First Christian Reformed Church of Lynden holds the distinction for the being the first Christian Reformed Church established west of the Rocky Mountains. By reason of a long history we can rightfully call ourselves First Church.
A number of Dutch families came to Lynden as early as 1897 which was then a little lumbering community that had almost turned into a ghost town due to the economic collapse and a severe winter in 1893. What brought the Dutch here? Cheap land was the primary reason. The climate also attracted those early immigrants. Lynden was not subject to long harsh winters that pioneers endured on the prairies. Cheap land and a climate more like Holland made Lynden seem like a home away from home.
These Dutch were sturdy folks. If anyone could make a go of it in a new environment, these people could. They were self-reliant and self-sufficient. Not depending on others, they brought their own church with them. Before long they established their own schools.
First Church owes her existence to Rev. Henry Beets, the pastor at Sioux Center, Iowa. When he came to Lynden in May of 1899, he found a number of Dutch families here: Oordt, Zylstra, Bierlink, Stremler, Vander Griend, Veleke, Hendricks, Dykstra, Helder, Krol, Potgieter, Block, Tapp, Faber and Troost. Rev. Beets circulated a petition among them resulting in Classis Iowa calling Abel J. Brink to be the first home missionary to the Pacific Northwest.
Rev. Able Brink came to Lynden in September of 1899 on a Saturday afternoon. The next morning he occupied the pulpit much to the surprise of Fred Bierlink, who equipped his “preekboek” expected to conduct the usual reading service.
The body of believers met at the Grand Army of Republic Hall, a lodge hall located just outside of Lynden. Rev. Brink served this congregation for two years before going on to South Dakota. Under his leadership First Church was organized July 11, 1900, with fourteen families and one single man, nine of whom had come from Oak Harbor. Two elders and two deacons where chosen. The congregation unanimously chose Rev. Brink from a slate of four nominees. Then came the matter of writing the letter of call.
“Now who can write a call letter?” asked the newly elected preacher.
Silence prevailed among the four Consistory members.
"All right, I can,” responded Dominie Brink.
And so the minister wrote his own letter of call. He was to receive $500 a year including free housing and fuel. (Today we would call the fuel firewood.) Rev. Brink battled Lynden mud as he walked to farms and homes to make his visits. Later he rode horseback through dense woods. Brink would often lie flat to avoid being scraped off his mount by low hanging tree limbs. In the dark he would become hopelessly lost, trusting his horse to return him home. Rev. Brink saw his congregation grow to thirty-five families as new immigrants settled in Lynden.
First Church purchased three lots for $175 on Front Street, a thoroughfare of mud and stumps, in block five in August of 1902. By April of 1903 a structure ten times too large for the congregation was completed having seating for 600 on the main floor. Later growth made necessary the addition of a balcony. By 1907 the entire block was purchased and a parsonage and stables were erected. Membership had increased to seventy-three families.
To be sure Dutch was the language of First Church. It became an issue in 1919 when a sizable portion of the congregation wanted English services. Second Christian Reformed Church was born in 1920 with the blessing of the mother church. But the language issue would not die. Requests surfaced for one service in each language each Sunday. Catechism was taught in English. Bilingual services became the practice in the thirties with one service conducted in the “American” language. When the bulletin started in October of 1935 during Rev. Hollebeek’s pastorate, it was printed with pertinent information in both English and Dutch. Throughout the thirties and forties many adjustments were made to strike the right balance of English and Dutch to the satisfaction of almost no one. Council decided to record its minutes in English in January of 1942. Dutch services continued into the early fifties when Rev. J.C. Berburgge was pastor. Gradually the need of Dutch
services faded away.
The manner in which the Lord’s Supper was served has changed over the years. In those early days table and chairs were set up and communicants came forward in shifts to receive the elements. The wine was taken from the common cup. The thank offering was not part of the observance, but communicants would slip some money under the table cloth before returning to their pew.
As the church grew this manner of “coming to the table” became too cumbersome. Elders served the bread and wine from the aisles. Six silver cups were used, each being wiped by an elder armed with a towel before passing to the next row of parishioners. Rev. Hollebeek called for the use of individual cups. He noted a problem when a bewhiskered male plagued with the common cold handed the silver cup to a fellow member. A change from wine to grape juice occurred in the seventies to avoid offense for one combating alcoholism.
From the beginning First Church has had an active Young Peoples group. One of their first efforts was to raise money to start a church library. The Banner of December 5, 1907 notes they raised nearly $160 to purchase about 300 volumes. For much of its history it met on Sunday evenings. During World War II the Young Peoples kept close contact with men in the military. Meetings would be packed when Rev. Hollebeek announced in the morning service that a letter would be read from a certain servicemen. The old consistory room often proved too small, so the meeting would be moved to the sanctuary. Meetings were quite formal being conducted by the pastor. Various members were assigned parts in the evening program. Gradually the formality gave way to more casual meetings. Lay leadership took over. The members themselves assumed responsibility for the program. Midweek meetings allowed for greater variety of social activity.
Our church choir came into being in the mid-fifties. The ladies group Daughters of Zion prompted its organization and gave our senior choir its name – Zionaires. Choir began as a singing school with regular rehearsals and two yearly programs in the spring and fall. In time Consistory allowed the Zionaires to sing for special services in the church year. So the choir sang for Thanksgiving and Christmas from the balcony where it could be heard but not seen. Up to this point Zionaires never sang for a Sunday worship service. Easter was an occasion when Consistory relented on its ruling. By the mid-sixties choir was allowed to sing from the front of the sanctuary and the frequency of performances increased.
Over the years First Church gave greater attention to the ministry of its youth. Catechism was always a requisite. For a time Sunday School was held in the summer. Later the two programs were combined. Cadets for boys and Calvinettes (now GEMS) for girls came about in the sixties. Children’s Church for preschoolers and grade schoolers started in 1974. Pastor Jacob Dykstra introduced the children’s message in the evening service.
The concept of ministry developed as well. For years beginning in 1951 First Church sponsored the Wiser Lake Chapel where for many years M.D. Vander Griend and Peter Meyer supervised Sunday School for all ages. In 1974 the Chapel effort was turned over to the newly-formed Laymen’s League.
First Church created the position of Ministry Coordinator so that ministry could be more effectively handled. Much of the work was administrative in nature. Its effect was to free our full-time pastor to devote more of his energies to pastoral work. Pastors Phil Kok and Lou Kok served as co-laborers. Now we have a part-time associated pastor that Pastor Barry Blankers serves.
In the early eighties First Church had a youth leader in the person of Kevin Byker. When he left a youth elder was added to the church council. Now we have a full-time youth director.
As First Church has become more diversified, the demands for ministry increase. In its early years the church consisted primarily of farmers. Now people from many walks of life comprise the church. Thus the Council has established a Long Range Planning Committee to study options that will enhance its ministry and meet the needs of its members.
First Church celebrated its centennial in the year of 2000. The church has changed with times. Dutch has given way to English. Individual cups have replaced the common cup in communion. There is more variation in the order of worship. We use the New International Version instead of the American Standard Version of the Bible. All of these changes speak of transition. Yet in the face of these changes the Word of God continues to have central focus for the World reveals Jesus, God’s Son and King of the church. We acknowledge His headship of First Christian Reformed Church of Lynden.