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Posters, cut-outs, and stuffed animals fill in for congregation at New Hope Church

by Ashlee De Wit

LANSING, Ill. (May 17, 2020) — For the past nine weeks, Pastor Dan Roels of New Hope Church in Lansing has walked up to his pulpit and delivered his sermon to a camera and an empty sanctuary.

Well, not this week.

The church members are still following Illinois’ shelter-in-place order, but they provided their pastor with a different sort of congregation so that he wouldn’t feel so alone. In the pews this week are cardboard cutouts, dolls, posters, and pictures.

The pews at New Hope Church were full this week with “people” who wanted to show support for Pastor Dan Roels, who has been preaching to a camera and an empty sanctuary during the COVID lockdown. (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)

“It was a wonderful and sweet thing that they did,” Roels said.

The funny fill-ins were the idea of church members Brad and Joyce Dykstra.

Brad and Joyce Dykstra were two of the organizers for this show of support. (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)

“I saw something on Facebook about encouraging your pastor while he’s preaching online, and it showed Sesame Street characters in the pews,” Joyce Dykstra said. “I showed Brad, and he said, ‘We should do that!’”

An elder in the church, Brad Dykstra had recently heard from Roels that he was having a tough time preaching alone in the church.

“He’s very extroverted—a people person,” Brad said. “So this is really difficult, and at times really depressing.”

The Dykstras emailed the congregation, asking them to create a representation of themselves—in any way they wanted.

“We told people to run with it, and they really did!” Brad said.

“People were so creative, and it was just really fun,” Joyce added.

Congregation members offered notes of encouragement for their pastor, along with their pictures or likenesses. (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)
People were creative with their contributions… (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)
…using stuffed animals… (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)
…construction paper… (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)
…dolls… (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)
…pool noodles… (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)
…inflatable animals… (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)
…and even plants to create a placeholder congregation for their church. (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)
Some used real photos… (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)
…and some took artistic license with the representations. (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)
Even the sound booth was fully staffed. (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)
And two cutouts were made to represent visitors to the church. (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)
Someone invited Governor JB Pritzker to New Hope this week. (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)

Church member Jill Feikema helped collect and set up the new “congregation.”

“I didn’t realize going into it that it wouldn’t be just encouraging for Dan. I think it was encouraging for everybody,” Feikema said. “People really put themselves into it, and it was a unifying thing to do while we couldn’t be together.”

For Roels, it was a way to turn a really difficult situation into something fun.

“It was a redemptive move,” he said.

New Hope Church is located at 3246 Lake Street in Lansing, Illinois. Services are available online at the church’s website:
https://anewhopeministry.org/. A new video is posted each week.

Ashlee De Wit
Ashlee De Wit
Ashlee De Wit is a freelance writer and a Lansing native. After starting her career covering high school sports in Iowa, she's excited to be back in her hometown, reporting the stories of her local community — such as the opening of Troost, the informal Lansing pickleball club, a TF South Homecoming game, and Common Ground, Lansing's experiment with healthy race relations.


  1. How very thoughtful and creative! Blessings to you all in thinking so much of your pastor. Ron Z. Munster Church

  2. What a great idea! I’m delighted and proud to say this was my church for many years when I lived in Lansing.

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