This letter was written by our former pastor, Laurie Hartzell, now the interim pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Muskegon.

A Letter to the Congregation
Maundy Thursday, 2022

Dear Friends,

This past Sunday in worship we considered what the streets of Jerusalem might have been like on that first Palm Sunday. We imagined Roman centurions walking around or on war horses, seeking to keep the Jews in line as they celebrated Passover. We imagined Jews hoping that this “Jesus of Nazareth” would be the one to finally set them free from Roman rule. Anxiety, fear, hope and much excitement must have filled the air on that day we now commemorate as Palm Sunday.

And today I’m thinking about what is filling the air in another city – Grand Rapids. This city I grew up in is today filled with anxiety and pain, fear and anger. A Black man, Patrick Lyoya,  was killed by a Grand Rapids policeman April 4. Videos were released yesterday, and hundreds of peaceful protesters gathered in the evening outside the Grand Rapids police station. But there are no shouts of “Hosanna!” Rather, there are shouts of “How long, O Lord! How long, O Lord!”

I recognize that there are many good and decent police officers in this nation making life more secure for all of us. I’m grateful for these dedicated men and women who put their lives on the line each day for us. Yet I also grieve the ongoing killing of Black men at the hands of police. It happens all too often. Having a Black son myself makes this fear more personal. And as people of God, we must not be silent.

As one human being, it is hard to know what I can do in the face of this deep racism that infects our nation. What can I do to really make a difference? Well, I can start by looking deep in myself and acknowledging the biases and racism that have been woven into me. I can repent. I can ask to be free. I hope you will do this today. I hope we can do this as a congregation.  

And I can seek to stand with the marginalized and add my voice to those who often feel voiceless. That is not a small thing. I will keep you posted when I hear of nonviolent protests and prayerful responses that give voice and action in the face of these injustices.  

And I can pray. We can never underestimate the power of prayer. Pray for justice. Pray for families in pain. Pray for police officers and for common-sense police reform.  

Friends, there were some God-fearing Jews who must have stayed indoors and hidden their faces from the painful events of Good Friday. Even many of the disciples hid. Somehow we think that if we hide, things will go away and soon “get back to normal.” But let’s not be among the hiders. Let’s be willing to walk into the mess and confusion and racial pain and bring the love of our Lord to those places. That is our call. The promise is that God will lead us.  

And as we show up, seek to understand each other, work for justice and peace – we are indeed on Holy Ground. There is not a better place to be during Holy Week.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Laurie

A prayer from Walter Brueggemann:
 “You summon us to life in the midst of death, peace in the midst of violence, praise in the midst of despair. Filled once again with your unruly Spirit, may we answer your summons and be part of the movement of life. Amen.”

Meet Evan Closser

We’d like you to meet Evan Closser, newly hired Minister of Music at First Presbyterian Church of Benton Harbor. Evan comes to us from New York City, where he recorded session work and taught private music lessons in his studio. Having family in Southwest Michigan brought Evan and his partner Amethyst back to this area, where they currently live in Berrien Springs with their dog and three cats.

Evan was classically trained in piano and organ, but he owns over 50 musical instruments and aspires to learn to play them all. Before moving to New York, he played for the St. Joe Youth Orchestra under Steven Reed. He’s currently working on teaching himself the harp, and is proficient in guitar, mandolin, ukulele, clarinet, and saxophone. He enjoys all genres of music, and is currently leaning into non-Eurocentric forms in addition to classical, jazz, and gospel.

Evan continues to give private music lessons, and to find local opportunities for musical performance, both alone and with fellow musicians. About his current projects, Evan says, “I recently finished my first job as a music editor, and have been composing a set of lullabies for the harp starting with one each for my niece and nephew! I’m hoping that my recent editing of a harp method book will give me an “in” to hopefully publish these lullabies some day. I’ve also been getting my feet wet with composing for picture and podcasts and am hoping to find excuses to compose more often.”

At First Presbyterian, Evan is anticipating the time when, post-Covid, we can return to familiar ways of musical expression, including congregational hymn-singing and re-formation of the choir. He’s looking forward to getting to know our many musicians and singers and to leading a variety of musical experiences involving as many people as possible.

For more information about Evan:

Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube

Welcome to First Presbyterian, Evan!


Linda is in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Every Sunday
Choir practice 9:00 a.m.
Worship Service 10:00 a.m.

Every Monday
Pastor’s Sabbath; call for emergencies.
Other needs can wait, or call Elders Catherine Ravitch or Shirley Hagelberg-Klemish

Every Tuesday 
Bible Study 10:00 a.m.
Food Pantry open 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Pub Theology 7:30 @ The Livery

Every Thursday 
Veterans Groups Here 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Food Pantry open 12:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Community Supper 6:00 p.m.
Youth Group meets 5:30-ish
Choir practice 6:30 p.m.