News Articles

Hospitality meets mission in this widow’s living room

Dining room chairs were brought in for those who gathered Sept. 10 at Rita Klink's house.

GUTTENBERG, Iowa (BP) — Rita Klink doesn’t consider herself a leader. Regardless, she is someone who said “yes.”

That answer came after a series of events that led to her living room becoming the latest campus of First Family Church in Ankeny, over three hours away.

Welcome signs adorn the yard of Rita Klink in Guttenberg, Iowa.

Instead of pews, there was a couch and handful of chairs pulled from the dining table. A tray offered elements for communion. After worship, several stayed behind for an hour sipping on coffee and talking.

As people do when inviting others into their home, Klink couldn’t help fretting about the setup being just right.

“I worry about doing this and doing that, wondering if it’s going to work out,” she said. “A friend of mine encouraged me to give that to the Lord so I did. He’s in control; it’s His church.”

Far-off connection

Klink’s road to hosting the church, at this point an unofficial campus of First Family, began with the day she returned from a grocery store trip three years ago.

“My daughter was coming to visit, so I went to get some food while my husband and a group of men were playing pingpong in this upstairs room we have in the garage,” she said. “It was hot, so I was going to get some waters, too.

“Twenty minutes later I got back and they were all standing outside. I thought that was strange, and then a friend jumped in my car and said we had to go to the hospital right away.”

Klink’s husband, Reese, had suffered a sudden heart attack. Sept. 25 marks the anniversary of his death.

Reese Klink had served as the pastor and co-elder of a local church. In addition to that, he and his wife were very active physically and constant partakers of the town’s streets and greenway for walking and cycling. They kayaked the Mississippi River, two blocks from their front door, and when looking for their house specifically wanted a room for pingpong.

“We were very active and health-conscious, so it surprised a lot of people when he died,” she said.

Now a widow, Klink stayed home out of concerns over a lung condition amid COVID. At the suggestion of a friend, she began watching the online services of First Family Church. Quickly, she felt a connection and began to be a part of the ministry, even if from the other side of the state.

A willing host

One day Todd Stiles, lead pastor at First Family, was in the office and was asked a question. Did he know the church had a regular giver all the way over in Guttenberg?

“I called to see who she was,” Stiles said. “COVID had led to the shutdown of her church, and she had been watching us. A friend of hers is the mother of a long-time family here and had recommended us to Rita during those crises.”

The connection came at a time when First Family was working to make inroads among Iowa’s rural centers.

“God had put a burden on the hearts of our elders, in conjunction with our state convention, to pursue rural areas where there was little Gospel influence,” said Stiles, who also serves as Pastor/Church Connections team leader for the Baptist Convention of Iowa.

“Guttenberg popped up with a willing host and friends. So, we sensed it was an open door and agreed to go to the next green light,” he said.

The first meeting took place Sept. 10 with eight individuals, all local to the town of less than 1,800. Until a pastoral candidate arrives, they watch First Family’s services online.

“Reese was the spiritual leader of our home and that has been a terrible void,” Klink said. “I worried about how to do communion, and they supplied me with a tray and cups and all that.”

A key prayer is for those leadership needs to be met.

“Our aim, by God’s grace, is to raise up local elders/pastors and grow to 25 in her living room over the next 8-12 months, then move to a neutral site,” Stiles said.

A woman leading in the establishment of a church by a river has given Klink the nickname of “Lydia” by Stiles, in reference to Acts 16 and the founding of the first church in Europe.

“I reference that Holy Spirit moment a lot when I share about the rural opportunity we’ve been given by God,” Stiles said.

Other than Guttenberg, First Family has one other campus and seven church plants. Interest is rising for locations such as Elk Horn and Lamoni.

“None of them have started like Guttenberg, but our third church plant has transitioned to a home church network in their area,” he said. “All our plants are autonomous, and we work together relationally in what we call the 435 Network.”

What would Rita Klink’s husband think about all of this?

“I was just talking about that with my daughter this morning,” she told Baptist Press Sept. 8.

“She said, ‘I think he’d be pretty pleased.’”