Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church

In 1847 the Rev. A.C. Van Raalte led a group of about 900 people from the Netherlands to settle in western Michigan, where he found large open tracts of land upon which to organize a colony separated from other Americans. The Great Lakes area also attracted Van Raalte because its waterways linked this part of the country with the Atlantic Ocean.

In the Netherlands there were men who opposed Van Raalte’s theological emphasis; when they emigrated, they did not follow Van Raalte’s ecclesiastical leadership. These dissenting immigrants were followers of Hendrick De Cock, a minister who traveled around the northern part of the Netherlands, preaching to and encouraging persecuted Christians.

The Christian Reformed Church can trace its roots to those who separated themselves from the Reformed State Church. Basing their beliefs on the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism, the founders of the Christian Reformed Church preferred to remain independent of other churches in America. Thus they refused to follow Van Raalte’s leadership after he joined the old Reformed Dutch Church in America. These immigrated separatists were led by Douwe Vander Werp and Koene Vanden Bosch, two ministers who immigrated to western Michigan.

Vander Werp would later be known as the most influential educator in the new denomination. Upon his death he was replaced by G.E. Boer, who was instrumental in founding the Theological School, later known as Calvin College and Seminary. Vanden Bosch became the traveling pastor of the four congregations that left Van Raalte’s group. They has taken this action because they believed that the Reformed Church in America was lax in following the creeds and in carrying out church discipline, and because they disapproved of using hymns in church services and admitting lodge members into full fellowship.

The new group called itself the True Dutch Reformed Church. It was formed after Vanden Bosch’s publicized objections to the Reformed Church at a local classis meeting were largely ignored. Thereupon Vanden Bosch left the Reformed Church in 1857. Douwe Vander Werp joined the struggling denomination in 1864.

The founders of the True Dutch Reformed Church were concerned with doctrinal purity, with regular family devotions, "Sabbath" observance, and the reading of devotional literature. These expressions of religious piety had their origins in Germany and in the Netherlands, but they were also influenced by the English Puritans who had lived in Holland during their exile in the 1600’s.The founders also encouraged home and foreign missions but concentrated on the Dutch-American immigrants scattered across North America.

Because of the strong influence of the Netherlands on the newly formed denomination (before 1900,95 of 114 immigrant pastors came from areas influenced by De Cock ). The group looked to the mother country for guidance and leadership. As a result the Dutch culture and customs were prolonged. Some immigrants believed that the Dutch way of life should be maintained so that the special characteristics of this nationality would not be lost in the American melting pot.  However, others said that God did not place them in this country to be a small Netherlands on the North American continent. Rather, the immigrants were to view America as their second homeland and to act with fitting patriotism, gradually but surely adopting the language and customs of their new land.

Many Reformed, Dutch immigrants in western Michigan came to Grand Rapids for work. Among these were five families and ten young men and women who were given the use of the First Reformed Church building for worship services at such times when that congregation would not need it. Later, these new arrivals formed their own congregation, known as the Second Reformed Church. They used the new brick building on Bostwick which had been functioning as a warehouse. The Grand Rapids Junior College is now located on this site.

The Rev. G.H. Klijn was the first pastor of the new church. In 1857, Klijn, increasingly disturbed by the teaching of the Reformed Church, seceded, literally taking half his congregation with him as he walked out of the building one Sunday. A year before, Gijsbert Haan, a former elder of the Secession Church in the Netherlands, had stopped attending the Second Reformed Church along with several others and their followers. He became the leader of those dissatisfied with the Reformed denomination. The specific reasons for their withdrawal from the Second church was action taken by the Classis of Holland sustaining the election of an elder in their church whom they considered unsound in his faith, and encouraging the circulation of a pamphlet which they believed to be Arminian.

The followers of Klijn and Haan banded together to form the Holland Reformed Church. Known later as the Spring Street True Dutch Reformed Church and later still, as the Commerce Street Christian Reformed Church. Until they moved to the Spring Street building, the new church used Collins Hall on lower Monroe and Faneuil Hall on the corner of Monroe and Market, and later constructed a wooden building on Williams Street, which was to house the new church for just over ten years.  After only eight months of leading his new congregation Klijn returned to the Reformed denomination. While awaiting a permanent pastor, the fledgling church was ministered to by the Rev. Koene Vanden Bosch.

In 1880 the Holland Christian Reformed Church, as the denomination now called itself,(4) numbered 12,000 members who were scattered throughout the North American continent. By 1900 there were 54,000, mostly immigrants, many of whom carried Abraham Kuyper’s views with them. Kuyper had organized the churches that had left the State Church in the Netherlands, and these were now part of the Doleantie, a term whose root in Dutch means "to protest." This orthodox Reformed group held to a world-and-life view which sought to claim the Lordship of Jesus Christ in education, in politics, in all of life. The most important result of this movement in North America was the formation of the Christian schools.


Many immigrants, most of whom had come from the northern province of Groningen, settled along the eastern boundary of Grand Rapids. The majority of these had joined a group that was meeting on Sunday in a frame building on East Street and was led by the Young Men’s Society of the Spring Street Church (later known as the First Christian Reformed Church on Bates Street), who regarded this as a mission venture.

The growing membership petitioned the Spring Street consistory and classis for permission to organize into a separate congregation. On Monday, September 15, 1879, East Street True Holland Reformed Church was organized with a membership of about 80 families. Professor G. E. Boer of the Theological School preached on Matthew 633: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God."

Incidentally, East Street was the third of Spring Street’s six daughter churches: Kelloggsville and Jenison (1875); East Street (1879); Alpine Avenue (1881); and La Grave and Franklin 1887). Not until 1890 was East Street Church called Christian Reformed, when the denomination changed its name from Holland Christian Reformed to Christian Reformed.

The CRC has gone through several name changes in its history. Around the time of the founding of Eastern Ave. CRC, the name of denomination was changed from Ware Hollandsche Gereformeerde Kerken (True Dutch Reformed Churches) to Hollandsche Christelijk Gereformeerde Kerken (Holland Christian Reformed Churches). Thus the Spring St. and East St. Churc hes were known as True Dutch Ref., and the East St. Church later was known as Holland Chr. Ref. The confusion created by these denomination name changes is reflected on the flyleaf of the first minute book of the East St. council, where it reads Notulen Boek/Van de W. H. Gerevormeerde [sic]/Gemeente aan de Eastr.[a Dutch contraction of East Street]/Grand Rapids,Mich./Gesticht den ‘5 September/1879. L:ater, the "W.H." was written over in darker ink to read "H. Chr."

After two years and nine unsuccessful calls East Street acquired its first pastor, Candidate John Post. Up to this time elders from the Spring Street Church had presided over council and consistory meetings and had conducted services as moralizers.

The first order of business of the new council was the building of the parsonage. The Young Men’s Society, a vigorous organization, generously donated #36 towards it. The house, built at a cost of $747 plus $77 for a woodshed, was painted by Klaas Fongers, also a deacon at the church, for 7 cents per yard for the exterior; 11 cents per foot for the shutters, and 16 cents per yard for the inside.


Although the new congregation included craftsmen and artisans like Fongers, many other church members were engaged in farming. The soil in the area was good and the land gently rolling. The main crops were wheat, grains, and fruit. In addition to the frog swamp across the street, there were several others in the city. And within the township of Grand Rapids there were twelve lakes, the largest being Reeds Lake, which attracted many Sunday visitors, giving the East Street consistory some discipline cases.

The city in which the Hollanders had settled was a busy trade center. The 1870 History and Directory of Kent County, Michigan lists Grand Rapids as having 15 hotel, 20 dry good stores, 50 grocery stores, 6 photographers, 16 boot and shoe stores.3 book binderies, 40 doctors, 14 dentists, 6 banks, 8 machine shops, 5 flouring mills, 4 breweries, 6 furniture manufactures, one of the largest steam sawmills in the state--Wonderly and Company--cutting 15 million board feet of lumber per season and using the Grand River to float the logs to the mill, and 6 different railroad tracks in and out of the city. The population was recorded at 32,000 in 1879.



Of this population of 32,000 in 1879 the bulk of the foreign-born were Hollanders, a group which had begun to reach the Grand Rapids area in the 1840’s and whose numbers in the 1880’s were increasing by the hundreds yearly, according to the historian Albert Baxter. (1) Out of this influx many newly arrived Dutch families gravitated to the eastern outskirts of town near East Street, perhaps because of the convenient transportation offered by the Grand Rapids and Reeds Lake Railway, whose lines as early as 1876 ran down East Street to a terminal at the intersection of East and Sherman Streets and thence out of the city.  (10 Baxter, Albert, History of the City of Grand Rapids,Michigan (New York;Munsell, 1891), p.192

Life in the East Street Neighborhood

The number of business that soon developed in the area to serve the growing population caused a transformation in the character of the East Street area from that of a predominantly rural scene to that of the urbanized turn-of-the-century business district of thriving shops and family-operated businesses recalled by senior members of today’s congregation. That the Hollanders contributed to this development is obvious from the Dutch names interspersed among the assorted establishments. Across the street from the church where Kregel’s Bookstore now stands was Knol’s Grocery and, in the same block, Rosema Shoes (the Rosema to whom are attrib uted the painting of the church which h hang in the deacons’ room), Van’s Barber Shop, and Ryskamps Wallpaper and Paint. South of the church in the 600 block of Eastern Avenue was Kok’s Bakery, which later became the Bierling Bakery owned by Tom Bierling; and clustered around the corner of Sherman and Eastern Avenue were Vander Ploeg’s Grocery; Trompen’s Dry Goods (on the present site of an antique store); and Kruyisinga Fuel and Feed Store. Farther south on the corner of Dunham and Eastern

Avenue was the dormitory for seminarians attending the Christian Reformed Theological School located on the corner of Madison and Franklin, where Grand Rapids Christian High School was later built. Along Eastern Avenue north of the church were located Hamstra’s Hardware and Tin Shop, on the corner of Logan and Eastern Avenue; Noordewier Shoes; Hoeksema Shoes; and Eerdman and Sevens (a son of the church’s second pastor Bookstore and Publishing House, in a building later to be occupied by Helmus Shoes

Wealthy Street from Eastern Avenue to James was known as Wealthy Heights and included such business as Hoedeman‘s Bicycle Shop, Denison and Dykema Plumbing and Hardware, Klaassen Dry Goods, Lambert‘s Furniture and Upholstery, Van Winkle‘s Ice Cream Parlor and Candy Store, and a hat shop on the corner of Eastern and Wealthy operated by a Mrs. Goss. From Eastern Avenue east along Wealthy were the elmus Brothers‘ Moving and Storage, the Ebling Blacksmith Shop, De Vries Grocery, Barth Drugs, Huizingh Hardware, Freyling and Mednel‘s Greenhouse, Eldersveld Grocery, Huizingh Brothers‘ Furbniture, Torbnga Brothers‘ Meat Market, and Van Dam‘s Grocery. Business flourished in the area until the urban blight of the 1960‘s began to take its toll, and even today many members of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church can recall in the prosperous Wealthy Street business district of later years such names as Niemeyer’s Men’s Wear, Verhey Carpet, and Baker Book House.


1901 Views of Parsonage

Histories and firsthand accounts of the area from about 1900 to within the past twenty or twenty-five years give the impression of prosperous business activity, placidity, serenity. Most members lived in the vicinity of the church in predominantly Dutch neighborhoods--wood-sided homes well kept, lawns neat and green, relationships among neighbors friendly yet independent. Relationships with the scattered black families, already present in Grand Rapids in 1890 and today figuring prominently in the immediate church neighborhood, appear to have been quite amicable; black children from "down the hill" on Bemis and Logan Streets played with Dutch off springs; and, according to senior members of the congregation, black and white families aided each other in times of need--sickness, death, economic depression. The East Street area appears to have been a good spot in which to take root.

Already in the early years of the twentieth century, East Street church was definitely a "city church" with the occupations and life-styles of its members geared to the city. Husbands and fathers made their ways, some in business; some few in professions such as medicine (obstetric expenses, $5.00!); others in such city-oriented trades as painting and carpentry or in factories, where pay was generally low and did not include such benefits as pensions and Social Security. As few families had cars, travel to and from work was by foot, bicycle, or streetcar. Mothers spent their time in the home performing traditional wifely functions: preparing the wholesome but plain Dutch food (often "kettle food"--stews, cabbage or kale and potatoes cooked together--a diet augmented with little fruit but with milk by the peaceful at .5 cents a quart); sewing and repairing the family wardrobe of gathered skirts and blouses for daughters, bloomers and knickers for sons; undertaking without appliances the monumental semiannual house-cleanings necessitated by coal-burning stoves and large families; coping with illness without benefit of antibiotics--tuberculosis was prevalent; epidemics of flu, sometimes lethal, periodically raged through the community; and in 1905 a severe outbreak of smallpox led the Board of Health to forbid public workshop services. Whatever time remained from these pressing duties found mothers handcrafting articles for Christian school bazaars and other fund-raising activities and enjoying coffee kletsen with friends. Even though some women became teachers and nurses--but did not commonly enter the other professions--the role of the woman in the family and in the church was well defined and largely unquestioned.

In an era of fewer societal demands, families lived, worked, and enjoyed life together. Childhood memories of senior members include family walks, visits to relatives, ice-skating on Reeds Lake, picnics at Ramona Park (discouraged on Sunday afternoons, of course!)), and Sunday-night hymn-sings. The church served then as now as a focal point for courtship--in fact, at one point policemen were hired to patrol in front of the church before the Sunday evening service to discourage gatherings of young men, an age group who in somewhat later years took to observing from their cars the Sunday evening "promenade" from Franklin to Wealthy Street of eligible young ladies. Children attended school, at least through the sixth or eighth grade; and, although many had to contribute to family support, there remained time for the enjoyment of youth, as affirmed in this cameo of life in the early 1900’s in the East Street neighborhood offered by a senior member:

The "woodyard" (across the street from our house) on the northeast corner of Logan and Eastern belonged to the Lindemulder Family, who operated a store on Logan Street just east of the church property.  We considered it a large store, as one side was for grocery and the other for dry goods.  They also sold chopped wood; hence the lovely woodyard across the street. It made a magnificent place to play "hide and seek."  The aisles between the stacked wood piles were lovely places to hide in the early evening. If some wood was dislocated, we just hoped for the best and I don’t remember that we children were ever chased away by the owners. Since we were good customers at their store, some of our activities were over looked or at least tolerated!  On the south side of Logan Street behind Hamstra’s corner hardware store there was a deep descent from the street making a wonderful hill in the winter time for sledding.  I have no recollection of neighbors next to the hill sending us away. They too were friends and endured our activities as true neighbors do even now.  We had no money for much recreation. However, one could get endless pleasure out of  "hopping bobs." Before autos and trucks the stores all owned delivery sleighs drawn by one or two horses with the driver in an open seat at the front of the sleigh. The runners of the sleigh made a fine place to perch on, and the sides of sleigh were strong to hang onto. The drivers did not usually appreciate children riding on the runners, so the idea was to ride as far back as possible out of reach of the drivers whip which tried to discourage us from our lovely rides. I can still taste the marvelous cold clean winter air as we rode along the streets of Grand Rapids, sometimes for miles, and then catching another "bob" for the return to our neighborhood. I was never good at skating, but "bob hopping" expeditions were one of my greatest pleasures. In those days we never heard of the tragic things that happen on our streets these days. There was always a feeling of love and security and safety wherever we went.  Another nice place to play "hide and seek," "run, sheep, run," and like games was a large corn field just across the street from the church on Eastern Avenue.   It stretched from the street on. . . way back to near Henry Avenue. Dashing about in this corn field was a great pleasure which came to an end when houses took the place of the corn field.
    The services in the church on Sundays were something to remember years afterward. When the galleries were built, sitting on the front seat overlooking the vast audience made one feel that "going to church" was something to look forward to. For years the services were in Dutch, and the Dutch Psalms sung with powerful organ accompaniment made one feel that worshiping the Lord was really joyful experience. (2)


The strong ethnic orientation of the Christian Reformed denomination has perhaps been, as some have observed, somewhat of a deterrent in establishing strong relationships with the non-Christian Reformed community. The history of the congregation at Eastern Avenue in its relationship with its community parallels that of the denomination as a whole--a period of internal growth and establishment of identity during which, beyond certain evangelistic efforts, attitudes toward the outside community were rather ambivalent, followed by a period of greater involvement during which the Kuyperian mandate to reclaim all areas of life for Christ began to be seriously applied to the non-Christian Reformed community.

The devout Hollanders who deplored the moral and doctrinal laxity in the Netherlands brought with them to Grand Rapids some stern convictions of moral uprightness; and, early on, the East Street church presumed for itself the role of guardian of right living, particularly with regard to its own but also with efforts directed at the larger community. As early as 1902-1904 a neighborhood circumstance which generated some concern was the patronage on Sunday evenings by church youth of an organization called the Benefit Club, a social center suspected of offering opportunities for gambling. Consistory action on this matter is rather ambiguous; young people were to be discouraged from attending the club; the name of those attending the associated "play house" on East Street were to be given to the city district attorney for investigation.

Another matter of concern during these early years--this time directed at the larger non-Christian Reformed community--was the activity of liquor dealers. As early as 1897, consistory minutes register a decision to fight the erection of a saloon near the church; and again in 1908 an anti-saloon stand was reinforced by the decision to support the Anti-Saloon League in its attempt to rid Kent County of all saloons, a position restated in the 1940 minutes. Later, in another vein of church protest against undesirable influences in the community, the consistory concurred in the 1950’s and 1960’s with a group knownas the Committee of Seven in protesting the circulation of lewd literature in the city. Even more recently, another attempt to exert a moral influence on the community by encouragement in 1977 of the congregation to send letters to protest to theaters showing the film Oh God. As attested by the discipline cases enumerated in consistory minutes, instances of such concern for right living could be multiplied; Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church has been from the beginning a standard-bearer of purity and upright living--both among its own and in the larger community.

The Dummy Line Riot

Perhaps the most colorful and dramatic episode in the saga of the congregation’s relationship with its community is the story of the Dummy Line Riot of 1888, a confrontation vivid enough to spark the following story by Tom La Belle in Grand Rapids Press of March 12, 1967.

The Day Parishioners Turned Against the Railroad.  The iron Horse may have opened the West and "bound the nation together with ribbons of steel" and helped the North win the Civil War and accomplished a number of other important things, but for three ferocious nights it was flat failure on Eastern Avenue S.E.  Of course it wasn’t a real Iron Horse in the historical sense. It was more of a steam street car. But it had a sure-enough steam engine and it ran on tracks towing a string of cars, right past Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church--once.  It didn’t run on Eastern Avenue a second time because in the course of that interesting week in May, 1888, the devout parishioners of the church, summoned to action by the ringing of the church bell, ripped up he track with their bare hands.  Then, man and woman, they stood off with rocks and fists the mercenaries of the line, the Grand Rapids Police Department, and assorted community toughs who came out to help deal with the lawless foreigners," as a newspaper of the day described them.  The so-called "Dummy Line Riot" had its origins in the ambitious improvement plans of the newly formed Street Railroad Co. of Grand Rapids.  The company had bought up existing horse car and steam car transportation line in the city and launched a major program of expansion.  One of the changes, as the Diamond Jubilee history of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church reports, was to build a track from the existing line of Sherman Street northward on Eastern nearly to Cherry Street, where new barns were being built.  "That the company planned to operate two modern and ‘quiet’ Baldwin steam ‘motor’ and ‘twenty-four elegant Summer open cars’ impressed the members of the church not one bit," the history says."They did not want the nuisance to pass noisily by their new church and create a dangerous hazard for their children, to say nothing of the all too common rowdyism and drunkeness prevalent among the merry-makers on the line on Sunday.  (It might be pointed out that Sunday afternoons for many in old Grand Rapids meant taking a public conveyance to Reeds Lake, which at that time had an impressive number of gin mills, dance halls, and other establishments loosely termed "low resorts.")The church members drafted a petition but this only delayed matters a bit. The court supported the railroad.  Knowing the sentiments of the church and anticipating trouble, the company put 45 track layers to work at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, May 9. A crowd gathered, muttering. More came when the church bell began to ring, and continued to ring for a long time. The Dutch church members warned the track layers they would not be permitted to lay the rails. The track layers went to work anyway.  "Then the crowd congregation," reported the old Telegram-Herald. "As fast as the men would be spiking a rail at one end, 15 or 20 men and women would have hold of the other end trying to carry it away…They commenced to shower the men with stones and clubs…"  But this first battle went to the railway. Despite interference from the angry church members, the tracks were put down before morning. The first train snorting by that day.  But the next sundown, the members met in the church.  At 10 p.m., just as they were leaving the building, the church bell again was rung for a half hour. The night watchman on the railway was stampeded by a volley of stones and "an immense crowd of Hollanders began to tear up the track that had been laid Wednesday night."  Police were called but had no luck quelling the disturbance.  The crowd was estimated at more than 1,000 persons. Some were tossed into the patrol wagon but were rescued by their friends, "two heroines in particular," the church history recounts.  A policeman, an engineer, and a lantern boy were injured.  Shots were fired. Arrests were made.  But three blocks of track were ripped from the street
"…some portions of it stand upon the ends of the ties, resembling a huge picket fence," the news account said. Other sections were thrown into the frog swamp which used to border the west side of Eastern Avenue.  Twenty-five deputy sheriffs patrolled the area the next night and there was only one incident.  A man was arrested for breaking an engine headlight with a rock and was "rather badly cut up when the crowd tried to prevent his arrest."  The church members, "the deluded, ignorant them, were accused of having been egged on by property owners on Eastern Avenue who saw the railway line as a threat to value. "Actually, the ‘lawless foreigners’ reacted in very much the same manner as the typical rough and ready American of that day who refused to be imposed upon," the church history remarks.  And they won, too. A temporary injunction was issued by the court restraining the company from operating its steam engine on Eastern Avenue that summer.  A perpetual injunction was handed down by Kent County Circuit Court on December 23, 1889, "despite legal maneuvers and permissive ordinances."  The conduct of the Street Railway Company, which apparently made no effort to avert trouble by meeting with the church members and trying to work something out, may seem incomprehensible to a later age.  Perhaps, however, while the last rock was in flight on Eastern Avenue, headed toward the cranium of a Grand Rapids police officer, the concept of public relations may have dawned on someone.  Excerpts from the Diamond Jubilee history of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church,(4) which La Belle used as a primary source, tend to reflect upon the incident not only as an outburst of rowdy lawlessness but also as an indication of earnestness and piety in not allowing Sabbath peace to be shattered and in refusing to sanction "worldly amusement" on Sunday. Indeed, the park at Ramona continued to trouble the devout at Eastern Avenue church in later years; at one point two elders were assigned to go to Reeds Lake after afternoon services to observe which parishioners were enjoying the facilities. But in 1888 the riot was much an occasion for prayer as an excuse for boisterous action:  We are indebted to the elder’s son, Mr. C.A. Bishop, for this information and we can readily believe that many fervent prayers of fathers and mothers were answered that night so that the newspaper could comment that it was "a wonder how it happened that more were not hurt."  (The rand Rapids Press, March 12, 1967,p.3,col.1,2,3;p.4,col.3.)

From "A People Apart"

Despite its concern for public morality, especially evident when differing standards of behavior were perceived as a threat to its own way of life, the congregation at Eastern Avenue, as was typical of the denomination in its early years, remained largely outside the stream of community life. This separatist impulse--fostered at first perhaps by the language barrier and reinforced by intermarriage and the extension, of unique cultural and religious values into education, into the pattern of neighborhood life, and even into occupations so that even in a large city the Dutch remained a people unto themselves--manifested itself early in the history of the congregation. The spirit of independence nurtured by the Dutch discouraged relying on public coffers for assistance; and even though a consistory ruling of 1899 approves the application for public funds by the church’s poor, later instances of related action are contrary and more numerous. In 1901 some members opposed the use of city funds for the burial of s member; council repaid the city. In 1903 the deacons’ use of public funds was opposed, and that a member was in the county poor house elicited further disapproval. Undoubtedly the onset of the 1930’s depression and the advent of Social Security taxes somewhat changed the negative attitude toward public assistance, but it can be argued that to some extent this separatism still exists in the attitude that the congregation’s first responsibility is toward its own.

In the history of the Eastern Avenue congregation’s relationship with the broader community, a particularly thorny issue was that of union membership. This concern surfaces in the 1895 consistory minutes, which indicate disapproval of an organization known as the Makkebeen Union as being contrary to church belief, and concern that members are dropping church membership because of their Makkebeen membership. The issue of union membership remained a livly one during the early 1900’s, even though the historian Z. Z. Lydens makes the following comment regarding the 1911 furniture employees’ strike.

The success of the manufacturers in their refusal to deal with their employees collectively might be a reason for the unions’ inability to organize the furniture industry to the extent to which they succeeded on other industries. Another factor may have been the traditional opposition of the Christian Reformed Church to non-church-connected Organizations, including unions, This church was heavily represented in the furniture plant payrolls. However, the position of the Christian Reformed Church was misunderstood. The only time that union membership was barred by the Church was in 1886 when the Synod forbade Membership in the Knights of Labor. The position of the furniture strikers was opposed by most of the Christian Reformed ministers, although the Rev. John Groen of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church was vigorous in his defense of the strikers’ position.

Unfortunately, the Rev Groen, a man clearly ahead of hs time in his espousal of Christian social actively (he also championed such causes as Americanization prohibition, and women’s suffrage and in his challenge of the in growth of the Christian Reformed Church, stood almost alone in these years.

The pleas which fell on deaf ears in Groen’s time for more interaction with and responsibility towards concern broader than those defined as Christian Reformed began in later years to be heard as the church was propelled--sometimes by necessity, sometimes by choice--into a wider arena than its own Dutch neighborhood. The four wars-World War I, World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War--` drew soldiers from the congregation and inspired resurgence of patriotism (which can be traced by the recurrent appearance of the American flag on the pulpit, the appropriateness of which was hotly contested at times). The World War I Honor Roll lists 67 Eastern Avenue members in the services; patriotic feelings inspire by the war, augmented perhaps by the fear of being labeled pro-German, gave impetus to the shift from the use of Dutch to English in worship services. The World War II Honor Roll lists 88 men and women of the Eastern Avenue congregation, The period of anxiety by a farewell party for serviceman Harold Groot, the first to leave, was joyfully conclude June 6, 1946, two years after D-Day with reception for the returned servicemen and women. The duration of the war was punctuated with prayer services held with other area churches, and members lent further support through Ella Jolman, who was appointed soldiers’ secretary. There were moments of sadness for the congregation as news of casualties, including one death, reached home; there were moments of exhilaration and even of ebullience--as when the Rev. Christian Huissen of Eastern and Bemis (today a church parking lot) at a cost of $218.47. The church basement was enlarged on the north side, partitioned, and outfitted with benches to provide extra meeting space. Complaints that the ringing of the church bell caused the whole building to shake, reinforced by a donation of $20 for new bell, instigated repairs of the original bell. Other adjustments included re-shingling, eaves roughing, and the painting of the exterior white with black trim and wood grain doors. A record of collection from a fire insurance company in 1901 for fire damages of 150 reveals that the church building was insured for$5,000 at this time.

The natural disasters of March, 1904--a tornado which destroyed the Oakdale Park church and the West Side flood--did not touch the East Street building. Lightning, however, struck the tower on Thanksgiving Day, 1904, causing damages of $127.25 but no injuries. The year 1904 also saw a successful Twenty-fifth Anniversary campaign to cancel the building debt of $1,500. A major improvement in the spring of 1905 was the building of the north-south balconies for $1,700 (with a resulting raise for the janitor of $2 a month!). Other improvements of the same year include installation of two windows in the north gable and of the large center window in the south gable, relocation of the east entrance to their present points, new front steps, outdoor lights, and re-landscaping of the fenced and forested front yard to an open sloping lawn. A minor fire, again in the steeple--supposedly caused by a lighted cigar carried to the steeple by a bird--occasioned an increase in insurance coverage to $10,000. The year 1910 saw another series of improvements: the floor at the rear of the auditorium was sloped; the east basement was dug out to provide space for a stairway to the auditorium, a consistory room, and storage and organ-blower rooms (today’s hallway, deacons’ room, janitor’s room, washrooms, and inside stairway to the south balcony); and art-glass windows were installed at a cost of $600. Also, $2,000 was borrowed to finance new oak pews and an organ fan and motor. A "citizens" telephone was installed in the parsonage.

Two significant improvements occurred in the next decade, and second was the major renovation of the exterior. In 1916 the building assumed its present appearance after the decision to brick veneer the entire exterior and to replace the high center steeple and outside steps with the present towers and inside steps and two west "parlors"--cloakrooms today. Other remodeling included the installation of the large rose window in the west wall and of green art glass in other windows. A sum, of $12,000 was allocated for the job, for which the Daverman architectural firm served as consultant. The cornerstone laid in 1916 contained copies of De Wachter, the Banner, and local newspaper; the names of the current council members and building committee chairman; and a short history of the building. Insurance coverage on the building was increased to $20,000. Also, in anticipation of the building of a new parsonage, church property was extended north to Logan Street (three lots with houses, two facing Eastern and one facing Logan), thus completing the church’s block wide frontage on Eastern Avenue. In October, 1919, fire gutted the basement with damages assessed at $8,000; service were held at Calvin College while repairs were made.

A major accomplishment in 1921 was the completion at a cost of $18,448.81 of the spacious brick parsonage (present parish house), which was soon occupied by the new minister, the Rev. Herman Hocksema, and his family. Associated land transactions included the sale of the old parsonage for $5,000 and the purchase of a strip of land east of the new parsonage to serve as a joint driveway (now parking behind the parish house). The 1920’s also brought the purchase of the present Schantz organ (1923) for $10,000; for its accommodation--at that time directly behind the pulpit, where the pipes and bellows remain even today--the two east windows at either side of the former organ were eliminated. Organ chimes were added in 1927 for $600.

The depression years of the 1930’s were difficult for Eastern Avenue’s members as for everyone else.

Transcriber: Barb Jones
Created: 16 Feb 2009
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/churches/christianref/easternHistory.html