Mr. Chairman, Guest of Honor, Brothers and Sisters:
The committee of arrangements for this festive gathering requested me to say a few words at this meeting and speak for the congregation.
In the past I have noticed that at special occasions our pastor, who otherwise is an expert in extemporaneous speaking, writes out his speech and partly reads what he has to say. And as this occasion is of a special nature, I presume that you will allow me to also read what I have to say.
In the first place let me begin with a word of congratulation. Our congregation is very happy in extending to you Rev. Hoeksema its most hearty congratulations on this your 25th anniversary as a minister of the Gospel. At this same time we express our earnest hope and desire that it may please the Lord our God to spare you, and to give you strength and power so you may be enabled to continue in this glorious task of preaching the Gospel.
We thank you most heartily for all your efforts and patience to unfold unto us as a congregation the mysteries of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, so that we may grow in His knowledge. We thank you for all what you have done for us in the past and we pray that the Lord in the day of His coming may give you the reward of a faithful servant.
Above all we give thanks unto our faithful covenant God for the great gift He has given unto us as a congregation in giving unto us such a faithful servant. And as we have learned also through your ministry that we never should end in man nor glorify him for his deeds, we would end this congratulation with the well-known words, Soli Deo Gloria.
However as God usually makes use of means to work out His plans and to impart His wisdom unto us creatures of His hand, so it has pleased Him also in this case to use Rev. Hoeksema for the welfare of His congregation at Fuller Ave., and for the furthering of His Kingdom at large. And it must be considered a great privilege to be deemed worthy to serve in this capacity and to be allowed to carry on this work for 25 years.
No doubt when you look back and review the way of these 25 years, you will confess that weakness and much shortcomings characterized your labor, for we are such imperfect servants. Nevertheless much joy has been experienced throughout these years for our God gives joy already in this life to his faithful servants and in the great day of His coming the crown of glory.
Since practically 21 years of your ministerial career has been spent among us of the Fuller Ave. congregation, it cannot be considered amiss that we somewhat review these 21 years, at least the committee must have had this in mind when they asked me to give somewhat of an historical sketch. I will try and comply with this request.
It has been my privilege to know Rev. Hoeksema for some years before he came to Grand Rapids as pastor of the then Eastern Ave. Chr. Ref. Church. Even when he was a student and lived on Sherman St., I lived across the street from him. And even later when he was in his last year at Calvin he one day became my next door neighbor when he moved into the apartment over Trompen’s Store on Eastern Ave. At that time I did have no idea that later on I should become even more intimately acquainted with him. For a few years after Rev. Hoeksema entered the ministry and accepted the call of 14th Street Church in Holland, Mich., we somewhat lost connection with him. However by way of The Banner we kept in touch with him and it did not take very long before the Church at large found out and recognized the gifts and talents which God had bestowed upon this young preacher. And so when Eastern Ave. became vacant it was no wonder that Rev. Hoeksema was placed on trio and was called by this church. Between parenthesis, no doubt, you will allow me to mention a little incident. At the time when Rev. Groen had a physical breakdown and was trying to recuperate at Harderwijk, I was delegated with another brother elder to visit Rev. Groen and to convey the greetings of the consistory to him. On the way over to Holland many topics in connection with Rev. Groen and the congregation were the subject of our discussion, and questions such as, ‘how soon will we be placed before the possibility of having to call another minister, and who would be the man who could fill Rev. Groen’s shoes.’ I well remember that this elder said to me, I have gone over Het Jaarboekje three times already and examined every name. I came to the conclusion that the only man for Eastern Ave. is Rev. Hoeksema from Holland. He combines several of the qualifications required for a man such as we need. He is a good speaker, a young man, strong and vigorous and ambitious. I served with him on a committee of our last Synod and became somewhat acquainted with him; he not only possesses the above named qualities, but he is also modest and a hard worker.” How a man that gave such recommendation could later oppose Rev. Hoeksema as he did, has been a riddle to me.
It was not long after this discussion took place, that Eastern Ave. was placed before the actual fact of having to call a pastor. Rev. Groen had received his emeritization on account of disability and the consistory made a trio which was duly presented to the congregation, and Rev. Hoeksema was called, practically by a unanimous vote. I remember very well that the consistory decided to pay a visit to Rev. Hoeksema and the entire consistory one evening boarded the Holland Interurban and called upon Rev. Hoeksema, pleading with him to accept the call. Before long we received his reply notifying us that he accepted our call. Consistory and congregation were happy, and glad that the man of their choice had accepted the call and thanked God that He had prospered their work.
Word came that Rev. Hoeksema would come soon, due to family circumstances. The parsonage was made ready and under supervision of Mrs. Harry Van Dam and Mrs. S. G. Schaafsma the furniture was unpacked and arranged in the parsonage; a dinner was prepared and in the late afternoon Rev. Hoeksema and family arrived. They were welcomed at the station by a committee of the consistory consisting of Harry Van Dam and myself, and taken to the parsonage. We were happy and were anxiously waiting for the further necessary steps which should unite us as a congregation and pastor. During the week prior to Feb. 29, 1920, Rev. Hoeksema was duly installed as pastor of Eastern Ave. Rev. Tanis, Rev. R. B. Kuiper and Rev. J. Vander Mey participating in the services, and on Sunday, Feb. 29, our new pastor preached his inaugural sermons, and no doubt many of you remember the stirring sermons on the topics: “‘Til Cry,” and “Ik Wil Dat Gij Weet.” They struck the right note and the congregation was happy and thankful that they had received a new pastor. Days of joy in the service had arrived and the thorough method of preaching and teaching of the pastor were very beneficial to the congregation. And again the same thing happened to which I referred a while ago. Some of the consistory members who lauded and praised the pastor and his preaching the most, were ready a few years later to stone and crucify him.
Peace and prosperity ruled for a while. Several improvements were made and both congregation and pastor became acquainted with each other and the bond of love between both grew and became strong, a fact to which the happenings of 1924 can testify. The mentioning of this year fills our hearts with sadness. In order to give a somewhat complete picture I am compelled to mention this year, however I will not relate what happened during that period. I am intimately acquainted with this dark period and wish that I could forget about it. We can say thanks unto God that we survived the storms of that dark time, which sometimes appears to me like a nightmare. And He who is faithful unto the end kept us united. Our earnest prayer is, O God, send now prosperity. That he who is faithful may preserve us in the bond of love, could it be for many years to come, unto the glory of His name.
I thank you,
S. G. Schaafsma