It was only two pages at first. A single, double-sided sheet. Paul De Koekkoek, pastor of First Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Edmonton, wrote the articles and paid for the issues to be mimeographed and mailed to churches and interested individuals across Canada.
In April 1946, De Koekkoek proposed (in Dutch) that the CRC denomination establish and fund an Immigration Committee for Canada. His articles were convincing and the proposal passed. As a result, over the next 10 years, CRC “fieldmen” went to the Netherlands to promote emigration; they met the newcomers in Halifax and Quebec as their ships arrived, traveled west with them by train to central cities, and delivered them to sponsors and employers. The well-coordinated committee helped thousands of Dutch Reformed immigrants acclimatize to life in a new country.
This is my family’s history. Maybe it’s yours, too. And it can be traced back to the visionary articles of De Koekkoek in The Canadian Calvinist, which anticipated – and instigated – the flood of post-war Dutch Canadian immigration in the 50s.
One of those fieldmen was a man named John Vander Vliet. He was also secretary-treasurer on the Immigration Committee. In 1949, he started a second publication for the new immigrant community and called it Contact. “As we ourselves have been helped, we are now ready to help others,” he wrote in an article entitled Ons Eigen Orgaan – “our own organ” (or instrument). Note the double possessive. The boot-strappers were ready to reach out, but it had to be done in a certain way.
Both papers promoted the CRC church but neither of them were “church papers.” Their concern was two-fold: daily life in Christian community, and seeking the Kingdom of God. With overlapping writers and objectives, the two publications merged in 1951 to become The Calvinist Contact (CC), a name I still hear now and then.
Two kinds of king
Maybe it’s not surprising that the conversations of Reformed church people have, for so long, spilled out of fellowship halls and onto the pages of a publication like CC. At its best, the Reformed tradition has the wisdom of Solomon. It has room for nuance. It’s curious about the world and is deeply involved in bringing God’s shalom to every part. In its low moments, however, the Reformed tradition has the pride of Saul. Clinging to power and the “way it’s always been done.”
Eventually the fieldmen retired. The immigrant community integrated into Canadian life and started sponsoring immigrants from other countries. Did Ons Eigen Orgaan still have a role? By the 70s it was like an early version of Facebook – baby announcements and community news. Gradually switching from Dutch to English, CC became a platform to discuss every issue that arose in the new country: miraculous healing, Christian education, abortion, women in church leadership, Canadian elections and gay marriage. Plus the painful church splits that many of those divisive issues led to. Fractions and splinters over hermeneutics: the One Right Way to interpret Scripture.
CC’s archives are packed with evidence of both Solomon’s sense and Saul’s stubbornness. But it’s my prayer that our pages – and churches – carry less superiority and a little more New Testament grace today.
It’s 24 pages now. Full colour. And we have you – a vibrant community of engaged readers, by no means Dutch or even Reformed. You’re much more diverse than the original audience, but the same salt-of-the-earth Christians: the ones who step up and give back.
“Aren’t you the Editor of Calvinist Contact?” people sometimes ask me. Think of how different the world is now than it was in 1951, and you can’t help but marvel for a minute at the longevity of CC. It was renamed Christian Courier more than three decades ago but to some loyal readers it’s still the Calvinist Contact.
In those moments the name isn’t the point. Semantics, like hermeneutics, are rarely the point. I always say “yes.” Our writers are still seeking the Kingdom of God, with new understanding of that Kingdom’s diversity. Our readers are still serving Christ, alongside plenty of faithful Canadians. Just one of the many instruments in God’s great orchestra, trying to stay in tune with Christ, 78 years after De Koekkoek began.
Stats & sources
Well over 100,000 Dutch immigrants came to Canada in the decade after WWII. You can find a copy of the report listing all the families from the Netherlands assisted by the CRC’s Immigration Committee from 1946-1963 at calvin.edu/hh/family_history_resources.
Details about the history of CC were gleaned from my dog-eared copy of The Canadian Story of the Christian Reformed Church: Its First Century by Ty Hofman.
In 2016, according to Statistics Canada, 1.1 million Canadians identified their ethnic origin as Dutch.