Coming up on the third anniversary of the founding of Riverside Church, Bruce Rietveld, one of the associate pastors at Riverside, reflects on the journey that led him to Knoxville and the founding of the church that calls itself “the church for the rest of us.”
Bruce is originally from Pella, having grown up on Franklin Street with his family and attending Trinity Reformed Church down the street. Bruce was--and still is--very active in Pella. Growing up, he participated in church and school activities, including being the first Zwarte Piet in the now annual Sinterklaas Christmas parade. After graduating from Pella High School, Bruce worked with Stursma Insulation for a number of years before starting work as production manager for the back room at Ulrich’s Meat Market, where he has worked for almost twenty years.
In 1995, Bruce and his wife, Kim, moved to Knoxville to be with their family, who moved to Knoxville from Grinnell. Bruce says that being from Pella, they did not really know anyone from Knoxville when they moved, but he says, “I’ve never regretted a day since I’ve been here.” Bruce now feels that both Pella and Knoxville are his home.
“When people ask where I’m from, my typical answer is Marion County.”
Growing up in Pella, Bruce never thought he would live in Knoxville, but he says he realized the reason he needed to be in Knoxville was to work with and minister to the youth of Knoxville. Shortly after the move to Knoxville, Kim decided to start “church shopping,” which Bruce says he was initially not very interested in, but when they heard of a new church starting, they became very involved over time with the new Celebrate Church. Bruce served on the administrative team at Celebrate for about five years, and with others, started the Crosswalk youth ministry in 2002.
Bruce later became the full-time pastor at a startup church, Gateway Community Church, in Monroe. The church met in the Monroe Legion. Bruce says, “We had church in the hallway and Sunday School in the bar.” Later on, the church was able to move to the old library building.
Three years ago this month, while working at Gateway, Bruce and Kim were considering moving to Monroe to be closer to the church, and had looked at some houses, but it wasn’t working out. Bruce said he and Kim both realized their hearts were in Knoxville, as they had loved getting to know people in Knoxville and loved being involved in the lives of all the people they had become close with.
Bruce started a Bible study in his backyard with a youth struggling with drug addiction, whom Bruce had been taking to church in Monroe with him. He said he figured if others that they invited showed up, it would be great. If not, it would still be a great opportunity for the two of them to get together and talk. Through talking with the young man, Bruce came to learn that the man, about twenty years old, had been looking for a home church, but did not feel totally comfortable at churches he had visited.
“That just broke my heart, and had to break God’s heart that there was a young person who was looking for a church where they felt comfortable and they weren’t finding it,” Bruce said.
That was how the idea of Riverside Church was conceived. Bruce wanted to have a church that gave off “an environment where everyone is welcome.” Bruce and Kim met with other couples, and got together a group of about fifteen people to meet at Godfather’s Pizza to brainstorm about Riverside.
“I asked everyone, ‘If you could build a church for God, what would it look like?’” says Bruce. Everyone worked together to put together the things they wanted in a church and took into consideration the things they didn’t. After looking for locations, Riverside met in the back half of a pole barn/warehouse by the Knoxville airport. About a year ago, Riverside also took on associate pastor Mary Roozeboom, who also works at the Teen Challenge ministry in Pella.
Bruce says that while they were glad to have a place to meet, it was inconveniently placed just outside of town, making it hard for people to walk there. One morning, when Bruce was at the church early to get breakfast ready--Riverside has free biscuits and gravy every Sunday--he was approached by a man named Dwight Johnston who attended the First Christian Church. He told Bruce that the First Christian Church was closing, and offered the building for Riverside Church to use. Bruce says the offer could not have come at a better time, because he and Mary Roozeboom had just been discussion new locations for the church the night before.
“We’ve just been humbled and blessed with this building,” Bruce says of the First Christian Church building in which Riverside now meets. Riverside has been meeting in the new building for a year this fall, and Bruce says they have had a lot of help with building renovations from friends and volunteers, and some members from Bruce’s home church, Trinity Reformed, are helping with repairs of a wall in the sanctuary. Bruce states that the church is glad they have been able to better accomplish their goal of reaching out and helping people, especially being located next to Helping Hands donation center.
Riverside Church’s services often include a variety of different things week to week, as Bruce says, “variety is good for the soul.” Riverside has had several guest speakers and guest musicians, and they are hoping to have their third annual “Elvis Sunday” with music by Allan Robuck this fall.