Fear Not Little Flock
Celebrating Seventy-Five Years of God’s Faithfulness
Written by Martha Turkstra Tigchelaar
Foreword: Many Thanks to the Faithful Few
by Pastor Andrew Zantingh
What you are about to read is a wonderful story of God’s faithfulness to a little flock of immigrant people planted in the Hamilton area. It is a story of struggle and survival in the midst of dire poverty. It is a story of God’s faithful providing of pastors and facilities that helped to transform this fledgling flock into a flourishing community into which waves of future immigrants could be enfolded. It is a story of a Mother who continued to give of her life and vitality in childbirth to the point of exhaustion, and almost to the point of extinction. But as God would have it, the story of this once again little flock would not end there.
Through a series of congregational meetings in the fall and winter of 1987-88, God led the faithful few to a majority decision that “First Church remain downtown and develop alternative church and supporting facilities suitable for an active congregation and growth.” The plan was to stay in Hamilton’s downtown because of the firm belief that God had planted and preserved them in a context that afforded “special opportunities for outreach and downtown community involvement.” A renewed sense of purpose moved that remnant to remain in that day, a sense of purpose that continues to enliven and enlarge our church fellowship to this very day.
Many of you who are reading this book lived those days and made those crucial decisions. Many other readers are people like me, people of today. We are people who have come rather recently because we share this sense of purpose for impacting the downtown community of Hamilton with the good news of Jesus Christ. We are today’s many who remain indebted and grateful to the stubborn and steady faithfulness of yesterday’s few. And together today, whether we are readers who are young or old, we can all be equally moved by this story of God’s faithfulness to His flock at First Church over these past 75 years.
But now about tomorrow, who else might read this book and rejoice? Perhaps it will be the many of our downtown community. Perhaps the many whom our God yet intends to call into communion with Himself through our community at First. This story is not yet at an end. For God has not yet brought history to its appointed end. There are further chapters of God’s covenant faithfulness yet to be written through our lives. And indeed our children will one day write them! But only as we remain faithful to Christ’s call to make his life and presence known in this place where He has planted us will this happen.
History of First Christian Reformed Church, Hamilton, Ontario
by Martha Tigchelaar
In 1925 the Lord moved Classis Grand Rapids East and West to send a Home Missionary to the Burlington area to investigate the possibility of beginning a Home Mission Post in that district. A few immigrant families had settled there and Reverend Brink began holding services on July 25th of that year. By September it was obvious that only one man was interested, Sam Reitsma, known as Lange Sam, so they decided to cease meeting. The total collected after expenditures was $6 .60. This money was put in the bank. Two years later, Reverend Brink and the two Dykstra brothers returned, this time to Hamilton. They found several young men, three families, and a fourth large family that was on the high seas heading toward the Hamilton area. They decided to begin as quickly as possible. Our brothers in the States understood the needs of the immigrant: an immigrant becomes a stranger in a foreign land and must face hardships and loneliness. This can be tolerated as long as the deeper spiritual needs are cared for.
The first service was held in a room at McNab Street Presbyterian Church in Hamilton in September. Reverend Brink was jubilant. He expressed his joy in an article quoted below:
“The services are held at 9:30 and 1:30 as these hours are the most convenient for the people, nearly all of whom are working for farmers.
“You ought to have seen the joy expressed on the faces of our people as we were driving along the beautiful Toronto Hamilton Highway, nineteen persons in a truck which had been engaged for the first day. And how they sang the Holland psalms and listened to the preaching of the Word in the only language in which these people can be reached. A very favorable and agreeable part of Hamilton’s mission is that we have a nucleus there of good Reformed stock who are not contaminated with the virus of Modernism, as in some other places.
“Our attendance the first morning was 27 and the afternoon attendance was 33 in all. The people were agreed on the fact that Hamilton is the logical center where we ought to have our meetings, but living at a distance of five to thirty miles from Hamilton, any one can readily realize that it will be difficult for the people to come regularly. Especially as an auto belongs to an unattainable ideal for some time to come.”
Fear Not Little Flock
Four families remained faithful. They were Leendert Altena, his wife and 5 children, Sam Reitsma, his wife and 1 child, Rients Turkstra, his wife and 10 children, Harry Van Dyken, his wife and 4 children, and a few young men.
“God laat niet vaaren het werk Zijner handen” [God does not let go of the work of His hands.] This is how the minutes of the first meeting held by the mission post established in September of 1926 began. When 1928 dawned we had increased in number to 9 families. Classis Holland Michigan took this small flock under its wing and nurtured it during its nineteen year long infancy. Our brothers in the states felt it would be good for us to have a pastor of our own. In December 1927, 9th Street Christian Reformed Church of Holland, Michigan called the Reverend J .S. Balt to be our pastor. He wrote that he and his wife would accept our call. “Hoe is het moogelijk” (how is it possible), one of the mothers exclaimed. We sang our praise and thanksgiving to God with the following song, “maar’t vroome volk in U. verheught zal huppelen van ziele vreught Daar zij hun wensch verkrygen” [The Godly folk joyful in Thee, shall skip before your majesty, as Thou hast filled their longing.]
Reverend Balt arrived in Hamilton mid-February of 1928. The pastor of 9th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan installed him on February 23. On March 4 he preached his first sermon and chose as his text Acts 8:29: “The spirit said to Philip ‘Join thyself to this chariot.”‘ We were a most pathetic chariot at that time. We could offer him no parsonage, no church building and in fact his salary would be paid by Classis Muskegon. We were a handful of poor immigrants, mostly hired hands. One thing drew and kept us together: a love for God and for His Word. Our first order of business was to find another meeting place. We had received a letter from McNab Street Presbyterian Church asking us to leave. From then on, we began meeting either in the Masons’ Hall on Mary Street or in the Labour Temple. Can you imagine the sound of music, the psalms, if you please, corning from those places?
“Forth from thy courts, thy sacred dwelling, in Jubilant accord. We hear sweet sounds of music swelling to Israel’s mighty Lord.”
Very early, we had begun to talk about becoming an instituted church, but this milestone was not reached until April lo, 1929, at which point we had 14 families. In the presence of 20 voting men, the first elders and deacons were chosen. The elders that were chosen were: Rients Turkstra, Leendert Altena and Albert Biemold. The deacons chosen were: Sam Reitsma and Wietse De Jong. It was quite amazing to see this small flock begin to function as the body of our Lord. Dates were set for our first congregational meeting, the first baptism and communion services. Reverend Balt had seen a communion and baptism set for sale for only $35 and he was encouraged to purchase it. Three people made profession of their faith: Mrs. Edith Braaksma, Klaas Jansen and Peter Turkstra. Truly this was a time of happy anticipation, but in the midst of our joy we were suddenly plunged into deep sorrow. Reverend Balt’s wife suffered a stroke and the Lord took her home. Before the month of May was over, we gathered together once more to console our pastor. We all found comfort in God’s word: “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” John 14:1,2.
Sunday school classes were meeting between the morning and the afternoon services. Catechism classes for the younger children were a must, but that created a problem. How and when would we meet? The solution was that we would meet in four homes around a kitchen table. It meant miles of walking for some of us and miles of driving for Reverend Bait in his Model T Ford. But we managed. We met in Burlington, Millgrove, Fruitland and on the west mountain. A Young Men’s Society was started, which was soon followed by a Men’s Society.
At this time, it was decided that our priority needed to be to find a fitting place for our worship time. Neither the Masons’ Hall nor the Labour Temple was suited to our needs. Before we could meet on Sunday morning, beer bottles, cigarette butts and spittoons had to be cleared away. The Lord knew our need and in 1930 our first building was purchased from the Methodist Church on the comer of Main and Dundurn Streets. It was needed not only for worship services but also for Sunday school and society life. The price of the building was $6,000. Our Methodist brothers held half of the mortgage as a first mortgage. The second half was taken over by Classis Muskegon. The Methodists also stipulated that they wanted to keep their chairs, this condition became difficult for us, since our numbers once again increased steadily, and eventually, we had more people than chairs. The matter was solved when Reverend Bait bought a church-full of pews from a Jewish Synagogue for the sum of $30. We also had to purchase $30 of cleaning fluids to make them useable! The pews found a welcome home in our church and not one of us was a bit troubled by the Star of David on each side. In 1931, a Young Ladies’ Society was started followed by a Senior’s Ladies Society, “Tryphaena & Tryphosa Paul’s Women Workers in the Lord”.
In the early thirties, our group had grown to approximately 35 families. We were scattered in every conceivable direction: Millgrove, Ancaster, Fruitland, Burlington, Waterdown and Dundas. Sunday became for us a ‘day of all the week the best’. By truck, car, streetcar, bus, bicycle and on foot, families made their way to church for worship. Lunches were packed so both services and Sunday school could be attended. The order of the day was as follows: morning worship, lunch, and then Sunday school followed by afternoon worship. The psalms were sung, the Word was preached, problems were shared and we would go home strengthened to face the tasks of the week ahead.
Several families were transported to church in an open truck. For their convenience an old bus was purchased for $80, but this venture was not as we expected it to be. Not only was the bus cold and uncomfortable and costly to maintain, it also proved to be unmarketable and ended up at Bailey’s Garage in Aldershot.
In the meantime, the Depression held all our people in dire financial straits. As a result a serious crisis developed. The following details will give a fairly accurate picture of our situation at that time:
- Collection in December 1933: one month $15.35
- Collection in January 1934: one month $28.49
- Maandelijkse Bijdrage [envelope system]: $26.50
A congregational meeting was held in February, 1934 and the issues were clearly spelled out. Our supporting churches were also experiencing financial difficulties. They were unable to pay the salaries for the Home Missionaries. Their suggestions were that the congregation pay either the rent for the parsonage or part of the pastor’s salary or the pastor pay his own phone and car expenses. They would carry the second mortgage at 5% until 1938.
At this time several families received financial assistance from government relief. A mortgage bill of $180 was overdue and there were other immediate expenses to be met. We were reminded of the riches that are ours as members of the body of Christ. How could we honour Him if we did not meet our financial obligations? We sang, “Geloofd zij God met diepst ontzag; Hij overlaadt ans dag aan dag, Met zijne gunstbewijzen.” Psalm 68:10, “Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loads us with benefits. He is our salvation,” and Psalm 25:2 were read. Then the meeting was closed. The following month, the treasurer noted thankfully:
- For the Church: $49 .44
- For the poor: $12.73
- Maandelijkse Bijdrage $30.80
In 1934, the Canadian and Netherlands governments joined hands to convert the marshland in the Holland Landing area into fertile farmland. The future for vegetable growers looked bright and about one half of the congregation left for The Marsh. Poverty followed them. Some made their first home in a converted chicken coop or a garage. On Sunday morning it was a common sight to see fathers, on the way to church, carrying a child in one arm and a chair in the other. For four years the people of Holland Marsh remained a part of First Church, due entirely to the poverty of the thirties. In 1938 Holland Marsh Christian Reformed Church became our first daughter.
For a short while, our pews were empty but by the time we reached our first decade, several families arrived to increase our numbers back to 35 families. The time had come to say good-bye to our pastor, Reverend Balt. The Lord had sent him to us. He had ‘attached himself to our chariot’ and did for us what Philip had done for the Ethiopian in Acts 8. Reverend Balt had, for more than 11 years, brought us God’s Word which in our poverty made us rich and in our weakness made us strong; he loved Psalm 119, particularly the 3rd verse, “Oh Lord, send me the help of your spirit, let him show me my path and lead me.” When he had suggested a Sunday school picnic in 1934, one of his consistory members asked, “Is that the way in which we will show the world that we are Christians?” His answer: “I am certain that we can conduct ourselves in a Christian manner.” We had /, · ‘· our first picnic on July 1, 1934. He had endeared himself to our hearts as he ministered to immigrants over such a vast area and nearly the entire church came to bid him Godspeed.
God is our refuge, Therefore we will not fear!
In 1940, Reverend and Mrs. Wm. Meyer came to us but we had to share them with two other congregations. They left us within two years.
For thirteen years we had leaned very heavily on Mother Classis. The question was now put to us: “Are you ready to walk on your own?” It would be another eight years before we would let go of the hand that so graciously steadied us, but in 1942 we did elect and call our first pastor, Reverend David Grasman. From the depression we had gone into World War II. Our relatives and friends in the Netherlands were under the heel of the oppressor. Soldiers from the Netherlands were stationed in Stratford, Ontario for training. These and others from barracks in the Hamilton area became part of our church and family life. A Contact Committee kept a healthy flow of letters going to all those serving in the armed forces. Our sons and brothers were called to the colours and faced many dangers on the front lines. One of the sons of this church laid down his life for God and country. We wept with the Visser family when they received the sad news that their son and brother, Gaele, had laid down his life. We welcomed our boys back home with tears of thanksgiving for the safe return of some and tears of sorrow for the thousands of young men who had given their lives, many of them in the Netherlands.
The stamp of the fatherland remained strong. One English service per month had been introduced in August 1929. Eight years later a second one was added. Our brothers in the States had warned us, “Jullie moeten over deze zaken geen ruzie maken,” [you must not over this matter start arguments]. We forgot the warning from our brothers in the States. In 1943 some forward-thinking members thought it was time for a change: Dutch in the morning and English in the evening was proposed by the consistory and brought before the congregation. The proposal of weekly English services was defeated by a vote of 15 to 6. The transition was made the following year but not before many words were spilled. Reverend Grasman left us to serve in Hoboken in December, 1944. In order to make our church a more appealing calling church, the consistory decided on a radical change of 75% English and 25% Dutch. This evoked considerable controversy, but the decision was passed; we had forgotten the warning from our brothers. It is difficult to say whether or not this change influenced Reverend Simon A. Dykstra to accept our call when he came to us in 1945.
The post war years brought many changes. Canada opened her doors to the immigrant and we were about to experience what may well be termed an immigration explosion. In retrospect one can see meaning in God’s providential care for His little flock. Our church was to become instrumental in providing support and encouragement for the great influx of immigrants who were to become part of us (we were still numbered only 35 families at that time), and make us within ten years a mother many times over.
And the Lord added to our number …
The activities of 1946, as described in the following paragraphs, will give a fairly accurate idea of the climate within First Church during that time:
A Sunday school among unchurched children had such good results that it was decided a plot of land should be purchased and a small chapel erected. This work was begun in 1946 and the chapel was dedicated in the summer of 194 7 with forty children and their parents in attendance.
An Immigration Society had been born in the thirties. It was to become properly organized and very active. Both Synod and Classis worked through this committee for the benefit of those about to emigrate. Field men and contact men were appointed; they would work hand in hand with the church. Our elders were sent to Kitchener, Woodstock, Galt and St. Catharines to find suitable meeting places. Home Missionaries would be sent into some of these areas to minister to those scattered abroad and to establish churches wherever possible. All of us were to become involved and we served in whatever way we could.
Several brothers felt it would be wise to sell our present building, buy an acre of land in the west-end of the city and build on this land a basement church and a school. This plan received considerable attention but was not accepted.
To accommodate those immigrants we were expecting to arrive, fifty second hand chairs had been bought at 50 cents a piece. They were put to immediate use. Our modest sanctuary soon spilled over into the basement. By 1948 it was obvious emergency measures would have to be taken. For a short time we met in four different places: Winona, Greensville, the church and the chapel. In 1949 a solution to our difficulties was found. In God’s divine providence, two girls worked together in Mercury Mills. The one, Maaike, had recently immigrated with her family from Holland. She belonged to our Christian Reformed Church on the comer of Main and Dundurn Streets. The other, Helen, was a daughter of the pastor of Charlton Avenue Baptist Church at the comer of Charlton and Hess. A friendship developed. They soon shared with each other about their churches and discovered that Helen’s church was suffering from a sharp decrease in members while Maaike’s church was literally bursting at the seams. They naturally spoke to their parents and that started the ball rolling towards what became known as a church exchange. The buildings plus $23,000 changed hands and we could once again meet under one roof. There was a leak in that roof but we would worry about that later.
It soon became evident that ‘under one roof’ was not what everyone in our congregation desired. Several families had tasted the closer fellowship of a smaller community and made known their wish to organize another church in the Winona area. Our second daughter was born in 1950 and bears the name Fruitland Christian Reformed Church. They met in the Legion Hall for some time but today the church and Christian School, on Highway 8, are landmarks to God’s glory.
Some of the members of our church thought it was wise to begin renovating as quickly as possible and with good reason. There were many difficulties that we had to overcome in our building, such as leaky roof, the cold Sunday school rooms and the unsafe electric wiring. To top it all off, the water pipes to Koster’s apartment (Koster de Jong was the church’s custodian at that time) were frozen. However, the School Society had been reactivated. Others in our membership thought a Christian School should be built first. The school won. So, we limped along repairing, replacing and fixing for 3 years.
Reverend Dykstra left for Decatur in 1950. For one and a half years we were faced with the immense task of caring for a flock that was always on the move, without an under-shepherd to lead us. But the Good Shepherd knew our ‘peculiar’ need and in His time sent us the man who would meet ‘the challenge of that hour’. Reverend and Mrs. Tenis C. Van Kooten gladdened our hearts when they accepted our call. They began their ministry in our midst in January 1952.
Take Heed To Yourselves and to all the Flock
It did not take long to fill the places vacated by our second daughter, Fruitland Christian Reformed Church. With that great influx of immigrant people, there was soon need for a third daughter to leave the nest. Since the fall of 1951, several families had been meeting in the Barton Community Centre. Mount Hamilton Christian Reformed Church was formally organized in 1952. What a mammoth task faced us in the early fifties! Financially we appear to have been a bit more stable, but there was so much that needed doing. So many young lives needed the solid foundation of Scripture.
Sunday school and Catechism classes were immense. Ninety youngsters were eager to socialize and Reverend Van Kooten did a good job of keeping good order on Tuesday evenings for catechism. The Young Men’s Society, The Golden Hour Girl’s Society on Friday; The Instuif (drop-in) on Saturday night … all drawing young people from many areas; all needed careful supervision. Every evening the church was ablaze with light and humming with activity.
The School Society became very active and in 1952 a Christian Day School was built on West Fifth Street. A Christian High School was added before the end of the decade. In October of 1952, Mrs. Tina Van Kooten started up an English-speaking ladies society, which they named “The Daughters of Priscilla.” Priscilla was a fellow worker of Paul in Christ, who worked along with her husband; they risked their necks for Paul. Another flourishing society was added to our busy church life.
By 1953 chairs lined the aisles and filled the hallway. Once again, a number of families prepared to leave us. June 9 1953 daughter number four was officially organized and became known as the Burlington Christian Reformed Church. Two days later our church building was severely burned by a fire of undetermined origin. The renovation, which had been previously discussed, now became a must. The annex was the first to receive a complete and much needed face-lift. A wedding room, kitchen and additional Sunday School rooms were added. The dull, drab annex took on a new look and society life on every front benefited. While we were in the midst of this renovation period, a fifth daughter was born. Calvin Christian Reformed Church, Dundas was added to our rapidly growing family and the end was not yet! We marked our 25th birthday without the usual festivities – very likely because it came between two major renovations. An organ was dedicated to the glory of God and to the memory of Gaele Visser who lost his life in the action of World War II.
Our meeting rooms were now pleasant and cheerful, but the sanctuary was still disheartening. We had continued to use it after the fire. In the summer of 1955, the work of renovating was begun and completed by the fall. Gone were the patched green carpets, the dark pews and the dirty walls. Everything had been done with an eye to simple beauty. We were pleased with the results and with thankful hearts praised our God for yet another milestone: our lovely sanctuary.
Throughout all this, our pastor served us with marked dedication, rightly dividing the Word of truth among us. Wayward sheep were sought, sick were visited, youth were given instruction and guidance, babies were baptized and marriages celebrated. The flow of immigrants continued. As many as sixty families joined us or left for other areas each year. We remained a transient church. Reverend Van Kooten loved to tell the following story:
“A mother, worried about the spiritual welfare of her son, telephoned Reverend Van Kooten and asked him if he would go and see her boy. “What is his address?” asked Reverend Van Kooten. “Lizard Lots,” the concerned mother replied. And, of course, it had to be in the Galt (presently Cambridge) area! It wasn’t much to go on, but Reverend Van Kooten, ever concerned for his sheep, one day set out to look for the son. He searched and he searched. He inquired at gas bars and police stations. No one seemed to know where “Lizard Lots” was. He was about ready to go home, discouraged and dissatisfied with himself, when he decided to ask one more resident of the area. That person seemed to be just a little more interested in helping him and asked him to repeat it several times. He then asked if, perhaps, the mother had an accent. The pastor nodded, yes, and in fact she has spoken Dutch to him except for the address. The other brightened and pointed to a large sign down the highway: LEISURE LODGE. Reverend Van Kooten found the man.”
Reverend Van Kooten had received 33 calls in 8.5 years. Imagine our surprise when he accepted the 34th call. One person asked him “Why did you accept that call?” He answered, “Until now I have not felt free to leave. Now I do not feel free to stay.”
Reverend Van Kooten had chosen his text from Acts 20:29 when he came to us. “Take heed to yourself and to the flock.” Of a truth, we could testify that he did not shrink back from teaching and preaching to us the full counsel of God. A bond had grown between us that bound us together in Christian love.
In June of 1960, after serving us faithfully for eight and a half years, Reverend Van Kooten left us for Edmonton, Alberta. For the last time, on July 24th, he pronounced the ancient benediction: “The Lord bless you and keep you … The Lord make His face to shine upon you and give you peace … ” his voice broke. He could not finish. It was the end of an era. He was a man of exceptional abilities, with a good understanding of the immigrant, even though he did not have his PhD in the Dutch language, as Harry Vander Zwaag used to comment. We loved both of them, and that love was returned. We were sorry to see them go.
The Under-shepherd had left us, but the Great Chief Shepherd who neither slumbers nor sleeps was still watching over his flock.
Feed the Church of the Lord
Reverend Wiebe VanDyk came to Hamilton in 1959 to teach at the local Christian High School and to be associate pastor at First Church. He remained with us in this capacity until 1964. The mantle of leadership fell on him while we were vacant. The tradition of worshipping together with our families is well founded. Changing times brought with them a change in work schedules. This was looked upon as a threat and a firm stand was taken against Sunday labour. So we continued to assemble in large numbers on the Lord’s Day.
It was no easy task to minister to a people of such varied backgrounds. There were the ‘old’ pre-war and the ‘new’ post-war immigrants. And some who had arrived in Hamilton that very day and had come from the train straight to the church! There were several others, many of whom had joined us through marriage. A common need drew and held us together. Every Sunday God’s message was delivered to us from the pulpit – or through a psalm or hymn we sang – or the organ might bring to mind a beloved passage. Continually we were exhorted, encouraged, and charged to lead a life worthy of God who had called us into His Kingdom.
The Lord did not leave us without a pastor for long. In the fall of 1960, Dr. PY De Jong and his family arrived in Hamilton. They only stayed with us for two and a half years, but they left their mark. Dr. PY was an excellent preacher. The influx of immigrants remained strong, so it was decided that we have 3 services each Sunday. We had a 9 am Dutch service; at 10 am was Sunday school; and 11 am and 7 pm English services. Our pastor did not at all mind preaching 3 times on a Sunday, mainly because he loved the scriptures and their message to a fallen world. He loved the old, old story of Jesus and His love. He was also a gardener, and decided in mid-summer of 1962 that the outside of First Church needed sprucing up. So, Dr. PY, my husband Bob, and the young people planted a lovely garden. It included several cedars, that James, Dr. PY ‘s eldest son, picked up and delivered on a Turkstra lumber truck, roots exposed. Two of the cedars still grace our property facing Charlton Avenue. The one we named James and the other I call PY. He left us in 1963 for Alger Park Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We were again without a pastor. Ten years had passed since our facelift. Our buildings were in need of a little sprucing up; the administration committee took the job in hand. Volunteers were recruited to man sand paper, paint brush or just to supply the wherewithal to get the job finished. Age was no barrier – young and old turned out to help brighten walls and woodwork with fresh paint. With an experienced painter in charge and with all those eager helpers the work was accomplished to the satisfaction of all. Later, three men took the sanctuary in hand; in their spare time, they mounted a scaffold and applied 90 gallons of paint. Labour. .. no charge. Much of the paint was donated.
Reverend and Mrs. Andrew Kuyvenhoven and family arrived in our midst on July 1st, 1964. We were happy to see them but we weren’t quite ready for them, because the new parsonage would not be finished until that fall.
Some noteworthy changes took place during the next few years. The first of these came about in December 1964. Without anyone raising the point or making this an issue, the ladies were given the right to vote. A couple of texts were quoted to show it was a scriptural decision. These texts were Act 2: 17 “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and YC?,Ur daughters will prophesy,” Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. In March of the following year, the oldest Sunday School class, 12 to 16 years, was eliminated and two clubs, Cadets and Calvinettes, were organized in its place. In the same year, three area churches joined together to offer our older members one service every Sunday in the Dutch language. It was held in the Immanuel Christian Reformed Church at 3 pm on Sundays. Each church and pastor served for a one-month period.
The statistics of 1967 are rather informative and, I think, interesting:
- 16 complete families received
- 19 complete families transferred
- 77 confessing members received
- 45 confessing members transferred
- 35 children baptized
- 23 made profession of faith
- 243 families
- 1186 members
- 628 confessing members
With such a huge flock to tend, we were not surprised when the consistory decided to call a second minister to assist Reverend Kuyvenhoven. For a short while, we were divided into two districts: East and West, separated by Queen Street. Reverend Cornelius Vriend looked after district West and Reverend Kuyvenhoven after district East. However, Reverend Vriend accepted a call to Lacombe, Alberta and left in 1968. Once again, the heavy burden was left to one man.
Toward the latter part of the sixties, our ushers were kept busy once again lining the aisles with chairs to accommodate the overflow. Another large group left us in 1969 to organize a church in Aldershot. This congregation has moved into a lovely new sanctuary on Highway 5 and has changed her name to Bethel Christian Reformed Church.
Reverend Kuyvenhoven left in March of 1970. John Koole was our intern at that time but he, too, took his leave that summer. Once again, we were without a pastor.
Go Ye … Preach and Teach
Our history would be incomplete without further mention of the Back to God Chapel. For more than twenty years dedicated teachers proclaimed the gospel there. Evangelist H. VanTil became a full time worker in 1958. Sunday worship service, Sunday School and weekly clubs were part of the activity. In 1960 Hank Boehm began his ministry there. His messages were clear and deeply scriptural but attendance dropped and Mr. Boehm left in 1965 for Grant, Michigan. It was finally decided to discontinue the work and the Chapel was sold in 1969. We are assured that God’s Word will never return unto Him void. Certainly for those who laboured there, it was a blessed experience but all will agree that the ministry of First Church during those years was to our brothers and sisters coming to us from the Netherlands.
One Lord … One Church
Our next pastor, the Reverend John G. Klomps and his family arrived in our midst in April 1971. For a short time, student Norman Steen assisted him but for the most part the pastoral care of First Church was his. Before the year was out, a third organ committee was established. The committee in the 30’s had failed, because the thought of spending $1300 on an organ at that time was “out of the question.” The committee in the 60’s had given up the ghost due to lack of support. At our first meeting, Reverend Klomps told us that we were to look into the possibility of purchasing a pipe organ for our church, he added softly, and for Peter. Peter Spoelstra was an accomplished organist and had played some of Holland’s finest pipe organs. When, in April of 1939, he arrived in Hamilton with his bride Claire, he naturally took his place behind our organ: a two manual organ with fake pipes and no foot pedal. He played that organ until 1954 when we, on our 25th anniversary, dedicated a Wurlitzer organ with a full foot pedal. He longed for a pipe organ. He called it his ‘pipe dream’. As the years rolled by, and our second organ committee experienced a lack of support and gave up, Peter said, regarding a pipe organ for First Church, “Someday, but not in my lifetime.” Whether Reverend Klomps knew about Peter’s dream or not, I do not know. But an organ committee was formed, and this time, under God’s guidance I am certain, it happened. Working together with Mr. Dubay we purchased a three manual Casavant organ. It was dedicated to the glory of God in the fall of 1972, and Peter continued to ‘organ forth His excellence’ until December of 1999. For more than 60 years, he had faithfully ministered to us in an unusually sensitive way by playing the psalms, the hymns as well as the masters, Bach, Beethoven, and Hayden. In February of 2000, the Lord took him home, N.P.
A milestone is reached
In April of 1979, we celebrated our 50th anniversary. It was a time of praise and thanksgiving. We could look back over the years and see God’s providential hand. He had led us, He had protected us, and He had prospered us. We sang Psalm 150: “praise the Lord, sing Hallelujah,” and Peter Spoelstra, as was his custom as he played the organ, added his own Hallelujahs at the end. Gradually the flow of immigrants decreased. One more group left in 1977 to organize a church in Ancaster, but the transient nature of our church had given way to a welcome stability. We were becoming better acquainted with one another with the passing of time and were knit together into a church family.
During our early years, higher education was impossible for most young people. This is no longer the case. A great percentage of youth attend schools of higher learning in the Hamilton area. A concern was felt for the spiritual well being of these students and this has led to a campus ministry. On behalf of Classis Hamilton, First Church called Reverend Evert Gritter to serve in this capacity at McMaster University.
The Ancaster Christian Reformed Church was our last daughter to leave. Possibly more for the sake of convenience than need, because by then the chairs which used to line our aisles were already no longer needed. In fact, very gradually but noticeably, many our members began to leave.
At the time that Reverend Klomps left and Reverend Postman came it was already quite apparent that our numbers were dwindling. What was most disturbing was the fact that we were losing our young people. Eventually even Cadets, followed by Calvinettes, petered out and stopped. When we celebrated our 60th anniversary in 1989 three of our former pastors were on hand. Reverends Kuyvenhoven, Klomps and Van Kooten. The last named reminded us how he had warned us not to become the Mother church of too many daughters. Especially a city church could lose too many members that way and thus drain the Mother church of her vitality.
Although that had been painfully true during those years, there were still many bright spots that should be noted, one being our Friendship Program. First Church initiated the Friendship Program for people with mental impairments when it was first established in 1982 and it has been a great blessing to our congregation’s life, even though it was interrupted for a few years until our ‘elderly’ building was upgraded to become more accessible.
Reverend Postman left us in 1988. We had appointed a youth worker, John Stellingwerff, because by then we were painfully aware of our lack of young people. With the pastor gone, much of the other pastoral work fell to Mr. Stellingwerff. With his wife Doreen, and with their children, he moved into the parsonage for the time being. Shortly after their arrival a meeting was called and our problems were openly discussed. Two options were open to us: one, to sell the church building and the property and start our church in another location or two, stay put and weather the storm. The second option won, but not unanimously. So we stayed and called Reverend Fred Heslinga who accepted our call and arrived with Ella and their children in 1989. The Stellingwerffs were not with us for long, but they left their mark: John began the Prayer Group, which met for prayer every Saturday at 7:30 am. The needs of our church and the worldwide church were brought before the throne of grace sometimes with tears. We still meet for prayer but at a different time. Doreen helped start our Coffee Break program, which has proven to be an ongoing blessing to the church and the community. They served their Lord well while they were with us and left to minister among the Native Indians in Edmonton. The synodical decision regarding women in office did not affect First Church noticeably even though some did not agree with it. Some families even joined us during those troublesome years. Catechism and Sunday school classes had always been and remained a must. Morning services were still attended fairly well. Evening services were poorly attended. One day I counted only 29 people at the evening service. During this time, our building became a temporary home to the Hamilton Laotian congregation and they are still with us to this day.
A second major renovation took place in 1994 primarily in the Annex. It was a vast improvement from which society life on the whole benefited. The entire kitchen was moved and fellowship hall was added. Downstairs, the Pastor’s study and the secretary’s office were moved between the nursery and the Gathering Hall.
The loveliest change of all was in the sanctuary. When the organ was installed in 1972 some changes were made to the appearance of the front of our sanctuary. These were necessary for the full sound of the organ. We were disappointed in the appearance of the changes. They looked too stiff and unattractive. Mr. Dubay was contracted; he was reluctant to change it but in the end the appointed committee prevailed. We are thankful. It all looks more beautiful than ever!
After the Heslingas left us in 1998 we had an intern for a year, Elzo Tenyenhuis. It was at that time that Pastor Michael Goheen expressed an interest in our church, largely because we are an inner-city church. We proceeded to call him to become our preaching pastor and he and his family were warmly received. He took up his task in the fall of 1999. Of course, we still needed a full-time pastor. Council recommended Andrew Zantingh, soon to graduate from Calvin Seminary. Andrew and Kelly with their family joined us in August of 2000 and Andrew was ordained in our church on October 4, 2000.
Currently the two men and their families are working together with one purpose in mind: to serve God by caring for His people. Things are looking up. Several families have joined or rejoined our church. Young people abound! The services are well attended although we have not, as yet, had to use chairs. Parking still remains a problem. But we are blessed and thankful.
One Body, Many Parts
Music at First Church
Singing and making melody to the Lord! “How they sang the Holland Psalms … ” That was a phrase used by Rev. J. R. Brink to describe our first church service. That was back in 1927 with only four families singing. Not long ago, a friend of mine brought a guest to First Church. When I asked him how he had enjoyed the worship service, he said “Inspirational! But where was the choir? I’m sure I heard a choir singing.” Whereupon my friend responded, “The choir was all around you!” From those four families to this very day whenever we raise our voices in song we have harmony.
In September 1998, Betty Spoelstra officially took her father’s place behind the organ and the piano. She has become the Administrator of Music at First Church and has added colour to our worship through the Service Choir and the Music Makers, all to the glory of God and the edification of His people. It is very beautiful. Moreover, there are several men who have led us in our singing over the years. They are Fred Numan, Ken Van der Wal and Jim Van Geest on the organ. Peter and Cheryl Tigchelaar have also assisted us through singing, guitar and many other wonderful instruments. There is nothing more beautiful than raising our voices in song to express ourselves – our praises, our adoration, our thanksgiving and our sorrow – in song. May we continue to do this and may it be like a sweet smelling savour to our heavenly Father who has blessed us and gifted so many in such a wonderful way.
It has been our privilege for more than 50 years to minister to the aged and the infirm. There was a time when we looked after approximately 60 services a year. Currently we still have St. Peter’s and Versa Care in Hamilton and Blackadar in Dundas. This outreach has been richly blessed and we are thankful for the privilege of serving God in this way and bringing the comfort of His Word to serve others.
For many years we supported the Hommes family in Japan with our finances and our prayers. Currently we support Cheryl De Jong who works among the Fulbe people in Conakry, Guinea, and Patsy Sagaras in Mali West Africa. They ask us “to pray for them that the Word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere.” 2 Thessalonians 3:1. Do we?
It was in the summer of 197 4 that Homestead first opened its doors on Homewood Avenue. Overcoming many difficulties in the first year, Homestead moved to 326 Locke Street South, with Rudy and Velva DeVries as its coordinators. Here it settled and became a meaningful ministry supported by several Classes in Ontario. The home was open to those suffering with mental illness and emotional difficulties. Most of us are personally familiar with these illnesses as there are few families that are exempt from its oppression. It too, as all illnesses, is due to the fall into sin and needs the healing touch of our Saviour and Lord.
The staff and volunteers laboured at the Homestead for more than 25 years at the Locke Street home with assisting 7 residents at a time. The residents were expected to care for their own rooms and personal belongings, do their laundry and help with household chores such as cleaning, cooking, and canning. Their maximum stay was two years. Then suitable living quarters were found for them. In 2000, the board of Homestead decided to expand Homestead to be able to help more people and at many different levels of support. The name changed to Homestead Christian Care. They now have an individualized plan of care for each of their 65 residents. This is a custom designed program geared to the capabilities and support needs of the individual resident.
Homestead now has a 25-bed home, at 118 Wentworth, with 24 hour a day support for those with the most needs. Some will live in this program for as little as three months before moving on to a higher level of independence and others may live most of their lives in this home, depending on the needs and goals of the individual.
Next door, at 124 Wentworth, is a building with 10 individual apartments. Staff provide regular support to the residents based on their plan of care. Depending on the need of the individual, support ranges from daily to weekly but is available 24 hours a day in case of emergency. The purpose of this home is to, in time, become totally self-sufficient. From there Homestead moved to the third building at 249 Caroline St. It is a six level building with 38 apartments. Here rent is geared to income and residents live almost completely independently. However, once again staff are available 24 hours a day if assistance is required in some area.
In all three settings, Bible studies, devotions, prayer, and opportunities for spiritual growth are available and encouraged but not required. Currently, over 60% of Homestead’s residents come from a Reformed background. Homestead has a staff of over 15 people with Rudy Hulst as the Executive Director and Jeff Neven as the Director of Operations. Homestead has been blessed with the recent acquisition of all three facilities and is operating a balanced budget of nearly one million per year.
It is at this point that the history of First Church and its future meet and are linked together again. Homestead has been part of our history and has become an integral part of late.
Coffee Break differs from our two former Ladies Societies, Tryphaena & Tryphosa Paul’s Women Workers in the Lord and Daughters of Priscilla in that it extends a humble service to women in the area. We are women working with women being built up in the faith.
Together with an open Bible in front of us, over a cup of coffee or tea, we discuss God’s wonders in Creation and redemption. We meet from 9:30 till 11:00 each Tuesday morning. We are currently studying the Gospel of Mark and enjoying it immensely. Bring your toddlers and babies along – for them we have Story Hour and Little Lambs. Two wonderful ladies care for the wee ones in the nursery.
The Alpha program met with worldwide success. It was bound sooner or later to enter the realm of the Christian Reformed Church. It came to First Church in January 2002. They meet on Thursday evening from 6:30 to 9:30 beginning with a meal, followed by a video, coffee and Bible study. It has proven to be a rich source of blessing, particularly to those who minister. “It is absolutely wonderful to see people touched by God,” one of the leaders told me. That is the reason for Alpha, that is the reason for Coffee Break and that is the reason for First Church – to see people touched by the power of God.
We owe a debt of gratitude to our secretaries. These ladies have invariably walked the extra mile with us. The following story is about our very first secretary Gertie Visser. She was our secretary for 40 years. She also was Pake Visser’s daughter and Gaele Visser’ s sister.
These days we have some pretty up-to-date equipment in the office, which makes the life of our busy secretary just a little easier. But it wasn’t always so. An old Gestetner gave the secretary more than her share of frustration when it used to leak ink whenever its temperament was out of sorts.
One time our loved secretary even spilled some ink on her skirt. As best she could she washed the skirt and hung it to dry, continuing to prepare the bulletin in her slip. It was a busy day.
At some point during the morning one of the elders dropped in, so they chatted, had a coffee and eventually the elder left. It was only then that the secretary realized that her skirt was still hanging to dry!
A life long member, Serving the Lord with Gladness:
His parents were among the first immigrants to settle in this area. He was their oldest son and was baptized in our church. He attended Sunday School and Catechism classes and made profession of his faith in First Church. He met the girl who would become his wife here and their children were baptized and grew up right here in First Church. He became a deacon and in time an elder, then a deacon once again. When there was work to be done, he was on hand along with his toolbox. He was one of the three men who painted our sanctuary in 1964. During our last renovation in 1994 he was the Project Manager.
He was not a man of many words but was listened to when he spoke. He went about his work quietly, unobtrusively, and in a well thought-out manner. He gave of himself to First Church willingly and humbly as unto the Lord, until he was able to serve no longer.
His name is Jack Tigchelaar.
We love you, Jack.
In loving memory of all who are “absent from the body, but present with the Lord”.
Revelation 14:13 -Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them.”
Revelation 7:13-15 -Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes, who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know.” And He said, “these are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them and the Lamb in the centre of the throne will be their Shepherd.”
I Will Build My Church.
More than seventy-five years have passed since that small group of immigrants became an organized church. As such she was a part of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Her story is His story for it was He who moved our brothers in the United States to send those pastors to this area, at a most crucial time to look into the possibility of starting a church in Hamilton. It was He who led us through years of abject poverty, followed by a time of anxiety and fear and through those years of turbulence when 5 daughters left the fold to begin churches of their own. It was during the last decade we needed Him the most for during that time our membership decreased and we actually talked about closing our doors and starting elsewhere. We had become an “inner city church.”
During all those years He sent us Under-Shepherds to nourish us in His Word. Our fathers loved that Word and looked upon it not as some man’s invention but as the Living Power of the Almighty God. Upon it First Church was founded. Through it He equips us for ministry. It has been our comfort in times of sorrow and our refuge throughout our difficulties.
As an outpouring of thanksgiving may each one of us become an instrument fit for the Master’s use in our homes, in our communities and in our church. Keep focus on Him who is the author and finisher or our faith.
Soli Deo Gloria
May the Mind of Christ, Our Saviour
May the mind of Christ, our Saviour,
Dwell in us from day to day;
By His love and power controlling,
All we do and say.
May the peace of God our Father,
Rule our lives in everything;
That we may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.
May the love of Jesus fill us,
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self-abasing,
This is victory.
May we run the race before us,
Strong and brave to face the foe;
Looking only unto Jesus,
As we onward go.
Kate B. Wilkinson
It has given me much joy once again to relive the history or First Church and to write it on the pages of our 75th Anniversary Booklet. This has been my third writing so some repetition was unavoidable and forgivable. I hope.
Special thanks are in order to Jeff Neven for his assistance in writing the article for Homestead.
Also to Margaret Tigchelaar for contributing some humorous stories in a lighter vein.
To Andrea Colyn, who gave so freely of her time to type and to edit the manuscript.
To Petra Zantingh, who so beautifully designed the cover of this book.
To our Almighty God whose providential care of First Church is so evident in the pages of her history.