First Reformed Church
Grand Haven, Michigan
1851 - 1926
Early History - 75 Years
The date of the organization of this church is not definitely known. In the minutes of the Spring session of the Classis of Holland, R. C. A., in the year 1851, appears a report by Rev. A. C. Van Raalte, D.D., informing Classis that the Reformed Church of Grand haven had been reorganized; which would seem to imply that an earlier organization had come to naught. And since practically al the records of this church up to the year 1889 were consumed in the big fire of that year, the above notice in the minutes of the Classis of Holland is about the most authentic information we have of the beginning of this church.
It seems that for some time before the church was organized meetings for worship were held in the home of a certain Johannes Van Druinen. According to the witness of one who knew him well he was a good leader in song and an acceptable reader of sermons. He seems to have been leading these meetings for some time before the church as such began to be.
From the information at hand it appears that the first Consistory was constituted of the Elders Jacobus Mieras, Abraham Slachthuis, Evert Takken and a Mr. Tellman, whose given name could not be recalled, and the Deasons Johannes Van Druinen, Gerrit Jan Klaver, Hendrik Brouwer and Klaas Tromp.
Of the Elders and Deacons who are living today the oldest in point of service are Folkert Van Zanten, who after serving as deacon for some time, was elected Elder November 28, 1888; Albert Vinkemulder, who was elected Deacon on the same date and afterward for many years served as Elder; Frederick Albers, who was elected Elder November 28, 1889; and Martin Stap, who was elected Deacon on the same date and afterwards also served long as Elder, as he is doing even at this time. Elsewhere on this program can be found the names of those who are at present serving on the Consistory.
The first house of worship was erected on the site where now stands the Vyn Brothers warehouse, or on the lot immediately adjoining on the north; those who claim to know are not agreed. It was built largely of waste lumber and therefore has been called the slab church. In a few years the present site was acquired and a frame building erected. That was quite soon enlarged to about double its capacity. In about a decade the enlarged building was outgrown and sold and the church with the many towers erected in its place. Then in 1889 came the big fire which reduced to ashes a large part of the city, including the church. This was during the pastorate of Rev. Andrew Wormser.
Very courageously the people faced the calamity and out of the ashes better buildings arose. But in 1907, fire, so useful when under control and direction, again became the demon of destruction and Rev. T. W. Muilenberg and his people had to build the waste place. Yet once more was this people to be tried as by fire, and shortly after midnight following Easter Sunday of 1913, during an electric storm, tongues of flame eagerly lapped up and lifted to the clouds the building which, with its spire, had all but kissed them. Nothing daunted Rev. Harmeling, and his people built on the ruins of the old the present sightly and commodious house of praise.
But great as these trials were the church has successfully endured other and greater tests. Four times she experienced the pains of parturition. The second time this came about most naturally as the result of normal growth. March 23, 1870, the Reformed Church of Spring Lake came into being, composed largely of members dismissed for that purpose by the Reformed Church of Grand Haven. From the beginning the happiest of relations have existed between parent and child.
The schism of the late fifties that divided the religious forces of the Hollanders in America into two camps wrought division here also. That was a painful and wasting experience. But youth is resilient and soon rapids growth marked greater prosperity. Then in 1871 purely local difficulties brought about a separation that possibly might have been avoided and if it could, it should have been. But even though the First Reformed Church unwillingly begot this child, she heartily rejoices in the prosperity of the Second Reformed Church.
But the great testing came in the eighties. The spirit of separatism again got in it work, making capital out of the anti-free mason agitation. The whole consistory, excepting only Elder Arie Mull, and a large part of the membership, went out, taking the Pastor with them. Thus was born what is now the Second Christian Reformed Church. It left the mother weak but healthy, and under the ministry of Rev. Henry E. Dosker and succeeding pastors, she rapidly regained her strength and leading numerical position.
Today the First Reformed Church of Grand Haven rejoices in the very fraternal relations of appreciation and co-operation in which she finds herself with all her children and all evangelical groups in the community.
Of the various organizations which form the working forces of this church the Sunday School is the oldest by nearly thirty years. It was first organized in 1856 or 1857. It is reported that the first superintendent was Peter Van Den Berg and his teaching staff consisted of Messrs. C. Lepeltak, H. Rysdorp, Evarts and Koning and Miss Verhoeks. After a few years it went to sleep and was resuscitated in 1868 or 1869. For forty years it functioned with no notable changes except in numbers. But as the church was Americanized the Sunday School became more highly organized. The Grand Adult Bible Class for men came into being in 1906. The Star Adult Bible Class for women was started in 1907. The Anchor Bible Class for young women received identity in 1918. The Home Department and Cradle Roll were determined upon and superintendents appointed in 1920. And in 1921 the Infant Class with its one teacher and one assistant was transformed in the Primary Department with a staff of about a dozen officers and teachers.
The Women's Mission Society was begun in 1885.
The Y. P. S. C. E. was organized 14 November 1889.
The Senior Ladies' Aid Society began to function early in 1890 and the Junior Ladies' Aid Society a few months later.
The Young Ladies' Mission Circle was called into being in 1903.
Room was found for a Mission Aid Society in 1912.
The task of supporting a missionary in the foreign field was undertaken by the Men's Missionary Society, which was organized for that purpose in 1924. This was changed in 1925 to "Our Missionaries' Society", when responsibility was assumed by people of both sexes and all ages for the support of Rev. and Mrs. G. E. De Jong, who are to sail for Arabia on the second day of next September.
It can truly be said that each of the thirteen pastors who have ministered to the needs of this church has prized, preached and practised the truth of the Gospel as expressed in the Calvinistic symbols. And each of them has also found the people responsive.
According to the statistics lately compiled for the annual report to Classis this church is now composed of 275 families, 512 communicant and 500 baptized members. 160 were enrolled as under catechetical instruction and all the departments of the Sunday School together reported an enrollment of 704. $14, 506.00 were contributed, nearly half for benevolences.
We can truly say, "hitherto hath the Lord helped us." For now, as during the past seventy-five years, the Faith once delivered to the saints is the rule of conduct.
Our Pastors For 75 Years
Rev. Seine Bolks, Our First Pastor - 1853 - 1855
Born: 30 April 1814, Died: 16 June 1894
He was marked by a dignified personality, by zealous evangelical preaching,
and by an intimate acquaintance with his flock.
Rev. Peter J. Oggel, Our Second Pastor - 1856 - 1859
He was very scholarly, had a master's command of language
and was a pulpit orator of marked ability, tho of the undemonstrative
order. His nervous temperament was fully under control of a pious soul.
Rev. Christian Vander Veen, Our Third Pastor - 1861
Born: 15 November 1838, Died: 17 October 1896
A man of noble intellect. He was austere except towards intimates.
His sermons were strongly intellectual, but none the less spiritual, so
that he was not always appreciated by all.
A most thorough Christian.
Rev. H. G. Klyn, Our Fourth Pastor - 1868 - 1869
Born: 19 November 1793, Died: 1 December 1883
He was sincerely pious but rather easily swayed. He was
identified with the secession of 1857, but returned within six months.
Rev. J. B. De Beer, Our Fifth pastor - 1870 - 1872
He was friendly but of a mercurial temper. A ready speaker and an emotional preacher
who stirred mind and heart, but not always the depths thereof. He was very
decided in his persuasions and this was one factor that aggravated the differences
which resulted in the organizing of the Second Reformed Church.
Rev. Engelbert Christian Oggel - Our Sixth Pastor -
1872 - 1877
Born: 28 September 1841, Died: 6 November 1910
He was a genial personality, a superior intelligence and an oratorical ability
of the demonstrative type, which found expression in masterly diction
whether in Holland or in English. He was particularly skilled in interpretation
by means of intonation, gesture, and facial expression.
Rev. Roelof Duiker, Our Seventh Pastor - 1878 - 1881
Born: 1825, Died: 9 August 1917
An old style preacher of the pure gospel, largely self-educated. He was very friendly and
diplomatic and had a way of keeping hold of the young. In the secession movement
of 1881 he was carried along by a large part of his Consistory and congregation into
being organized into what is now the Second Christian Reformed Church.
A few years later he returned to the Reformed fold.
Rev. Henry E. Dosker, D. D. - Our Eighth Pastor -
1822 - 1886
Born: 5 February 1855, Still alive in 1926
As a preacher he is artistic, scholarly and zealously true to the old Gospel. His was the task of
rehabilitating the church after the devastating turmoil of 1881, and well did he acquit himself.
He has been Professor of Historical Theology in our Seminary at Holland for nine years and
since 1903 in the Presbyterian Seminary at Louisville, KY.
Rev. Andrew Wormser, Our Ninth Pastor, 1887 - 1890
Born: 1846, Died: 1914
He was an able preacher and good writer, showing learning.
He was of an aristocratic mien. Under his leadership the church
and parsonage were rebuilt after the great fire of 1889.
Rev. Peter De Bruyn, Our Tenth pastor, 1892 - 1897
Born: 24 October 1850, Died: 18 May 1897
He was the Christian gentleman, an earnest preacher and a faithful pastor.
Under his ministry the church took front rank as to numbers among
the Reformed churches in Michigan.
Rev. Teunis W. Muilenberg, Our Eleventh Pastor, May
1898 - October, 1908
Born: 15 June 1864
He now serves the Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois.
"We can say unhesitatingly that he has proclaimed to us the full counsel of God, and was faithful not only as
teacher but also as pastor, and in all things has shown himself to be a man worthy of our highest respect."
(Minutes of Consistory, 19 October 1908.) During this pastorate the church had the second baptism of fire.
Rev. Henry Harmeling, Our Twelfth Pastor - June,
1909 - May, 1918
Born: 8 November 1864
He now serves the First Reformed Church of Roseland, Chicago. He has a dignified,
genial personality and is of a peaceful disposition, a very careful man. His sermons
are evangelical, hortatory and practical. During his pastorate the church
was again tried by fire and the present house of worship erected.
Rev. Henry Schipper, Our Thirteenth Pastor -
Installed 3 October 1918
Rev. Schipper was serving the church yet in 1926.
Rev. Theodore Frederick Zwemer
Our Missionary to India
Born: 10 October 1894, Died: 6 February 1925
He went to India in the Fall of 1923. In 1924 his support was assumed by the Men's Missionary Society of this church.
"A man of strong scholarship, sterling Christian character and an earnest purpose."
(Minutes of General Synod, 1925, pg. 1020)
Created: 28 September 2012