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The Canadian story of the Christian Reformed Church

Canada invited us to come over. Canadian sons and daughters helped to set us free in Europe; then this country ended up asking us to make up their loss. The terms were generous: a job, a house and subsidized travel.

The Canadian story of the Christian Reformed Church
Editor’s note
Why did so many Dutch people immigrate to Canada in the 50s and 60s? What were their priorities upon arrival?
With the help of “home missionaries” sent from the Netherlands, they built churches. Then Christian schools. Then they started, one by one, the Reformed organizations (including this publication!) that are a rich part of Canadian culture today. Some groups still have denominational links; others are independent. But they demonstrate that a sturdy Reformed vision, transplanted from the Netherlands, grows pretty well here.
In the following guest editorial, Pastor Arie Van Eek reflects on that growth – memory lane for some CC readers, and a helpful series of milestones for younger generations. I hear him saying: “This is what we worked on. There are things worth preserving. But don’t get a swollen head! There is more work to do.”

Angela Reitsma Bick

 

Canada invited us to come over. Canadian sons and daughters helped to set us free in Europe; then this country ended up asking us to make up their loss. The terms were generous: a job, a house and subsidized travel. Amazing, really, that Canada’s national railways were used by the government to find rural employment and houses for Canucks-in-waiting. This placement put some of us in beautiful but far off places. What turned out to be more important was the second welcome – a home missionary at the train station who greeted us in the name of a congregation-in-formation with a truck-at-the-ready. The bearer of good news may also have been a “fieldman” appointed by the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). As we learned later, he had been appointed by the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands.

 

Now with the context of Canada 150 – and to Canada’s founding First Nations we apologize for focusing on a European 150 – we reflect on what God wrought in the second half of Canada’s formation with the Reformed Christian Canadians. For starters, there was a self-selected flood of energetic young families. For various reasons they would not wait for economic restoration in Europe. Coming from every Dutch province they had a lot to learn in vision, in leadership, in shaping all they touched.

So much had to be discovered anew. No sooner, for example, did we worship together when the questions of life began to bubble up: Where will our kids go to school? What about help in accident and illness? How do we squeeze language classes in for the many of us working 60 hours a week in wind and weather?

When Canadian Immigration in 1952 began to accept people who had skills other than farming, Christian communities expanded. Three things started to come up for discussion in trucks on the way to church:

How to curb swearing and sexist talk on the job.

Should we submit to Sunday field work in season? The stem of the Golden Jubilee peach is weak enough to drop the heavy fruit, you know!

Does bad shop talk about the employer give me reason to join a labour union?

Mothers often experienced their own sense of isolation. Human relations soon exacted more energy than any newcomer could have anticipated in the glow of the pictured emigration.

The building years
Already in the early 1950s there was a sense that group action was needed. The first initiative I recall was the formation of a Reformed Burial Society. For a $25 annual family membership, participants could buy a Funeral and Service Plan. (Local membership, for the moving member was not transferable!) More urgent, really, was the formation of local congregation-based unemployment savings groups, and later on land Credit Unions. Under government supervision the local savings clubs provided the leverage of substantial loan opportunities and mortgages, which in turn opened such business loans.

Aging farmers and gardeners proved eager to continue family enterprises by selling to their Dutch employees. Imagine when no son or daughter was interested in pursuing parents’ tough work, and they entered university instead! Soon it was time to consider establishing places of Christian higher education.

The church’s Synod helped begin another building fund for financing the construction of schools and more churches. This Christian Reformed Extension Fund has, over the last half century, helped member churches create sizable savings by funding their very buildings for worship and their children’s schools, including high schools, Redeemer, The King’s University, Christian Colleges and the Institute for Christian Studies. The communal and personal savings effort today has multi millions in cash and loans.

Turning outward
We came here to give our kids a future. Soon we were ready to help others. Canadian elders and pastors started asking searching questions at Synod – the CRC’s annual assembly – about the work of deacons within the church and in society. Deacons at that time were not delegated to address questions of justice or poverty relief.

This led a St. Catharines’ church to bring an overture to call for the formation of a deacon’s conference in every Classis. In the 60 years since then, the bridging conference in each nation has done consistent great work, especially through the Canadian arm, World Renew and through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Every one of our 200+ congregations in 12 Canadian classes helps channel the love of its members to the world’s poorest and disaster stricken.

But beyond the scope of compassionate action by congregations as early as the 1970s, small study groups met out of concern for group action in work, trade, manufacture and political suasion. The Christian Labour Association grew in “locals” and gave birth to a zest for Christian political justice.

There was also much ecumenical work. The Council of the CRC in Canada developed urban native friendship centres in Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton under this National Committee. It orchestrated refugee sponsorships in 80 percent of its churches, as well as regular contact with government – now known as the Office for Public Dialogue. These changes helped the CRC cohere as a national entity and helped strengthen our response to people in need.

Where are we now? What does the CRC look like in Canada today? We can’t stop at those expensive Christian schools. The good news is a whole lot better than we have dressed it in European language. Since the report of the Doctrine of Discovery Task Force to Synod in 2016, we are urged and obligated to fashion meetings with First Nations Peoples anew to find in scripture and native spirituality the common ground on which the Holy Spirit binds us to yield to Jesus Christ.
    

As the title implies, this short piece connects to Ty Hofman’s excellent book of the same name.

About the Author

Arie Van Eek

Arie Van Eek served as a CRC pastor from 1958 until his retirement in 1998. From 1978-1999 he was the Executive Secretary of the Council of the CRC in Canada, which brought the 12 classes together three times a year. That Council was dissolved in 1999.

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