New Heart of the Valley church returns to roots of Christianity for its foundation

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Reporter : Tom Collins

Times Villager

 

Its appropriate that new life is springing in a former church building on French Road between Appleton and Little Chute.  Many people might not have recalled the former Greek Orthodox church on the site.  The small trapezoid shaped building is easy to miss.

But a beautiful iron cross now graces the building’s east side where its high windows face the morning sun.  There is a strong symbolism in the physical reawakening.

The former church building has been taken over by a dynamic and energetic group of Christians who are following a very ancient formula for what they carefully named the Wellspring at the Cross Church.  Gradually, they are building their membership.

The church’s ministry is based on the egalitarian point of view from Ephesians 4:11-14.  It designates the roles of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors or shepherds and teachers.

“We believe the Lord put together that kind of leadership here,” Doug Pirkey says.  “No one is above the other but in tandem, we function as leaders of the church.”

The group of four may be five in near future as someone is added to the role of teacher.  Like members of the early church, the majority of the Wellspring ministry works in other areas of life and minister when they can.

Pirkey, for example, is the lead in “Pirkey Works.”  He is a self-employed painter based in Little Chute.  The father of three says he would fit the apostolic role.  At church services, he often prepares and gives sermons.  One might call him pastor and he has that formal training.

Adam Posegate works full time at J. J. Keller in Neenah but is very involved in the pastoral ministries.  Dan Kunde of Capital Builders installs floors during the week but is considered the congregation’s evangelist.  The lone part-time employee, Joie Pirkey, Doug’s wife, has the most difficult skill to explain, the gift of prophecy.

“The gift of prophecy is when the Lord shows the prophet a truth,” Pastor Doug explains.  “Something specific he wants to tell the church.”

The Pirkeys came to the local church through a powerful experience in the tattered African nation of Rwanda.  Doug was recruited to become the general manager of a security company there.  In that strife-torn nation, most businesses have some type of security arrangement.

While still in the U.S., the Pirkey family has been involved in periodic efforts with Rwandan widows and orphans.  In fact, Joie had formed “Shouts of Joy Ministries” with those individuals in mind.  The Pirkeys were thinking about becoming more involved with Rwanda and saw Doug’s offer for a full time position as their way to that goal.  But then things changed dramatically.

“It turned out to be very difficult situation for me because it became readily apparent after a few months, I was a mascot,” he recalled.  “I was a white westerner who was being used as an image for getting western business.”

He began to experience a lot of pressure to go along with the prevailing system of bribes and kickbacks.  That was not his way of doing things.  He decided to build the company legitimately.  And he began using his knowledge to raise the status of the Rwandan employees.  They had often been harassed and even physically beaten.  He decided all that had to change.

Despite heavy pressure from the Somali owners, he persevered.  Pirkey began earning the respect of the Rwandans and even some of the Somali middle managers.  The Rwandans began to feel empowered and approached government ministries about the wrongdoing.  Pirkey was respected by the employees and he learned a powerful lesson about his faith.

“When you see the gratitude in people and all you’ve done is be a Christian.  It deeply impacts you.”

Eventually the Somali owners fired him without cause but Pirkey won a pair of lawsuits against them.  He linked with another western business owner in a fish business.  Doug, who was trained in culinary skills in his native North Carolina, had worked as a professional chef before pursuing the ministry.  He was helpful in many areas for the new food company.

At the end of 2011, the owner was forced to let Pirkey go but by then he knew he had been reinvigorated for another task.

“I felt very convinced my role in the body of Christ was in a para-church ministry  or ministering in the humanity of Christ,” he says.

He wasn’t entering something new.  He was picking up on his other previous training at North Central Bible College in Minnesota.  There he had met Joie.  He had also worked in both homeless ministry and as a substance abuse counselor.

Over the past year, the new church has been forming. One of the first tasks was finding the name.

That came during a retreat in rural Calumet County where an artesian well was flowing.  That became the “wellspring” portion.  Of course, the cross is the traditional symbol of Christianity.

“The cross minimizes ourselves and maximizes the Lord,” Pirkey explains.  “By denying ourselves, taking up the cross and following him, we deny ourselves.  Like the Resurrection followed the Crucifixion, we realize the life of God.”

“The cross becomes the wellspring of our relationship with the Lord in the context of the church,” he adds.

Pirkey was raised an Episcopalian and has worked in the Assembly of God denomination.  Other Wellspring members have come from various denominations.  Wellspring at the Cross relies on the basics.  The new church is seen as an alternative for people who have had mixed faith experiences.

“We feel called to minister to people who have been wounded in the church,” he says.

“Many times, authority is abused in the church and people get hurt,” Pirkey adds.  “We feel very called and sort of ‘put together’ to facilitate a ministry that embraces people with the headship of Christ {a term often used as leadership or shepherding} and not an agenda that we develop or want for ourselves.”

Pirkey’s powerful faith experience in Rwanda also left him with a critical feeling about the state of the church in the United States.

“What prevails in America is ‘What can I get from the church?’ What churches do is develop commodities to give them.  It becomes a business and money becomes so important.  It becomes corrupting.  What I saw from Rwanda was [God] wants love.  What He wants is a body loving Him.”

And that has also become a driving force for the new Wellspring at the Cross congregation.

“What we strive for is a body functioning.  Members loving and serving one another under the headship of Christ,” he explains.  “In Rwanda, I found out just how big a deal the love of God is.  It’s all that really matters.  It transcends life itself.”

“The love of God began to show me if we would live out the love of God, we would have a perspective that would disengage us from the driving force of fear,” he adds.

Approximately 50 members from Green Bay to Oshkosh are part of the congregation.  Many are young family members.  More formal worship services are held on Sunday morning at 10 along with a prayer meeting on Wednesday nights at 6:30.

“What we see the Lord wanting is a spirituality, organic in nature,” he says.  “That is born of Him as opposed to a church developed on man’s agenda.”

We’re told the early church began in places like living rooms and other small gathering places.  Those early Christians also worked for a living.  Modern Catholic deacons would understand.  And so does the Wellspring at the Cross team.

For example, he was interviewed during a late day snowstorm and was dressed in painting work clothes, dotted with fresh paint splatters.  He said he often sacrifices work for ministerial needs.

“In the middle of the day, go meet someone who needs to talk-that kind of thing.”

He laughs when asked if there are goals to grow the church beyond the small and friendly confines of the tiny French Road building.

“We think the Lord is developing a movement that will impact the entire Fox Valley,” he says.  “We believe it is going to grow.  And we believe we will need another facility soon.”

For more information, visit the church at one of their worship times.  It is located at 3333 French Road, just past the Outagamie County Dog Park and just north of Highway OO near Highway 441.  In fact, the tiny church can be seen from the highway.

Pirkey, whose family includes three children, wanted just one message for readers.  “I would like to leave them with the love of God,” Pirkey smiles.  “It is a process.  It is growing up in Christ or Christ being formed in us.”

They say faith can move mountains.  Jesus talked about faith the size of a tiny mustard seed being a powerful force.  That’s the kind of faith found in members of the Wellspring at the Cross congregation.  And it is the type of faith that may yield great things.

 

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  1. […] March 6, 2013 an article in the Times Villager about ‘Wellspring at the Cross’ was published. In this article Journalist Tom Collins quotes […]

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