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The Netherlands Reformed Congregations in North America

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The Netherlands Reformed Congregations in North America

15 minuten leestijd

Although the union of the Ledeboerian Churches and the Churches under the Cross directly concerned the churches in the Netherlands, there was also a movement in the United States toward union of the congregations which shared a common bond especially related to experiential preaching. The history of this movement took place predominantly in the United States starting in the mid to late 1800’s. Although the Canadian churches form the largest part of our North American denomination today, their growth for the most part, was due to the Dutch immigration which occurred after World War II, and was made up of those who were already members of the Gereformeerde Gemeenten.

The history of the Netherlands Reformed Congregations in the United States can be found in three basic geographic areas. These locations in New Jersey, Michigan, and Iowa, also correspond to regions where Dutch immigration, especially of those of Reformed background, occurred. There are several other places like Wisconsin and the Chicago area which are part of our denominational heritage. Some of the early Dutch settlers arrived with seceding ministers such as Rev. Van Raalte in Michigan and Rev. Scholte in Iowa. Northern New Jersey around Paterson was another vicinity where many immigrants settled. These people found a common bond among those who spoke the Dutch language and where church services were conducted in their native tongue.

It soon became apparent, however, that although they spoke the same native language, there were doctrinal differences, especially where it concerned sound experiential preaching. Here and there small groups started to meet together to read sermons of the orthodox forefathers. For a time these people, because of the distances between them and the difficult traveling conditions, remained independent. Through contact with relatives in the Netherlands, sound ministers were called to serve these isolated groups.

One of the earliest groups met together in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There, in 1870, a group of people, dissatisfied with the superficial preaching which they heard, met together to organize their own church. After much correspondence and persuasion, Rev. C. Kloppenburg of Oud Vossemeer, the Netherlands, agreed to organize them as a church; he became their first minister and served them for six years. In spite of some internal difficulties, the congregation grew. In May of 1873, property was bought on Division Street where they were able to build their own church. This church building was used until 1951. Until 1922, all services were conducted in the Dutch language.

The need was felt at that time to provide services in the English language, especially for the youth. An English-speaking congregation was then organized, and a building was purchased on Ottawa Avenue where services were held until the building of a new church on Crescent Street. There the Division Avenue and the Ottawa Avenue congregations were united into one during the pastorate of Rev. Lamain. Several ministers served the congregation in the early years. From 1906 until 1909, the congregation was served by Rev. Pieneman who was influential in bringing together some of the other congregations into what we know today as the Netherlands Reformed Congregations. Among the congregations with whom denominational ties were established were: Paterson, New Jersey (now Franklin Lakes); Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and South Holland, Illinois. The first Christian school of our denomination was also established in Grand Rapids in 1908. The congregation was served by Rev. Minderman from 1911 until he returned to the Netherlands in 1921. During his ministry, contacts were made and ties established with the congregations in Iowa at Sioux Center and Rock Valley, and in Corsica, South Dakota. The congregation then remained vacant until 1947 when Rev. Lamain accepted the call to be their pastor. At the present time, the Beckwith congregation is the continuation of this congregation as the First Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids.

A second congregation was established in Grand Rapids in 1883 on the western side of the city, which later came to be known as the Turner Avenue congregation. A group of people who had attended the ministry of Rev. Ledeboer, Rev. P. Van Dyke, and Rev. D. Bakker in the Netherlands were desirous of hearing the same truths they had heard in earlier years. Rev. T. Mijster of Haarlem, the Netherlands, was called to be their pastor and was installed in office by two elders. Later, because objections were raised about the hasty calling and installation of Rev. Mijster, the organization of the congregation was annulled and the consistory dissolved. They were then reorganized under the leadership of Rev. T. Hager of Paterson, New Jersey, and several office bearers of the Division Avenue congregation. They were served by Rev. Werner for a short time after which Rev. Hager was their pastor from 1896 to 1913. He, too, was installed into office by an elder. Rev. J.C. Wielhower served the congregation from 1915 to 1944. In the late 1950’s, the congregation severed its relationship with the Netherlands Reformed Congregations until the late 1980’s when the congregation reestablished its ties with the denomination. They were served by Rev. A. den Boer from 2002 to 2004. This congregation is now known as the Netherlands Reformed Church of Grand Rapids (Covell Avenue.)

In 1883, a few families living in Passaic, New Jersey, agreed to become organized as a congregation since the distance to Lodi, New Jersey, was too great to attend Sunday services. Thirty-three confessing members and sixty-six baptized members established the new congregation. Shortly thereafter, the bonds between the Lodi church and the Passaic congregation were severed because of doctrinal differences, but communication was begun with Rev. Vorst of the Grand Rapids congregation. He encouraged them to establish their own congregation. They were served initially for a short time by Rev. Wust, then Rev. Meyerink for three years, and later, Rev. Prins for twenty years. In 1908, Rev. C. Densel arrived from the Netherlands which helped to promote the bonds between the American Churches and the Gereformeerde Gemeenten in the Netherlands. In 1925, Rev. J. Van Zweden accepted the call to be their pastor, and he served them until 1946. During many of those years, Rev. Van Zweden was the only minister serving the American congregations. The congregation which had subsequently moved to the adjacent city of Clifton was then vacant until Candidate Henry den Hollander accepted the call to serve them in 1998, and he was their pastor until 2006.

In 1890, a small group of people began to meet together to read sermons of our forefathers in the Peoples Park section of Paterson. They were not in agreement with the doctrines which were being put forth in the local Reformed churches. Under the leadership of Rev. Prins, they were organized into a congregation in 1893. One of the elders of the congregation, Mr. T. Hager, felt a calling to the ministry and after being examined, was admitted into the ministry under Article 8 of the Church Order. Rev. Versteeg of the Netherlands served the congregation from 1900 to 1905. He was followed by Rev. J.C. Wielhouwer who served the congregation from 1906 to 1915 when he accepted a call to the Turner Avenue congregation in Grand Rapids. In 1915, Rev. C. Van Adrichem was installed in the congregation by Rev. N.H. Beversluis of the Haledon Avenue, Paterson, congregation. After a blessed ministry this beloved pastor died very suddenly in December of 1923. The congregation was vacant for many years, served occasionally by other ministers of the denomination. In 1947, Candidate C. Hegeman of the Netherlands accepted the call to be their pastor, and he was installed by Rev. Lamain in January of 1948. The congregation was subsequently served by Rev. G.A. Zijderveld from 1956 to 1959 and Rev. M. Heerschap from 1960 to 1967. In 1972, the decision was made to disband the congregation because of the deterioration of the neighborhood and to join with the Franklin Lakes congregation.

The Franklin Lakes congregation, originally in Paterson, New Jersey, was organized in 1906. A group of members left the local Reformed Church after a minister who preached a superficial doctrine was forced upon the congregation following the death of the orthodox Rev. E. van het Loo. With the advice of Rev. Contant from an independent congregation in Lodi, the congregation was organized and incorporated according to the laws of the State of New Jersey. After the initial meetings and sermons by Rev. Contant, an underlying dissatisfaction with his preaching arose. Subsequently, contact was made with Rev. Pieneman in Grand Rapids. Rev. Pieneman and several consistory members came to New Jersey and were in full agreement with the manner in which the congregation was organized. A firm bond was established between the congregations which was further strengthened when Rev. N.H. Beversluis accepted their call in 1908. Since Rev. Beversluis had been intimately associated with the union of the Churches under the Cross and the Ledeboerian Churches, there was a desire to cement the bonds with those who loved and valued experiential preaching. Rev. Beversluis served the congregation, which grew considerably under his preaching, until 1921 when he suffered a stroke and was no longer able to preach. Rev. A. Van Dyke served the congregation from 1924 to 1926. In 1930, an English-speaking congregation was started in the same church building, and the two congregations lived in harmony with each other until the early 1960’s when the Dutch services were discontinued. The congregation was subsequently served by: Rev. C. Harinck from 1971 to 1974, Rev. J. Beeke from 1981 to 1986, Rev. C. Vogelaar from 1988 to 1996, and Rev. J. den Hoed from 2004 until the present time.

A congregation was also begun in West Sayville, Long Island, New York, in 1912. Rev. Vander Horst served the congregation for a very short time after which the congregation was vacant for the remainder of its existence. The congregation, which remained very small, was dissolved in 1951 when the last office bearer passed away. Correspondence was maintained with the remaining members by the Peoples Park and Franklin Lakes consistories until the late 1990’s when the last member passed away.

In 1907, a few people living in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, went to Grand Rapids to request Rev. Pieneman to preach for them. They had been reading sermons in their homes, but they looked forward to hearing the living Word proclaimed among them; Rev. Pieneman came with an elder and preached for them. In 1909, under the leadership of Rev. C. Densel, the congregation was established. In 1910, Elder C. Van Adrichem was admitted to the ministry and served the congregation for several years. The congregation remained vacant until 1971 when Rev. Kieboom became their pastor. Since 1982, the congregation has been vacant.

It is remarkable how the Lord raised up those who were not satisfied with the superficially preached doctrines in different areas of the country, and how these small groups were brought together. In Sioux Center, Iowa, there were some who wished to hear sound experiential preaching. Through Rev. Pieneman they were made acquainted with Mr. A. Van Dyke, in the Netherlands, who had been permitted to preach the Word to groups that wished to hear him. Sioux Center also invited him to come to them in 1913, and under the direction of Rev. Minderman of Grand Rapids, a congregation was organized. In 1914, Mr. Van Dyke was ordained as their minister. In spite of difficult times during the First World War, when it was forbidden to hold worship services (because they were conducted in the Dutch language), the congregation continued to grow. After Rev. Van Dyke accepted a call to Kalamazoo, the congregation remained vacant until Elder Jacob Vande Hoef was ordained as a minister in 1928. After four years of faithful service, he accepted a call from the nearby Rock Valley congregation. In 1951 Rev. Hegeman was installed as their pastor. He served them until 1957, and then returned in 1961 until 1966. Rev. J. Beeke was installed in 1978 and served the congregation until 1981 when he accepted the call to Franklin Lakes. That same year Rev. A.M. den Boer took up the shepherd’s staff until 1986, and Rev. H. Hofman, Sr., served them from 1988 to 1991.

In Rock Valley, Iowa, about fourteen miles from Sioux Center, a small group came together for the reading of sound sermons and also to hear Rev. Van Dyke, who visited them from time to time. A congregation was organized in a very short time and grew considerably, especially when Rev Vande Hoef became their minister in 1931. In 1942, this faithful servant of God exchanged time for a blessed eternity. The congregation continued to grow under the pastorates of; Rev. Van Zweden from 1946 to 1975, Rev. W. Suyker from 1975 to 1978, Rev J. den Hoed from 1985 to 2000, and Rev. G.M. de Leeuw from 2001 to 2007. Recently Rev. P. Bazen has accepted their call. At the present time the Rock Valley congregation has the largest membership of any of the American churches in our denomination.

Corsica, South Dakota, which is situated approximately 140 miles from Rock Valley, Iowa, was also started by those who were dissatisfied with the doctrines being expounded in their congregations. They severed their ties with the local congregations, and with the help of Rev. Van Dyke, who came to them in 1915, began reading sermons of the forefathers. The congregation was formally organized in 1928. They, too, had to endure persecution during the First World War when they were forbidden to hold services. During the midthirties this area was visited by a great drought and a plague of grasshoppers. A number of members moved away, but those who stayed were helped by the government and by other congregations. In 1954, the congregation received its first minister, Rev. A. Vergunst. He remained their pastor until 1957 when he returned to the Netherlands. In 2005, Rev. E.C. Adams was installed as their second minister.

The congregation of South Holland, Illinois (now Lansing, Illinois), was organized in 1865 as the True Dutch Reformed Church. In 1873, Rev. E.L. Meinders was installed as their first minister, and he remained there until his death in 1904. The congregation soon severed its affiliations with the parent body, and eventually Rev. Meinders and his flock became independent. In 1890, they united with the congregation of Kalamazoo, which was also an independent congregation. Since the death of Rev. Meinders, the congregation has been vacant. After reaching a very low number of attendees, there has been some growth in recent years. It has been related that Mrs. Meinders received a promise from the Lord that the congregation would continue regardless of what might come against it.

In 1889, a group of about twenty men gathered in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to organize a congregation. As was noted, in 1890, they united with the congregation of South Holland. In 1892, the congregation decided to unite with the Christian Reformed Churches which was adhered to until 1903 when they voted to become independent. Rev. Wolbers served the congregation from 1904 to 1909. Shortly after this Rev. Pieneman and Elder Van Dyke of Grand Rapids met with the consistory for the purpose of investigating whether a union with the Netherlands Reformed Congregations might be possible. This merger was approved and has never been broken. Rev. Van Adrichem served the congregation from 1912 to 1917. Rev. Van Dyke of Sioux Center, Iowa, served the congregation from 1919 to 1922 and from 1926 to 1928. In later years the congregation was served by Rev. A. Elshout from 1969 to 1974 and Rev. A. Vergunst for several months in 1981 until he was suddenly taken from this life after an operation; Rev H. Hofman served the congregation from 1983 to 1988, Rev. A.T. Vergunst from 1994 to 2000, and Rev. C. Vogelaar from 2003 to 2007. Several other congregations were established in later years in Sunnyside, Washington; Waupun, Wisconsin; Artesia, California; and Lynden, Washington.

The congregations described in this article form the nucleus of our present-day Netherlands Reformed Congregations. In the very early years, direct correspondence was held with the Dutch churches. It was soon realized, however, that the great distance between the American and Dutch churches made a direct union impractical. The first synod of the American churches was held in 1910, and several years later the congregations were divided into three classes. The Lord has visibly blessed the union of these churches over the years. There were actions taken by the early church fathers which were not in accordance with church order and can not be condoned. It is not proper for elders to install ministers, for example, and proper church order also should be followed in the calling of ministers. In spite of these shortcomings, many of which occurred because of ignorance or out of necessity, the Lord granted His approbation. May the Great Shepherd of His Church remember the congregations also in the unknown future, and may they remain faithful in doctrine and in life.

(For a more complete history of the churches see A Brief Historical Survey of the Reformed Congregations in the Netherlands and the United States of America by Rev. G.H. Kersten and Rev. J. Van Zweden, 1947.)

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Bekijk de hele uitgave van zaterdag 1 september 2007

The Banner of Truth | 32 Pagina's

The Netherlands Reformed Congregations in North America

Bekijk de hele uitgave van zaterdag 1 september 2007

The Banner of Truth | 32 Pagina's

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