Having been asked to contribute a few articles this summer for our Standard Bearer, I gladly do this, though I am not an associate editor. And I thought it about time that we get some information to our reading public concerning the situation in our western churches. We propose to take a short tour of our churches in northwest Iowa as well as our newest addition to our church group in Edgerton, Minnesota. The best route to take in our jaunt will be the alphabetical route.
We therefore begin in Doon. This congregation is one of the oldest in our western group, but has had some very hard sledding the past couple of years. At first, and during the pastorage of Rev. J. De Jong, the congregation flourished and grew to approximately 22 families. It was the period of enthusiastic expansion. And during this expansion period undoubtedly many were drawn into the fold of this congregation out of sheer disgust with the Christian Reformed Church with its dead preaching. And without fully understanding the deep underlying principles of the Protestant Reformed Churches, assumed to be with us heart and soul. However after being with us about 3 or 4 years (some more and some less) it became apparent that the strong preaching of Reformed truth could not be digested and some manifested themselves in hatred of the truth and of those bringing the Word of life. As a result, this congregation underwent a purge during the pastorate of Rev. G. Lubbers, who is now in Pella. Then, after the departure of Rev. Lubbers, the congregation was vacant for over one year, further disheartening the small group that wished to continue. So that now Doon numbers a small 10 families. At this writing Rev. J. Vander Breggen is considering a call from Doon, and has asked for a two weeks extension to further consider. Doon has both a church building and a parsonage, against which only $1,650.00 yet stands as the total debt of the congregation on both buildings. But if Doon does not receive energetic leadership soon, I am afraid that this small congregation will not hold out long. She is despondent and stands no longer in her former love. Only about 4 families could join the nearest Prot. Ref. Church, and the rest, due to inability or lack of spiritual vitality, would fall by the wayside.
We next arrive at Edgerton, Minnesota, This congregation was the most recently organized, having existed only three months at the time of this writing. At present three services are being held, which shall be changed to two when she receives a minister of her own. These three services are held now, due to the fact that in our western churches the Sunday evening is usually devoted to Young Peoples’ Society. And this being not started, and not wishing to deprive our young folks of Sabbath worship, the consistory decided to continue the evening service until such time as a young peoples’ Society will be organized. All the services are conducted on a 50-50 basis of English and Holland language, which is a very fine beginning, which both the consistory and Rev. B. Kok, our missionary working there at the time, deemed necessary to the future wellbeing of the church. We hope that all our western churches will soon realize this necessity. Edgerton’s congregation is experiencing that marvelous first love. And having begun with 16 families it now already numbers 20 families including over 100 souls. There is a large group of young people, speaking well for the future. Already a fine Men’s Society was organized by Rev. B. Kok, even before the congregation was organized. Also the congregation immediately began calling. We just received word that Rev. G. Vos, the first one called here, did not feel free to accept this call. Immediately a new trio was made, the two left from the last trio with one added to it. Edgerton is situated about 60 miles from Hull and is exclusively a farming community. The town numbers about 600 souls. A large Chr. Reformed and Reformed Church are located there also. Our congregation has rented the memorial hall for one year, which is very suitable, as well as inexpensive. No parsonage has yet been rented, and even when this becomes necessary, it will be rather hard to rent a house, as empty, available houses are very scarce. The consistory is courting the idea of building a parsonage if this is possible. And before I finish in Edgerton let me add that this congregation is 100 percent for the Christian School, and that nearly half of the school board at present are members of the Prot. Ref. Church. A congregation therefore having a heart for the covenant of Jehovah in the midst of the world. Any visitor attending the services in Edgerton may be sure of a blessed Sunday, for the spirit of “United we stand and divided we fall” is manifest in all their activities.
From Edgerton we wend our way to Hull, where we also come in contact with a very flourishing congregation. Hull is the oldest of our Prot. Ref. Churches in the West, for from Hull went out the first cry to Rev. H. Hoeksema, immediately after the three points were accepted by the Chr. Ref. Churches: “Come over and help us.” Though this call was not in the nature of a call to take up the ministry of the Word here (there was as yet no Prot. Ref. Church) yet the need was felt for the old, sound and tried Reformed truth. The following history need not now be again mentioned for you can read part of it in the book: “The History of the Prot. Ref. Churches.” But in this connection it may be said that whereas the congregation at the beginning of its history soon numbered nearly 50 families, and subsequently it was forced to reorganize with 12 families, after the terrible anti-Christian spirit and work of B. J. Danhof, yet it now numbers again nearly 40 families. Some of these new families were among the original 50 and others not. And some of the original 50 never came back and would not be welcome if they did come back, for they have been weighed and found wanting. Hull now again stands ecclesiastically strong. Included in its activities it numbers 5 catechism classes and four societies. There are over 40 catechumens in the oldest class who are preparing for confession of faith, all 16 years and older. Also a bright future. The re-organized 12 families were also burdened with a debt on the buildings amounting to $12,000.00 but were able not only to keep up this tremendous interest but also pay off of the debt until today there is only $8,500.00 against a beautiful church building, recently redecorated, as well as a fine parsonage and garage, well kept up. If the spiritual growth and gain is commensurate with the external growth, then surely there is much cause for gratitude on the part of the membership of this congregation. However: Alles is niet goud dat blinkt. There is a marked apathy and even aversion to the cause of Christian education among our people in Hull. The majority do not send their children to the Christian school, and although some perhaps find it physically impossible due to the distance, etc., others do not send them where it is possible. We may be glad to report, however, that the majority of those not sending their children do confess a love for Christian education, but profess to be against the adulterated and common grace education received in the present Christian school. From which it may be concluded that a sound, Reformed Christian school would be welcome. Though we do not regard this as an excuse for not sending the children to our present Christian school, yet we may hope for something better, and we pray that Hull may be the first of our midwestern churches to see the need and erect our own school in the not too distant future. The reader will excuse the undersigned for giving more information of Hull than of the other churches, as this is but natural as the writer of these lines has the privilege of serving Hull’s congregation and therefore is in a position to give more detailed information here.
We now journey about 16 miles southeast to Orange City, where we also find a congregation that has been through some hardships during its 4 years of existence. This congregation is situated in the county seat, in a typical Holland city, de stad van Oranje, neat and clean, and surely a beautiful place to live. Our congregation in Orange City numbers 18 families at present and anyone who has followed the history of this church will know then that the congregation has not grown numerically to any great extent. I believe they organized in Orange City with 11 families. Part reason for this is undoubtedly that when organized, this congregation did not number many young people, and as it is in our other churches, the best growth must be expected from within. Such a growth is usually also the healthiest growth, for then the covenant seed, which has been instructed continually in the aforesaid doctrine, will be strong in the truth when it reaches maturity and consequently with a love of our truth that will not allow them to seek other ecclesiastical pasturage. The covenant seed knows then that the purest manifestation of the body of Christ in the world is the Prot. Ref. Church, though it too has many imperfections. There were then not many young people in our Orange City congregation. The first and only pastor enjoyed by this flock was Rev. H. Kuiper, who served her nearly three and a half years, but was recently released from the congregation due to ill health. For years Rev. Kuiper has suffered from recurring ulcer troubles and especially the past year, which made his labor all but pleasant. Surely a trying time for both pastor and congregation, and one which is not conducive to external growth.
This congregation has, however, faith and courage to go on. Recently Rev. J. De Jong received the call but he found it was not the way of the Lord to follow up this call. A new trio was also made here, though we have not yet heard who they are. This congregation also numbers a Young People’s Society, as well as a Ladies’ Aid. Though this congregation had to go through tribulation, yet let it not forget that tribulation worketh patience, and patience worketh experience, and experience worketh hope, and hope maketh not ashamed.
And now we go 11 miles northwest from Orange City to inquire as to the welfare of our church in Sioux Center. This congregation again rejoices at having a pastor of its own, namely, Rev. M. Gritters, who surely need not grieve at having vacated his church at Holland, Mich., for the latter immediately thereafter received another minister. Sioux Center was without a pastor for a little better than one year after Rev. R. Veldman left, who served her nearly 6 years. Under the energetic leadership of Rev. Gritters this congregation immediately showed signs of new life and energy. Already a Young People’s Society has been organized, which, though it is small, is a beginning in the right direction, for up to this time the young people of the congregation have had nothing on Sunday evenings and as a result many went to the Chr. Ref. Churches. Also started recently was a Sunday School numbering over 30 children, a very good number when considering that this congregation is in a farming community where some members must travel a considerable distance to home sweet home. Miss Jensen, an experienced and very able Chr. School teacher, is assisting Rev. Gritters in thus getting the congregation organized into societies and Sunday School. And another thing which was long lacking and which lack is now being filled, is that, twice per month the English language is used in the services. Though this is very strange to a few, yet the congregation as a whole appreciates the fact that now the young people will also begin to receive the benefits of instruction from God’s Word. The consistory is to be congratulated on its leadership in this, that they have introduced the English language in the services while being yet vacant, so that a new minister could immediately begin without first trying (sometime with many misgivings) to introduce the language of our adoption. It is well, that the consistories show loving leadership in these matters, and thus unwaveringly lead the congregation in the way of its calling, even though it does not always meet with universal approval of its membership. Authority where authority is demanded by the calling of God, and where this authority is exercised in the love of Jesus Christ, this authority will also be honored and obeyed. And lest we forget, Sioux Center no longer congregates in a basement church (or as the enemy used to call it “the chicken coop”) but now has a church building erected very fitting for its use with the basement now used for various activities during the week. And with the recent planting of trees and shrubbery and sowing of grass seed, the property is indeed inviting.
Finally we turn to Rock Valley, the most westerly church of all our western churches, being but 12 miles from the Dakota border. Also here this congregation has gone through a trying way. The pastor, Rev. A. Cammenga, was forced to suspend work for nearly a year due to his lung ailment. During this time the congregation read most of the time, although at times being helped by students from our Theological School. However, the congregation waited in hope for the time of the pastor’s recovery. And her hope was rewarded. Today the pastor can again go in and out with his flock, ministering unto her spiritual needs by breaking the bread of life twice per Sunday. Though he must yet be careful not to overdo, which of course, is quite a thing for one so energetic and peppy as Rev. Cammenga, he is about recovered, at least to be able to look forward to doing all the labors required of him the coming fall season. This flock has also many young people who are organized into a Young People’s Society. There are many large families in this congregation, and no difficulty is experienced as to Christian instruction. A Men’s Society and a Choral are other organizations found in Rock Valley congregation. The only thing this congregation yet lacks is a parsonage, for which lots have been bought next to the church building, but which are yet but lots. Recently the church building has been repainted and decorated, and there is a continued lively spirit manifested in this church in the valley.
We have attempted to give information as to our churches in the West. May we hear also from the others with whom we have less contact. Till later.