The History of Christian Courier
Roughly three generations have inhabited CC’s pages, exhorting one another, seeking a faithful intersection of Christian testimony and cultural engagement. Each decade birthed new emphases – the struggles of immigrants acclimating to Canadian culture, sharp theological conflicts, the theory and praxis of Christian schools and other Christian organizations, Sunday observance and movie attendance, the place of women in the church and the current focus on social justice issues.
For 75 years Christian Courier has highlighted the gospel truth of that “kingdom on earth,” the already and not yet reign of Jesus Christ. Clinging to our Easter hope, Christian Courier readers and writers, witness-bearers all, can pray confidently with author Gary Schmidt (Acceptable Words: Prayers for the Writer), “Lord, let the words serve.” Read More
A Canadian paper for Dutch immigrants
The first issue of Canadian Calvinist is published 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.”
The first issue of the Ontario-based, Dutch-language Contact was published by the Christian Reformed Immigration Societies in Eastern Canada. It was intended for the post-World-War-II Christian Reformed immigrants from the Netherlands and was run by John Vander Vliet and John Vellinga.
Contact 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.
Dutch translations of English news
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.
A growing community
CC reports that from 1946 to 1957 the CRC grew from 500 families and 14 congregations to 9,000 families and 130 congregations, all due to immigration and a high fertility rate. “Those farmers didn’t spend all their time out in the fields,” comments Editor Harry der Nederlanden in a retrospective issue in 2005.
Dick Farenhorst takes over as editor. 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.
The first Christian Courier
An English insert called Christian Courier was introduced as a supplement to Calvinist Contact. The purpose of this insert was to attract younger readers and to recognize the fact that the English language was becoming the primary language in the immigrant home, school and church. This insert was dropped five years later, when English became the dominant language of Calvinist Contact.
Efforts to maintain unity
Farenhorst’s editorial skills at peacemaking are evident after the publication of Out of Concern for the Church, a book published by ICS that recommends, among other things, shutting down Calvin Seminary. He organizes a unity conference to give CRC leaders a chance to discuss the controversy.
Dutch is limited to four pages of the paper.
Loss and transition
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.
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, CC loses a significant number of subscribers to the older, U.S.-based church magazine (also a weekly publication at that time).
CC wins fight to remain on Canadian soil
CC is imperiled 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.
Witvoet at the helm
Bert Witvoet becomes editor. Well-known for wittiness and a love of puns, Witvoet writes an estimated 2,500 editorials during his tenure (1982-1999). He expands CC’s scope to include perspective on other denominations. A reader describes CC at this time as a mandatory window into the current Christian Reformed life and witness in Canada.
The long-running language question is finally settled with a fully English paper. “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!”
No longer an immigrant paper
The paper slowly graduates in name and vision from Calvinist Contact to Christian Courier. “Look upon the name change as a way of recognizing that our paper is no longer an immigrant paper and no longer focuses on being a Christian Reformed paper,” writes Witvoet on the occasion of the name change. “We are taking our position among other Christian periodicals as a Christian weekly with a Reformed perspective.”
A hardworking team
After a brief editorship by Marian VanTil, Harry der Nederlanden takes over the editorial pen. 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.
Perseverance amidst loss
Harry’s beloved voice is silenced by cancer. 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.
A trio of editors
The board appoints three co-editors: Angela Reitsma Bick, Brett Alan Dewing and Bert Witvoet. 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.
Responsible biblical journalism
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.
Christian Courier staff and writers win a number of awards from the Canadian Church Press including first place for General Excellence in a National Newspaper, a category that evaluates the overall quality of content, design and graphics. “Christian Courier is fresh, relevant and thought-provoking,” remark the judges, who also applaud the “open-heartedness of the writers, who strive to be non-judgemental and . . . consistently look for hope in bleak places.”
Dena Nicolai wins top award for excellence in socially conscious religious journalism (A.C. Forrest Memorial Award) for her article “Canadian Doctors and Nurses Fight for Refugees’ Right to Health Care.”
CC writers, editors, designers, staff, board members and supporters gather for workshops, key note addresses and good conversation over meals to celebrate 70 years of redemptive journalism ministry.
Growth and going digital
Christian Courier hires a Development Manager, Jennifer Neutel, dedicated to CC‘s sustainability through increased advertising and donation revenue. The staff expands to include Review Editor Brian Bork and a growing stable of columnists. In the Features section, Monica DeRegt is followed by Amy MacLachlan.
Under Reitsma Bick’s leadership, CC rises to the challenges of our fast-paced digital world with the addition of online publishing, sharp new graphics, more colour and shorter columns. Younger and more diverse writers from all across Canada populate the pages bringing fresh perspectives on a wide range of topics including social justice, gender identity, environmentalism, human rights, theology and popular culture.
Socially conscious religious journalism
Angela Reitsma Bick wins top award for excellence in socially conscious religious journalism (A.C. Forrest Memorial Award) for her article “The Stained-Glass Ceiling: 100 ordained women in CRC ministry today”
Jim Dekker takes over as Chair of the Reformed Faith Witness board and moves meetings online allowing new board members outside of Ontario to participate. Thanks to this change and Jim’s recruitment efforts, our board welcomed three new members, two in Nova Scotia and one in British Columbia.
Move to monthly
Christian Courier moves to a monthly publishing pattern (12 issues per year rather than 20). Each issue is in full colour and available for free online. These changes correspond with the launch of a beautiful new website designed to display on all devices and equipped with thoughtful navigation and accessible transaction tools.
Digitization process underway for CC archives
Three university libraries host a set of Christian Courier archives – 3317 issues to date! – King’s, Redeemer and Calvin. These are accessible to the public in hard-copy format.
We are delighted to announce that Redeemer recently began a project to digitize the entire collection, a pain-staking process that involves scanning each issue page by page. They are working with archivists at King’s and Calvin to replace missing or damaged issues. Eventually, this collection of digital back issues will be freely accessible online, an incredibly valuable resource for historians and many others!
As we look ahead, Christian Courier continues to be a home for writers and readers who are committed to challenging and transforming dominant Canadian culture. In these more post-Christian times, we seek to nurture a faithful, creative subculture. Not as a ghetto, but as a band of storymakers seeking to sustain life-giving Christian institutions in a decidedly pluralistic culture for the sake of the common good.