URC Pastor’s Sudden Death a Shock to Church Community

On August 24, the afternoon following the burial of one of the elder members of Bethel URC in Aylmer, Ontario, Canada, United Reformed pastor Rev. Alvin Korvemaker took some time in the late afternoon for exercise and reflection. In the Lord’s providence and timing, while he was bicycling down a quiet country gravel road, a collision with an SUV resulted in his death, leaving behind his wife, Alice, and their three children (Aaron, age 22; Rachel, age 20; and Deanne, age 12), along with the congregation he has pastored for the last twelve years.

On the next Sunday morning, URC congregations in Ontario received the shocking news, and the Aylmer congregation gathered for its regular morning worship to grieve and mourn together in a service now led by Rev. Christo Heiberg of the URC in Sheffield.

“It was an incredibly sad, solemn, and sobering experience,” Rev. Heiberg shared with CR. “I broke down in the consistory room, witnessing the brothers sitting there so forlorn and almost forsaken. Sitting in Al’s chair and reading over the bulletin that he prepared was a heart-shattering experience. Standing in the pulpit and opening the Bible that he would have opened felt so unreal and unfair. And yet in it all, we knew it was God’s will. And we felt our heavenly Father’s comfort too.”

Rev. Heiberg chose a sermon he preached last year to his congregation titled “The Time is Short,” based on 1 Corinthians 7:29–31. The afternoon sermon, he said, came from Matthew 11:25–30: “Come to Me . . .”

The funeral on Thursday, August 29, held in the Aylmer Christian Reformed Church building, saw the sanctuary, which seats five hundred, filled to overflowing, with a hundred others in another room observing the service. The funeral was led by Rev. Korvemaker’s close friend and fellow minister, Rev. Mark Zylstra, a retired URC pastor. Both the families had lived in British Columbia during their first pastorates, Rev. Zylstra in Agassiz and Rev. Korvemaker in Surrey, where they developed a strong friendship as families.

Rev. Korvemaker’s first church in Surrey was with the Orthodox Christian Reformed Church. He served there for nine years. The Aylmer congregation called him in 2002. He also was clerk of Classis Southern Ontario for a number of years, and then when the classis divided in two, he continued on as clerk in the new Classis Southwest Ontario. He was also on the education committee of the area Christian high school and had spent some weeks teaching in the Ukraine as well.

Toward the end of the funeral his brother James, a member of the Wyoming URC, shared that his brother Al’s original desire was to be a farmer, but after two years of working on the family farm, the Lord had other ideas for him. He attended Reformed Bible College, where he met his wife, Alice, and went on to Mid-America Reformed Seminary, graduating in 1992. His call to the gospel ministry was soon confirmed by the Surrey congregation.

“He loved to preach, and he loved to teach catechism,” James Korvemaker said. He then read from the sermon passage Rev. Korvemaker had planned to preach from on August 25: 2 Corinthians 4, a beautiful passage on the gospel ministry. For the funeral service, Rev. Zylstra chose 1 Peter 1:3–9 to share with family and friends as a means of comfort and assurance. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” He noted his own struggle, questioning “Why, Lord?” when he heard the news of Rev. Korvemaker’s passing, and then, turning to the Scriptures, he was reminded that God wants his people to rejoice always and to give thanks for everything, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Rev. Zylstra said that although this life is hard, the best is yet to come; that death is an end to sin and an entrance into glory; and that while the family yet weeps for their husband and father, they can also rejoice. It’s an attitude and a paradox that the unregenerate mind cannot understand, but the believer knows. He finished his meditation with a call to those who may not know this hope to seek the Lord while He may be found.

Because of the starkness of the accident and its aftermath, the local and regional media have been covering the story, and the church was able to witness to God’s sovereignty even in the midst of great sorrow.


This article was originally published in the Christian Renewal on September 9, 2013.

Mr. John Van Dykis the editor of Christian Renewal.