On November 17, 2020, Bernard J. Woudenberg entered his everlasting rest, at the age of 89 years and 9 months. He had served the PRCA in her active ministry for forty years. We remember him and the works that God accomplished through him with praise to God for raising him up.
Bernard J. Woudenberg was born on February 16, 1931 in Grand Rapids, MI, in a house less than a mile from the First Protestant Reformed Church on the corner of Fuller and Franklin. He was baptized in First PRC. Part of God’s plan for preparing him for the ministry included his schooling at Baxter Christian elementary school, Grand Rapids Christian High School (graduating in 1949), Calvin College, and the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary (graduating in 1956).
God also prepared a place for him to begin his ministry. On January 23, 1955, Rev. George Lubbers preached his farewell sermon in Creston PRC, on the northeast side of Grand Rapids. The congregation received several declines before deciding to seek Classis’ approval to disband. But in July 1956 the consistory rescinded that decision, deciding to “put forth one more concerted effort to continue here as a congregation.”1 After receiving one more decline, the congregation called Candidate Woudenberg, who accepted their call and was ordained on October 19, 1956.
The congregation was small—nine families in 1956 and twelve in 1960 when he left. In part, this small size enabled him to assist the seminary, which met less than four miles from his house. The two seminary professors, Herman Hoeksema and George Ophoff, were getting older and had health problems. In 1958 Ophoff had a stroke, and the Theological School Committee had to arrange for other men to teach his classes. As a result, Rev. Woudenberg taught Old Testament history. Thus were planted the seeds that would bear fruit in many Standard Bearer articles on Old Testament history and in his posthumously published book Moses: Typical Mediator of the Old Covenant.2
On March 20, 1960, Rev. Woudenberg preached his farewell sermon in Creston PRC, and moved his family to Edgerton, MN. Seven years after the schism of 1953, the Edgerton congregation was still enduring its effects. The De Wolf group in Edgerton had been using the church building and parsonage, but they were about to disband and return to the CRC. The church building was put up for sale, and another church was prepared to buy the building. At that point, Rev. Woudenberg was instrumental in leading the congregation to ask the Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota for another court hearing regarding the rightful owner of the church property, and the court declared the continuing Protestant Reformed congregation to be the rightful owner.3
From Edgerton, Rev. Woudenberg moved farther west to Lynden, WA, where he labored from 1965 to 1976. His interest in mission work was already well known, and he put it to good use in Lynden. Convinced that at the heart of mission work is instruction in doctrine, he began his “Studies in Bible Doctrine” program, in which he recorded classes on cassette tapes and mailed them throughout North America. He was also instrumental in working with several families in Edmonton, AB, with the fruit that a PRC congregation was organized there.
In November of 1976 he began his last pastorate, this time moving east, to Kalamazoo, MI. There he served for twenty years until his retirement in 1996. During this pastorate he served several terms on our Domestic Mission Committee and
Theological School Committee, and made several mission trips to Romania. He is remembered as a preacher who would set forth and develop biblical concepts in his sermons, “to help you stretch and exercise your spiritual legs,” in the words of a former parishioner. He is also remembered for being “tireless” in his work and “fearless” in his leadership. That leadership includes his wise counsel and encouragement when the members of Kalamazoo PRC built their current church building.
God is pleased to give pastors thorns in the flesh in order to remind us not to be exalted. Bernie Woudenberg had chronic eye difficulties, which required him to wear a pair of glasses with a magnifying glass, and later to have one eye surgically removed. But he persevered in his labors, studying the Scriptures and endeavoring to teach good doctrine.
Rev. Woudenberg stayed at the cutting edge of technology for his whole life, being among the first PRC pastors to own a computer in the early 1980s.
God often gives pastors faithful wives to assist them in their work, and Rev. Woudenberg was no exception. Before his ordination, on November 19, 1953, he married Frances Kerkstra. A member of Kalamazoo PRC described her as “very meek, quiet, and godly”—in other words, a true help to a godly man and pastor. Rev. and Frances are survived by their two children, Philip and Luanne.
1 Minutes of Consistory, Creston PRC, July 16, 1956, Art. 3.
2 Bernard Woudenberg, Moses: Typical Mediator of the Old Covenant (Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2021). See the publisher’s note on page v.
3 The interested reader can read more about this in Beacon Lights, March 2017 (beaconlights.org).