OPEN DOOR’S HISTORY

 

As you read the history of Open Door Christian Fellowship, you will notice God’s fingerprints and leading throughout the story. Throughout the story, we can clearly see God’s provision and perfect timing. Howard Katz was the Founding Pastor of Open Door, and much of the story is told in his own words.

Even as Howard worked as a structural engineer, he “felt that God was calling me into some type of ministry. From time to time I received prophetic words of confirmation. However, there was an area in my life where I was not obedient. It was in the area of my personal devotional life, where the problem was not so much rebellion as neglect.”

Howard described his spiritual life after being a believer for 17 years. “One of the most profound changes in my Christian life happened in 1992 when I was 37 years old and had been a believer for 17 years. I was married with three sons, I had a career, and I consistently went to church and prayer meetings. On occasion I even gave short sermonettes in church.”

“My total time spent reading the Bible and praying probably amounted to about five minutes, and the quality of that time was quite poor. This pattern continued for many years and although I felt badly about it, I always resolved that the next day would be different.” However, the next day was no different, until Howard had an encounter with God’s Word that changed his life.

One Sunday night, someone in the prayer meeting at his church prophesied that each person should read the book of Malachi. Upon returning home, Howard read the book of Malachi. As he read, “the verses from Malachi 1:6-8 really jumped out at me.” The verses offer a rebuke to those not fully devoted to God, who are His in name only. Although convicted that he had neglected God, his life continued unchanged.

The following Sunday God met Howard in a powerful way at the prayer meeting. “The pastor asked if I had anything to share from the Bible before we began to pray. I read the verses from Malachi—the very verses that had touched me so deeply the week before. Then I asked, “Who is not guilty of this?” By “this” I meant robbing God by not giving Him the best of our time and energy. I repeated the question a second time. Suddenly a very strong presence of God literally enveloped me. My eyes were closed and I felt a blanket of cool air surrounding me. The room and the people seemed distant. My body began to tremble uncontrollably like a thousand volts of electricity were passing through me as I continued to ask, “Who is not guilty of this?!”

“By this time I was no longer in control of what I was saying, but the Holy Spirit was speaking the words through me. I did not feel a terror but I definitely felt a powerful reverence of God filling me and I was in awe at what was happening. I fell to my knees and with my eyes still closed I began to shout to the Lord, “I have sinned and treated You with contempt.” As I continued to pray out loud and confess my sins I ceased to care what people thought about me because the reality of God’s presence was so tangible. I did not feel God was angry with me. Instead, I was overwhelmed with the reality that He loved me so much that He would personally visit me in such a powerful way.”

This encounter with God changed Howard’s devotional life, turning it upside down. He made significant changes in response to his encounter with God. “The next morning when I awoke I took my Bible and went into my study and began to read and pray. From that day God changed my devotional life. I began to become a man of prayer. Regardless of how many church services I went to or how many prayer meetings I attended I could only go so far in my Christian walk. God wanted obedience in my personal devotional life. He wanted me to have a relationship with His Word.

Howard always refers to Robert Ewing as his spiritual father. It was through this nurturing relationship with Robert and his deepening relationship with God’s Word that Howard’s relationship with God began to blossom. Howard went on several overseas mission trips with Robert, who had become a mentor and a friend, as well as a spiritual father. Howard submitted to Robert’s authority and began to understand the value and protection found in accountability. They studied the Word and prayed together for the next eight years, until Robert went home to be with the Lord.

As Howard wondered how he was ever going to be a teacher of God’s Word, the Lord sent a prophetic brother into his life who told him it was time to start a Bible study in his home and that it would quickly grow and become a church.

“I prayed about how to implement this and decided on Monday nights. A few Christians were invited to come to the Bible study. I was quite pessimistic about what the results might be. I thought that either no one would show up or that those who did come would come once and never return. But I resolved to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit even if it meant failure.”

As Howard prayed about that first Bible study, the Lord quickened a number of things: “first there would be a time of worship, then I would teach the Word, and then the Lord spoke to me clear as a bell. ‘After the teaching call the people up for prayer.’ I spent much time in prayer as I prepared the message based on some biblical teachings I had studied.” Both the Bible study and Open Door Christian Fellowship were founded on biblical principles of how a New Testament church should function.

On the first Monday night of the Bible study, Howard was astonished when 25 people came. The Holy Spirit anointed the entire meeting. At the end of the meeting, many came forward for prayer and to Howard’s amazement, God gave him a prophetic word for each person. This first meeting lasted close to four hours.

The following week God gave Howard another message and about 35 people attended. “Week after week the meetings continued. Week after week the Lord gave me a fresh message. And week after week more people came. Soon we were averaging 60 to 80 people in our home. Sometimes it would top one hundred. I was grateful to my dear wife, Lena, for supporting the endeavor although our house was overrun with people.” In the winter, the banister was covered with coats several layers deep and the foyer was a sea of boots.

As the Monday night meetings continued, months turned into years. Here is Howard’s view of those years: “What may have appeared to be lack of progress was really part of God’s plan for shaping not only me, but those who would become part of the church and part of the team of elders. God matured me and those who attended the meetings. After three and a half years the Lord again spoke prophetically. It was now time to meet as a church. The pastor of the local church our family attended, when informed of the new church coming forth, had his entire congregation pray for my family and myself, and he released us with his blessing.”

“The Lord led us in putting together a team of elders and we began Sunday morning services. We met in a conference room on the ground floor of a high-rise apartment building. The room was 20 by 40 feet with a seven-foot high ceiling. Including children, about 65 people felt led to be part of this church. Every Sunday morning we met at this obscure location. We continued to hold the Monday night Bible study but the Sunday services were totally separate from the Bible study.”

Over the next year, the church grew only slightly, while the Bible study flourished. When the church was about a year old, Howard felt led to find a building for the exclusive use of the church. “The congregation prayed and sought the Lord. The Lord seemed to confirm this leading was from His Spirit.”

Howard and the elders began searching for a suitable location. After four months, they seemed no closer than when they began. “One morning as I was praying I felt the Lord put it on my heart that we were not to look for a building any longer but simply seek Him in prayer. I shared my conviction with the elders. They agreed.”

“It was now nearly the end of December, 1999. As I was praying I asked the Lord to show us the location by March 1, 2000. I chose that date because it was the last day church information could be changed in The Shepherd’s Guide, the church directory for the city. As an engineer I still wanted to be practical.”

“We shared with the congregation what we felt the Lord had shown us. We concluded each church service or prayer meeting by asking the Lord to show us the location He had already prepared for us. All of January went by and still nothing. The first Sunday in February, a friend of mine came from North Carolina to minister. After he concluded his message, and we were about to close the service, once again we petitioned the Lord for our new church location. As we were praying my friend spoke out a prophetic word, ‘Soon I will show you the location I have prepared for you. You have not yet seen it. It is much more than you have thought of or asked for.’”

“When I heard the prophecy my first thought was, When is soon? Is that March first? I didn’t receive the prophetic word with a lot of enthusiasm. I took a wait and see approach. After the service, Don Harloff, who with his family had been coming to our church for about a year, approached me. He appeared somewhat perplexed. He began to tell me that he thought he might have seen the building. At first I thought he had driven by a building that he thought would be suitable. But as he began to describe in detail the inside of the building, I realized that he had received a vision that morning as we were praying. Since he came from a denomination that does not believe in visions or the gifts of the Spirit, he didn’t identify it as a vision—in fact he didn’t know what to call it because he had never experienced anything like it before. When he finished describing what he had seen, I told him I had no idea where such a building would be. I told him that if it was from the Lord then it would become apparent.”

“Three more weeks passed and one morning as I was praying I told the Lord, “Lord, this church was Your idea, not mine. You brought all these people together. You know we really need a building in which to meet. It is getting pretty close to March first and if You would show us the building by then I would really appreciate it.”  As I spoke to the Lord I felt a peace knowing it was in God’s hands. I wish I could tell you that I prayed a prayer of faith and claimed that building and we had a breakthrough, but my prayer was much more conversational and subdued. I felt content to leave in it God’s hands since it was His plan. I had no backup plan.”

“A few more days passed and a member of the congregation called to say they had seen a FOR SALE sign on an Anglican Church building in the downtown section of the city. As soon as he told me about it I immediately knew it was not for us. First, it was a very typical religious looking building. Second, we were not in a position to purchase a building for one or two million dollars. We wanted to rent and not buy. He gave me the church’s phone number from the sign. I wrote it down. The next day I went to work and half consciously left the number at home.”

“After lunch I decided to drive by the church building that was for sale. It was a very churchy looking building complete with a vaulted cathedral ceiling, stained glass windows, and a large steeple which towered from one corner. When I saw the church building and the church steeple, the visions that we had previously heard described to us for some reason did not even enter my mind. All I saw was a churchy looking building that projected something that I did not want—probably with a big price tag to boot! Yet for some reason, I wrote down the telephone number as I drove by. When I returned to work I felt a nudging to make the call. But part of me was still resisting. It was not a spiritual concern—more like someone looking to buy a used car who would feel foolish inquiring about a Porsche.”

“I finally decided to call. The church secretary answered the phone. I asked if the building was still for sale. She told me that it was. When I asked the price she told me they were asking $285,000. That really piqued my interest because I love a bargain! You couldn’t even buy the land to build a church for that amount. I asked if I could see it. A few minutes later a church trustee phoned and we arranged a meeting. That afternoon as I came to see the building, I noticed a prostitute sitting on the steps of the church trying to solicit business. Drug deals were being conducted in front of the church. I thought to myself, This is great! We won’t even have to bus these people in—they’re already here. It will be like fishing in a stocked pond.”

“The main church building was built in 1895. The vaulted ceiling was beautifully finished in wood and towered almost 30 feet—quite a contrast to the seven-foot high ceiling where we were meeting. There were Sunday school rooms downstairs. In the back was a gymnasium with a full size stage. The gym had been built in 1954. The building was in excellent condition. That evening the elders saw the building and we all felt that this was perhaps the answer to our prayers but we were still unsure. The next morning, a Friday, we contacted the entire congregation and asked them to pray and fast on Saturday regarding this building and asked that if the Lord showed them something to phone us.”

“That morning Don, who had seen a vision of the inside of a building a few weeks before, decided to drive by the church building. As he arrived the church secretary was leaving and she invited him to see inside the building. She showed him the sanctuary, the Sunday school rooms downstairs, and then she took him into the gym. When he walked into the gym he almost fell over. It was exactly what he had seen in detail in the vision! He was overwhelmed. When he returned home he called me and told me what he had seen. Then I recalled the details he had described to me a few weeks before when he first received the vision. It finally clicked in my mind as well. The gymnasium, the stage, the orientation of the stairs, and the type of windows were all just as he had described them to me a few weeks before. I was excited and Don was filled with amazement at what he had seen. Even more interesting was that the church building had only been put up for sale three days before we found it, but he had received the vision almost three weeks before. God is always the best real estate agent—He knows the deals before they even come on the market.”

“The next day as each person in the congregation spent time in fasting and prayer they all felt that this was from the Lord and they were all in agreement. God was going to take a church comprised of middle and working class people, and plant us right in the middle of one of the most crime-ridden streets in the city.”

“Even with all of this confirmation, as a leadership team we sought more confirmation. The Word of God says to let every word be confirmed by two or three witnesses. This was a very important decision and if God was not in it then we would be swallowed up by the crime, drug abuse, and prostitution that surrounded the church building and the area. We sought counsel and prayer with those who provided oversight for the church. Through all these people the Lord continued to confirm that this really was from Him and that the time was right to purchase the building.”

“We purchased the building and took possession on July 1, 2000. Because we found the building a couple of days before the March first deadline, we were able to have our church address changed in The Shepherd’s Guide.”

“When we finally took possession of the church, I stood at the pulpit inside the empty church building. I looked out at the cathedral ceiling, the stained glass windows, the ornate church décor and remembering the prostitutes and the drugs dealers working outside the doors of the church, I laughingly said out loud, “What’s a good Jewish boy like you doing in a place like this!?” Truly God’s plans and ways are much different than we could ever imagine.”

In March, 2002, Howard began to notice that “something had changed in the Monday night Bible study which I couldn’t identify. The elders sensed exactly the same thing. Attendance was down slightly but we were still averaging 50 to 60 people each week. I sensed that the time had come for the meetings to end but I was still resistant. I felt comfortable with its format and over the years the meetings had proven very fruitful. The church itself was birthed out of the Monday night Bible study. I began to ask, “Lord, show me what You want to do in place of the Monday night meetings.”  I received no answer. Weeks passed and I continued to feel that now was the time to end the meetings but I didn’t want to make a change until I knew what the next step was.”

“When I awoke one Monday morning at the end of June, 2002, I felt a totally empty feeling when I thought of that evening’s meeting. When the Lord began to show me that the time had come to end the Monday night meetings I felt a lack of peace and even a sense of confusion. However, that morning it became clear what I must do. The Lord would not reveal His next step until I obeyed His first step of drawing the Bible study to a close—even if it didn’t make any sense to me. As soon as I decided this would be the last Bible study, a peace came over me. I phoned each of the elders and they too had the same witness.”

“We estimate that we were visited 22,000 times by people who came into our home over the past seven and a half years. Every week new people would walk through our door to attend the Bible study. It was amazing. And equally amazing, we felt no sense of loss, nostalgia, or any feeling of emptiness when it ended. We sensed that the Lord had accomplished what He intended through those meetings, and that this season of our lives had drawn to a close.”

“Something else happened unexpectedly. In four years, the church had grown at a very slow pace. We began with about 65 people in 1998, and by 2002 we still had fewer than 100 people. Within a few months after the Monday night meetings ended, new people began to come to the church. The new people were not in any way connected to the Monday night Bible study. For some reason, the church began to grow although nothing else had changed. By mid-October, we were close to 120 people and within a year, we were running over 200 people, and the church was filled each Sunday morning.”

“The congregation continued to grow. By April, 2008, we had outgrown our sanctuary and were meeting in the Western Fair IMAX Theatre, which was just down the street from the church. After a year in the IMAX, the Lord spoke to Leonard Terry about building onto the old church gymnasium. When he shared it with me, my immediate thought was that it didn’t make sense.”

“As I was praying the following evening, the entire concept of how this could be accomplished suddenly came to my mind. After a few more weeks of prayer and seeking and receiving confirmation, we began to develop plans for the new sanctuary.” As a structural engineer, Howard designed and supervised the construction of the new sanctuary.

“Just as in the Book of Nehemiah, where the Lord stirred the hearts of the people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, God stirred the hearts of many people in our congregation to work tirelessly, even during cold and difficult conditions to see this project completed. I am thankful to the Lord and to those who sacrificed and generously gave their time and energy to see this building completed.”

“A year and a half later, after much prayer, planning, and hard work, the sanctuary was completed. The new sanctuary was dedicated on November 19, 2011. Just as we moved into our new sanctuary the owner of the theatre we had been renting informed us he was closing his business the following week. God’s timing is always perfect!”

The congregation at Open Door continued to grow to over 500 people. A Saturday night service was added. Children’s Sunday School is available from nursery through grade 8. Many diverse ministries developed over the years including a Monday night Men’s’ Meeting, a Tuesday morning Ladies’ Bible Study, early morning prayer on Wednesday, worship services the first Wednesday of each month, a Hot Dog Outreach on Thursday evenings, and a Nine20 Youth group on Friday evenings. The youth group helped develop The Bridge, a joint city wide youth meeting that impacted seven other youth groups in London. Alpha groups have been offered and the church participates in Cleansing Stream ministries. There are many home groups where people can share and use their spiritual gifts. There is a Christian based Tutoring Program for children in grades 1 through 6. This is just a representation of all the ministries that are active at Open Door.

Open Door also has a book ministry. Howard has written 19 books, Harvey has written 4 books and two church booklets have been written with stories taken mainly from our congregation.

Open Door has always maintained a strong emphasis on prayer. Pre-service prayer is always well attended. There is an altar team that prays with those wanting prayer following the Sunday service and a sanctuary prayer ministry during the service.

Open Door is world-focused and there are groups of people who pray for countries where the gospel message is suppressed or forbidden and for Christians imprisoned for their faith. Open Door is also affiliated with ministries in Russia, Ukraine, Mexico, and Africa.

After a gallbladder attack in late December, 2018, Howard had his gallbladder removed. The surgeon found it was cancerous and that the cancer had spread to several lymph nodes. Here is Howard’s response to the diagnosis: “When I was given the diagnosis, a supernatural peace and joy immediately filled my heart. I know that no matter what the future holds, I am completely at peace and can trust God and His purpose in this season of my life as well. Thankfully, I have no regrets that I wasted my life. I have accomplished the things I felt Jesus had for me to do. Every morning when I wake up, I read my Bible and I thank God for my salvation. Each new day affords me the opportunity to continue to love and trust Him.”

“Whether I live fifteen more years or only a few more months, I am not clinging desperately to my life. The best is yet to come—to be with Jesus forever in Heaven.”

Howard asked the Lord for enough time to complete Eternal Salvation, his signature book. The book was completed in May, 2019. He continued to preach and his last sermon was in September. Howard videotaped one final message to the congregation entitled Final Word of Encouragement on November 24, 2019.

Harvey Katz’s ordination as pastor of Open Door took place December 9, 2019. Both Harvey’s ordination (Harvey Katz’ Ordination as Lead Pastor of ODCF) and Howard’s final message are available on this website under the SERMONS tab.

On January 4, 2020, Howard went to Heaven to be with his beloved Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We continue to pray for Howard’s family and friends who miss him dearly. We pray that they might taste Howard’s joy at where he is and Who he is with—for eternity.

A more detailed description of the history of Open Door Christian Fellowship can be found in Howard Katz’ book Seven Essential Relationships. Howard’s response to his illness is taken from God is Real! compiled and written by Catharina den Hartog-Terry.

Open Door’s History was compiled and written by Shirley Howson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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