The city of Holland’s oldest Christian Reformed Church congregation is chronicled in the book “Faithful Witness: A Sesquicentennial History of Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Holland, Michigan, 1865-2015.”
The book, written by Dr. Robert P. Swierenga, was published recently by the Van Raalte Press of the A.C. Van Raalte Institute at Hope College through the Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America. It is part of an ongoing series of congregational histories of the Reformed Church and the Christian Reformed Church North America.
For 20 years, until 1884, Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church was the denomination’s only congregation within the city of Holland itself. In 1910, with 1,830 members, it was the largest congregation in the Holland area.
The Christian Reformed Church as a denomination developed following an 1857 secession by some area congregations from the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in the United States that the Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte, those with him and those who followed had joined after their arrival in West Michigan beginning in the 1840s.
The Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church began as a “daughter” church of the Christian Reformed congregation in Graafschap, where some of Holland’s residents had started to worship following the 1857 denominational split. Creation of a church within the city eliminated the need for them to travel several miles for worship in what were then horse-and-buggy days. The first structure was built on the current location on Central Avenue across from Centennial Park in 1866; the present sanctuary was constructed in 1953.
The book follows the history of the congregation from its founding through the present. In addition to chronicling eras of experience—from “Beginning struggles, 1865-85” to “”Becoming an American Church, 1938-43,” to “Co-Pastoring a Healthy Congregation, 2004-15,” the 21 chapters also highlight topics such as educational ministries, music, and the symbolism and meaning of the sanctuary’s stained glass windows.
Across its first several decades, Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church helped establish other Christian Reformed Church congregations locally, just as it had once been helped. While membership has declined from the 1910 high, it has climbed steadily across the past several years to more than 450 currently.
The church’s physical plant has also increased in recent years. The church completed major work in 2014 that included renovating the former bank property to the north for use as a ministry center; upgrading the church building with an elevator and accessible restrooms; and connecting the two structures with a canopy.
The Congregational History Series through which “Faithful Witnesses: A Sesquicentennial History of Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Holland, Michigan, 1865-2015” has been published is designed “to encourage congregations to produce histories of depth and substance in recording the life of the congregation in order that its past may be better understood for the present and future.” It began last year with “The City in Its Heart” by Dr. John Cox of the Hope English faculty, which celebrates the first 100 years of Maple Avenue Ministries.
The series is being edited by Dr. George Brown Jr., who is the G.W. and Eddie Haworth Professor Emeritus of Christian Education at Western Theological Seminary. The founding general editor of the Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America is Dr. Donald Bruggink, who is a senior research fellow with the Van Raalte Institute and the A. H. Cornell Professor of Historical Theology Emeritus at Western Theological Seminary; and editor-in-chief and publisher for the Van Raalte Press is Dr. Jacob E. Nyenhuis, director of the A.C. Van Raalte Institute and provost emeritus and professor emeritus of Classics at Hope.
Swierenga has served as the Albertus C. Van Raalte Research Professor and adjunct professor of history at Hope since 1996, when he retired from the faculty of Kent State University. He is the author of numerous books on Dutch migration and heritage, including the three-volume “Holland, Michigan: From Dutch Colony to Dynamic City,” published by the Van Raalte Press and William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. in 2014.
Established in 1994, the A.C. Van Raalte Institute is located in the Theil Research Center at 9 E. 10th St. and specializes in scholarly research and writing on immigration and the contributions of the Dutch and their descendants in the United States. The institute is also dedicated to the study of the history of all the people who have comprised the community of Holland throughout its history. Since its founding, the institute and its affiliated scholars have published nearly 40 books.
Copies of “Faithful Witnesses: A Sesquicentennial History of Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Holland, Michigan, 1865-2015” are available for $20 at the college’s Hope-Geneva Bookstore. The bookstore is located on the ground level of the DeWitt Center, 141 E. 12th St., and can be called at 800-946-4673 or 616-395-7833. Additional ordering information may be obtained by e-mailing the Hope-Geneva Bookstore at firstname.lastname@example.org.