This summer’s June 8-13 meeting of the Reformed Church in America’s General Synod at Hope continues a long tradition, not only of the college’s historic affiliation with the RCA but of hosting the annual gathering itself 12 times in the past 76 years.
Hope received its charter from the State of Michigan in 1866, the same year that the college graduated its first class. The college had been established with the support of the RCA, which had also supported the Pioneer School (founded in 1851) and Holland Academy (founded in 1857) from which Hope had grown. Hope’s co-founders — the Albertus C. Van Raalte and Philip Phelps Jr., the latter of whom was also Hope’s first president — were each Reformed Church ministers.
General Synod first convened at Hope in 1941, meeting in Dimnent Memorial Chapel (then known as the Memorial Chapel) in conjunction with the college’s 75th anniversary celebration. In addition to the current year, General Synod returned to Hope, sometimes also co-hosted by Western Theological Seminary, in 1956, 1966, 1970, 1979, 1987, 1991, 1998, 2003, 2008 and 2009.
General Synod and the campus had first crossed paths more than 50 years earlier. The delegates and invited guests had visited Hope on Saturday, June 7, 1884, traveling to Holland by train while meeting in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which was the first time that the denominational event was held in what was then still considered “The West.”
As a first, the visit was an occasion. The publication “The Christian Intelligencer” recounted shortly afterward that the students (125 at the time) had formed into two ranks to create a passage through which the delegates walked as they arrived, ending with a student-made evergreen arch sporting the Latin word “Salvete” (Welcome). A ceremony near Van Vleck Hall, which was completed in 1858 and still stands at the center of campus as the college’s oldest building, included remarks by Synod president David Cole and Hope president Charles Scott, among others.
General Synod met in Hope’s hometown of Holland for the first time — at nearby Hope Church west of River Avenue between 10th and 11th streets — in 1916, when the college was celebrating its semi-centennial. As it happened, a member of Hope’s first graduating class, the Rev. Peter Moerdyke, was elected General Synod president during the meeting.