The Standard Bearer, as you can tell from the Volume and Number on the front cover of this issue, is ninety years old. “News From Our Churches,” one of its more popular rubrics, is younger. It’s fifty-six years old. It has therefore appeared in most of the last 1,176 issues. And Mr. Ben Wigger has written half of them.
The one that appears in this issue is his last. For his twenty-eight years of faithful service as news editor in the SB, the Editorial Committee, on behalf of the Editorial Staff and, I’m sure, of some 2,500 readers of this magazine, says, “Thank you.”
“Faithful service.” I’m thinking of such things as dependability and punctuality. Twenty-eight years (have you done the math?) translates to nigh unto 600 issues. And I’m here to say that this managing editor did not have to wait for the news for a single one of them. Not only was Ben’s news always there, it was always on time.
But I’m thinking of more than that. Our now-retired news editor had a feel for what the news column in the Standard Bearer was intended to be. Ben was but nine years old when Rev. Hoeksema introduced the column back in 1958, so he may never have read its purpose as stated by the then editor-in-chief. But there can be little doubt that he lived up to it.
Let the reader judge.
The “Announcement,” in the October 1, 1958 SB, read like this:
The Standard Bearer staff, in its last meeting, decided to institute a new column, under the rubric “News From Our Churches.” This decision is in response to the popular demand from many of our readers who have been desiring a closer unity between our churches, a unity wherein we can share one another’s joys and sorrows, a unity which is based on one hope, one love, one Lord Jesus Christ. So in this issue you will find the introductory column devoted to church news as it affects each one of us. The ministers of each congregation, and the presidents of consistories of vacant churches, are requested to mail their bulletins and other important news directly to the editor of the column.
Please send your contributions to J.M. Faber, 1123 Cooper Ave. SE, Grand Rapids 7, Michigan.
Not only ‘news,’ you see, but perspective.
How “see you in church. J.M.F.” envisioned his task is clear from the opening paragraph in the first news that came from his pen. It read like this:
May this column serve as a means to reach out to the far-off outposts of Redlands, Lynden, and Loveland, drawing them into a closer circle with the rest of our churches, binding us closer in the bonds of love; yea, let it be a means to embrace one another in the communion of saints.
An ambitious undertaking. I do not know if I would have dared set myself up for accomplishing a goal like that. But already in his first article, JMF demonstrated how it’s done. “The number one news item today is Rev. Ophoff, of course…. G.M.O.’s pen is resting. The Lord told him to lay it down for awhile. Our beloved Rev. Ophoff has suffered a stroke which has become a stroke for us all….” Denominational news. News of vital interest to every one of the congregations in the PRC, and written in such a way that it served as “a means to embrace one another in the communion of saints.”
More often than not, the news items were more limited in scope, but even those were made to have broader application. “We see in the bulletin of First Church [G.R.] that the catechisms are starting this week…. Societies [also] have already begun; what bountiful opportunities are given us, children and adults, to thoroughly furnish the man of God by the study of His Word. It is deplorable that not everybody avails himself of these opportunities….”
Was there, with JMF, also a ‘lighter’ side? Indeed there was. In a later column: “Adams St. ninth graders worked hard getting ready for and serving a spaghetti supper on the evening of December 12. Dishing out spaghetti, pouring second cups of coffee, and serving ice cream and desserts kept them busy—with a little assist from their parents. It is reported that some six hundred mouths were fed—that took quite a mountain of spaghetti!”
In that same news: “The other group comprised the choir from Adams St. School, all forty-seven of them, with Mr. and Mrs. Fred Hanko, Miss Dykstra, and, of course, Miss Kuiper singing with them. They sang at the homes of several shut-ins, slipping and sliding down slippery front steps. That couldn’t happen in Redlands.”
…“Another situation impossible to arise in Redlands: The Men’s Society meeting of South Holland scheduled for Dec. 8 was frozen out!”
You get the idea—news written in such a way that it reaches out to the far-off outposts…drawing them into a closer circle with the rest of our churches, binding us together in the bonds of love.
J.M.F. showed the way. A pattern worthy of emulation. And Mr. Ben Wigger mastered it. His style is of course his own. Delightful. But the overall tone of it reflects the pattern set by JMF and the purpose stated by HH: the promotion of “a unity wherein we can share one another’s joys and sorrows.”
Did you hear it too? Already in Ben’s first news (October 1, 1986) there was this:
There was one announcement that was not seen in any of our church bulletins this fall. Did you miss it? The announcement I am speaking of concerns our seminary convocation. As you all no doubt know, there are no young men enrolled in our seminary this fall. No students, no convocation. This fact has to make us all a little sad. We should remember this need daily in our prayers.
Even though the Hope Heralds, an all-male chorus from our Hope Church in Grand Rapids, gave this latest concert on September 7, it should still be mentioned here because that program marked their twenty-fifth anniversary as a group. It isn’t always easy to stay together as a choir for 25 years, and we should add our congratulations to all the men who took part in that group over the past 25 years.
By this time you all should have gotten your copy of the Acts of Synod 1986…. It deals with the life of our churches. I always like to spend some time looking in the Yearbook section of the Acts. It is amazing just how much information about our churches can be found there. If you haven’t gotten your own free copy of our Acts, don’t forget, you are entitled to one.
That that perspective continued through the years could be demonstrated easily. Consider just a couple from Volume 90. “In other news from Covenant of Grace in Spokane, WA, we read recently that their Building Search Committee had agreed on a purchase price with the seller of a church and parsonage not too far from where Covenant currently meets.” Then after giving more details, Ben concluded with this: “What an exciting step to take for any church, and we share in the joy with their congregation.” The very language of HH’s introduction of “News From Our Churches”!
And: “In recent news from the Philippines, we learned that an earthquake hit on Tuesday morning, October 15, measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale…. We are thankful to hear that while they [contacts of our missionaries living near the earthquake’s epicenter] felt the tremors, no damage or injuries were sustained. Through these events we hear the footsteps of Christ and are reminded in a concrete way of His coming.”
Like JMF, Ben injected into his writing also a tasteful lighter side. In writing, recently, that “Cornerstone connected to Hudsonville’s live streaming video of their service through the Internet,” he added this note: “So I guess you could say that Rev. Eriks, Hudsonville’s pastor, may be the first in our denomination to preach live to two separate congregations at the same time.”
Ben Wigger, as we noted at the beginning of this article, “had a feel for what the news column in the Standard Bearer was intended to be.” We commend him for that— as well we should. But we write this article more particularly because of the number of years of his service. There have been others, after JMF, who wrote equally well for this very column. But does anyone remember DD, KJV, CK, or DH? Likely not. And that’s not because their writing of news was somehow inferior, but because, for various reasons, they found it necessary to bow out after a relatively short period of time. Then came Ben Wigger, who stayed as long as all five of those who preceded him put together.
In your first news column, Ben, you expressed your hope that “the back page of this magazine” would continue “the excellence that it has enjoyed in the past.” And you added: “Over the years I have always enjoyed reading the Church News and I hope that enjoyment continues on into the future for both you and me.” After 28 years, Ben, your readers can answer with a resounding, “It did!”