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The History of the Christian Courier


The first issue of Canadian Calvinist is published in August, 1945, with founding father Rev. Paul De Koekkoek of Alberta as editor. The paper is initially a kind of glue, holding the Dutch immigrant community together. But the Reformed perspective encourages integration, not an enclave. In one of his first editorials, De Koekkoek urges Calvinists to apply for Canadian citizenship once the war is over, “to enable them to take active part in the public life of the nation.” In 1949, the Ontario upstart Contact, run by two Johns (Vander Vliet and Vellinga) enters the picture. Two years later, it merges with the original CC to become Calvinist CONTACT. (Its first issue uses a bigger font for “Contact,” correctly indicating which paper’s vision had won out). In the 1950s, using a mix of Dutch and English, the new paper serves the post-war influx of immigrants from Holland well. In 1954, under the leadership of journalist Ad Otten, CC increases publication from a bi-monthly to a weekly paper. Its news coverage is often a Dutch rewrite of the national English papers. When Dick Farenhorst takes over as editor in 1959, CC is well-positioned to report and reflect on issues facing the Reformed community in Canada, such as second worship services, trade unions, Christian education and women in office. By 1973, Dutch is limited to four pages of the paper. The editor’s skills at peacemaking are evident after the publication of Out of Concern for the Church in 1971; he organizes a unity conference to give CRC leaders a chance to discuss the controversy. Farenhorst is mourned as a “good Christian leader, a trusted counsellor [and] a wise man with a God-fearing heart” when he passes away from cancer in 1976.


Under Keith Knight’s editorship (’76-’82), CC develops an emphasis on news, both within the CRC church and beyond. When Rev. Andrew Kuyvenhoven becomes the first Canadian editor of The Banner in 1979, CC loses a significant number of subscribers to the older, U.S.-based church magazine (also a weekly publication at that time). In 1980, CC is imperilled when its mortgage holder, George VerKaik, dies and a daughter from Michigan inherits the mortgage. Hoping to move and then run the paper herself, she calls up the mortgage. The takeover attempt, however, falls through when eight Niagara businessmen guarantee a bank loan for $80,000 to save CC and keep it on Canadian soil. Well-known for wittiness and a love of puns, Witvoet writes an estimated 2,500 editorials during his tenure from 1982-1999. He expands CC’s  scope to include perspective on other denominations and finally settles the long-running language question with a fully English paper by 1983. A reader describes CC at this time as a mandatory window into the current Christian Reformed life and witness in Canada. The paper slowly graduates in name and vision from Calvinist Contact to Christian Courier. “The challenge of our time,” Witvoet summarizes in 1985, “does not lie in whether we hold on to the historic Christian faith, but in whether we put it to work!”
--- Angela Reitsma Bick


After a brief editorship by Marian VanTil, Harry der Nederlanden takes over the editorial pen in 1999. Der Nederlanden is a prolific reader and writer, and manages to write profound and funny editorials as well as challenging articles that boost a vital Reformed witness. One of his most popular editorials, “From wooden shoes to cowboy boots,” shows his love for the CRC’s Dutch roots and its contemporary Canadian identity. Although assisted in the department of lay-out, mailing, subscriptions and advertising by his faithful wife, Rose, and an equally dedicated Ineke Medcalf, der Nederlanden is up against tremendous odds when it comes to filling the pages of CC with fresh Reformational content. The budget does not allow for more professional help. Harry’s beloved voice is silenced by cancer in the fall of 2008. Bert Witvoet comes out of retirement when Harry is too weak to maintain the paper, and assumes the role of interim editor. The Board of Reformed Faith Witness, in the meantime, is faced with an agonizing decision: to continue with 2,500 subscribers or to fold. From the reading constituency comes a clear cry: “Don’t give up! Keep CC going.” The Board listens and takes strong action. It appoints three co-editors: Angela Reitsma Bick, Brett Alan Dewing and Bert Witvoet in January 2009. With the appointment of two youthful editors, Angela and Brett, the paper sees a great influx of other young writers. A renewed energy and sense of hope begins to emerge, and donations start to flow in to bolster the work. Subscription numbers also start to slowly climb up again. Today, editor-in-chief Angela Reitsma Bick, features editor Cathy Smith, and numerous columnists, writers, and contributing editors carry on the work of responsible biblical journalism at a time when secular humanism sets the tone in public debate and discourse. Time will tell, and God already knows, whether this up-and-coming generation of Reformed Christians is up to the challenge of assuming its cultural responsibilities in the arena we call the Canadian Public Square.
--- Bert Witvoet