Share

Let the family know you care by sharing this tribute.

Rev. John Raymond Kirkman, age 80, of Grand Rapids, passed away peacefully on Thursday, July 7, 2022. He was born on February 12, 1942, in Adrian, Michigan, to the late Ernest and Kathryn (Raymond) Kirkman. John grew up on the family farm in Seneca, Michigan. His father was in the U.S. Army and serving in Europe during WWII during the first years of John’s life. His father then attended the University of Michigan, where he played football. John spent a lot of time with his cousins on the farm and frequently rode horses. Later in life, he and his family had vacationed at a Dude Ranch in Colorado because he loved riding so much. Music was a huge part of John’s life. His grandmother started him with piano lessons when he was four years old. His skill resulted in him being chosen to attend Interlochen Center for the Arts to study music for two summers. Also, in high school, John was in a band called The Journeymen. John graduated from Portage Central High School with the class of 1960. His father taught there so he couldn’t get away with much! He briefly attended the University of Michigan and then went on to study at Western Michigan University where he earned a masters degree in Social Work in 1965. He married Joan Converse with whom he later had two sons, Jay and Jeremy. John and Joan moved to Bexley Hall Seminary at Kenyon College where he studied to become a priest of the Episcopal Church.

John first completed an internship at the Chapel of the Transfiguration in the Grand Teton National Park. It was an experience he loved so much. He then served several churches on the East coast including St. John’s Episcopal Church of Saugus, Massachusetts; St. Mary’s Episcopal Church of Falmouth Foreside, Maine; and Christ Church of Norway, Maine.

Later, he played service music for several churches in the Grand Haven area. He would play at as many as three churches on a Sunday. He loved classical music, as well as the beautiful music of the church. He was a big fan of Barbra Streisand and has most of her music.

John demonstrated his passion for music at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, MI as organist and choir director. One year he took the choir to sing at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. The Cathedral was an inspiring place for John. He visited it five times during his lifetime. Pastor John Hitzeroth hired John as organist and choir director for Peace Lutheran Church in Sparta, MI where he spent more than five fun years.

John married Sherry Kermode Vander Werf during the summer of 1991. She supported his ministries and cherished their time together traveling to Northern Michigan, the Grand Tetons, Florida, and the East Coast. They also enjoyed dining out with friends, relaxing at Lincoln Lake, and spending quality time with family.

In 1994, John began a twenty year very satisfying time as priest at St.Paul’s Episcopal Church in Greenville, Michigan. John and Sherry loved their time at St. Paul’s and had great experiences there including the baptism of their granddaughter, Josie and yearly outdoor services at a nearby lake. Longtime friends are a happy result of the time serving the St. Paul’s community. John retired from St. Paul’s in 2014 at age 72.

John and Sherry bought a place at Lincoln Pines Resort near Greenville. They lived there on long weekends in the summer to be close to church. It became a place to entertain family and friends. They also hosted church meetings on the screened porch. John loved taking friends and grandchildren for rides on the pontoon boat and rides on the golf cart.

John officiated at many weddings and funerals over the years. He had a special way about him that people loved. Once he even wore his black clergy shirt with white shorts and rode his bicycle to perform a wedding ceremony at Lincoln Pines!

John’s great skill was pastoral care. He was a master at it. He loved caring for people and he was much loved by them. John used his social work skills working at Planned Parenthood of Muskegon and at the Mid Michigan Health Department. He was a Hospice Chaplain and spent twenty years as a Court Appointed Public Guardian. John worked tirelessly to serve the people and communities in Michigan. Through it all he had a great sense of humor and loved seeing people laugh.

Even though John had retired, he continued to work. He spent time at St. Mary’s, Cadillac, MI; St. Phillips, Grand Rapids, MI; and St. John’s in Ionia, MI. He retired from St. John’s at age 80 in February 2022. John felt very loved there and was sad to leave them.

John loved his cat, Sassy, who was a rescue. She is a beautiful Calico who is now 14 years old. He spent hours each day sitting with her and she adored him in return. John is survived by his wife of 30 years, Sherry; sons, Jay Kirkman and Jeremy (Meghan) Kirkman; brother, Jeff Kirkman; step-children, Sara (Scott) Bouwkamp, Katy (Kyle) Johnson, and Andy (Laura) Vander Werf; grandchildren, Josie Kirkman, Colt and Kathryn Kirkman; Sophia, Skylar, and Sawyer Bouwkamp, Hannah (Brett) Boes, Jared and Jacob Lambert, and Ariana, Noah, and Benon Weijers.

John is also survived by longtime special priest friends, The Rev. William Whiting with whom he had a special booth at Cheers and The Rev. Canon Valerie Ambrose with whom he had lots of lunch meetings over the years at Bud and Stanley’s. He is survived by many other relatives, friends, parishioners, and neighbors. John was preceded in death by his parents, Ernest and Kathryn Kirkman and his in-laws, Donald and Letty Kermode.

Gathering of family and friends will take place on Thursday, August 11, 2022, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1025 3 Mile Rd NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505, from 1:00 p.m. until the time of service at 2:00 p.m.

To send a message of sympathy to the family, sign John’s online guest book, or share a favorite memory, please visit: www.MichiganCremation.com

Cremation arrangements are entrusted to Michigan Cremation & Funeral Care, Grand Rapids, 616-452-3006.

Share

Let the family know you care by sharing this tribute.

8 Condolences

  1. Christine and Tom Ewell on July 19, 2022 at 1:47 pm

    Sherry and family,
    Our family is keeping you all in thought and prayer. Fr. John has a special place in our hearts for loving and helping take care of our parents when they went to be with God. From. John helped our family through some difficult times and was with us for some very special times as well. He will certainly be missed. Sending our deepest sympathy, love and hugs,
    Christine Ewell (Tom) and our family.



  2. Barbara Heisler on July 26, 2022 at 2:54 pm

    I remember John so fondly from the time he conducted our church choir at Peace Lutheran in Sparta during his sabbatical. He had a wonderful mind and great sense of humor that I’m sure enhanced his years as a clergyman. He and our pastor, John Hitzeroth, were quite the pair when they were enjoying themselves. My condolences to Sherry and his sons. It’s especially difficult to lose a personality like John’s.



  3. The Rev. Liz Habecker on August 5, 2022 at 1:28 pm

    I remember John from Bexley Hall days.
    I am so pleased to read about his ministry in Michigan and to know how surrounded with care and support his family is today.



Leave a Condolence