

The beautiful New Jerusalem Christian Fellowship church was completed and dedicated in the spring of 1999.

There have been many ups and downs, many tears, and much laughter. The church has sensed their calling as one that sends out others to do the work of a missionary. Some have found their calling locally serving in various capacities through the tri-county area. Others have been sent out of state, and still, others have gone on numerous mission trips and some to become missionaries throughout the world helping to establish hearts and win souls for the Lord. They have been amazed at how the Lord has used ordinary people who have hearts willing to listen and obey! May the Lord alone receive all glory and honor for all He has done.

For more information on New Jerusalem Christian Fellowship, visit njcf.net, call the church at 517-592-8888 or email info@njcf.net.

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