My first impression on arriving at the conference in Hudsonville PRC was that the parking lot was almost full. That augured well for good attendance at the three sessions on Thursday-Saturday (October 17-19, 2013). I was glad to see such a lively interest in a conference for which the seminary and the Evangelism Committee of Hudsonville PRC had made such diligent preparation.
Entering the building itself, I was immediately drawn to the book tables. The seminary had set up one book table, ably manned by the seminarians themselves. It included a display of rare books from the library, with the Heidelberg Catechism in various languages. It also boasted a collection of limited edition Heidelberg Catechism Conference and Seminary mugs and free pens. Gary VanDer Schaaf and the RFPA had informative displays and many suitable books to purchase. I did not buy any books because Rev. Stewart and I were scheduled to bring back two 50-pound boxes of books for the CPRC bookstore in Ballymena.
The Conference began with praise from the excellent Hope Heralds, a Protestant Reformed male voice choir. They sang—appropriately—a special number based on LD 1 of the Catechism. The second night there was another special number, this one by a talented young man from Southwest PRC, Bryan Westra. Other talent was showcased as well. The Seminary organized a writing competition, and the winners were announced by the chairman of the judging committee, Mr. Scott VanUffelen, a teacher in Covenant Christian High School, Grand Rapids, MI. The winners’ essays will be published in the Standard Bearer and Beacon Lights, D.V. This year, none of the seminarians won, an anomaly explained by Prof. Dykstra—the seminarians were not permitted to enter!
The six speeches were excellent, and for those who were not able to join the event in Hudsonville (whose sanctuary was full, especially on Thursday and Friday evenings) the event was streamed live on the Internet. Over 200 people from various locations across the USA and further afield were able to join the conference live online each day. The speeches were recorded and are available on http://www.hudsonvilleprc.org/.1
Dr. Jürgen-Burkhard Klautke from the BERG in Giessen, Germany gave the first speech, which was a history of how the Heidelberg Catechism came to be written. Accompanying his speech were slides of various historical figures and geographical areas associated with the Heidelberg Catechism. It was appropriate to have a German theologian introduce this history to us. One thing that impressed me was the miserable earthly circumstances of the average citizen of the Palatinate—the plague hit Heidelberg around 1563. The theme of comfort must have echoed in the hearts of those to whom the Catechism was first preached. Prof. Cammenga continued the theme of comfort in his speech, which was a stirring presentation of the gospel of grace. On Friday evening, Prof. Gritters reminded us of our rich heritage in Heidelberg Catechism preaching and gave eight blessings of such preaching for the churches. Rev. Carl Haak called us to a life of gratitude, using the theme of the Catechism’s third section. Gratitude is “the echo of praise reverberating in the chambers of the heart that knows its redemption and renewal by grace.” On Saturday morning, it was said that numbers were down from previous days, but, if the breakfast line was any indication, there were plenty of people to enjoy the delicious spread provided by the Catering Committee of Hudsonville PRC! Rev. Stewart expounded the “War and Peace” of the Heidelberg Catechism—war against the false church and our own sins, and peace in the true church by the gospel of grace. Prof. Dykstra gave the final lecture, demonstrating ably that our beloved Catechism is thoroughly covenantal—as one would expect from a catechism that is experiential, personal, and comforting—and supports the unconditional covenant in its language, being a development of some of the covenantal theology of Ursinus and Olevianus. These brief snippets hardly do any of the speeches justice. Listen for yourselves!
The conference was over too soon, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. Some traveled a great distance to attend. Not all were Michiganders by any means. Several US states were represented, and, as well as visitors from Germany, Ireland and Italy, we welcomed a sister from Singapore. Probably the one who had the most arduous journey was one young man from the Pittsburgh mission— he took a bus from Pittsburgh to Grand Rapids, with a ten-hour layover in Detroit! That is some commitment, but worth it to enjoy the instruction and fellowship.
The Seminary and Hudsonville Evangelism Committee did a fine job with the conference, and I look forward to the next one—maybe 2018/19 to commemorate the Synod of Dordrecht? We have a rich heritage in the truth. It was a joy to be among the happy throng commemorating our precious catechism of comfort and grace.
1 A summary of the six speeches appeared in the November 1 edition of the SB, and much expanded versions of the speeches will be published in an upcoming edition of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal (PRTJ).