Faith Reformed Church: Proclaiming the faith since 1955
During World War II and afterwards The Great Flood, some of the people in Holland decided that the time had come for themselves and their families to emigrate to Canada—a country that was accepting new immigrants and looked to be a rather promising land for people seeking a new beginning.
Holland during this time period had suffered many hardships. World War II caused a lot of devastation. Many towns were heavily damaged and rebuilding was traumatic to many. The Great Flood of 1953 also caused over 1800 deaths and a lot of property damage. These events spurred on the emigration of many Dutch families from Holland.
One of the difficulties for the Dutch was that Holland, was comprised of many province like structures, each basically speaking in dialects that were not universal throughout the country. If you lived in one part of Holland, you might not be able to easily understand someone from another region. When families emigrated, English was very foreign, but hard work and a desire to assimilate into Canadian culture was very important to those who came to Canada.
As the people left their home country, they also left behind a strong religious upbringing. This was not able to be satisfied in many cases in their new homeland where they were still struggling with the new language. A desire developed, where Dutch immigrants sought each other out, and they wanted to be able to serve God in a way that they were used to. This was also the reason for the beginnings of a church in the area where the new immigrants could gather and in a familiar way practice the religious beliefs they knew, in a language they could understand.
Several of the Dutch immigrants moved into the Essex County area. They had been brought up in the Reformed Churches in various parts of Holland and had a strong desire to be able to continue their religious upbringing in this new land. The closest Reformed Church at this time(1952) had been established in Chatham—for most, this was at least a 40 mile one-way trip. Today, this wouldn’t seem like much, but considering that many of these people were driving vehicles that were quite old(some still had cranks for starters), this would be a real adventure for most.
The original church founders met in the home of Mr. and Mrs. William VandenBerg in Staples on July 20, 1952. They had contacted many of their friends and families from Holland that were living in the general area. A total of 26 people met on that day. Rev. Maasen and an elder from First Reformed Church in Chatham were also in attendance and at this time the seeds to form a church were planted. Present were Mr. and Mrs. Wm VandenBerg, Mr. and Mrs. J. VanderBeek, Mr. and Mrs. T. VanderKwaak, Mr. J. Rutgers, Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Rutgers. After this first meeting, the group met weekly for church services, and were led once a month by the pastor in Chatham.
A temporary Consistory, consisting of Elders: Wm. VandenBerg, W. Rutgers, and Deacon: J. VanderBeek, under the direction of the Chatham church, was also organized to keep this church plant started. The meeting place in Staples at the VandenBerg home was attended weekly by at least 20 people, but as new members arrived the home became too small and the upstairs at 61 Wigle Street, in Leamington was rented and became the new home for the church plant.
In 1955, the group, with the blessing of the First Reformed Church in Chatham, applied for, and received full organization as a church from the Reformed Church in America, Board of Domestic Missions. It was overseen by the Classis of Lake Erie. This was done because the Classis of Ontario was mainly emerging as an organization and the Classis of Lake Erie was better established and was able to supply funds to this new church plant more easily. The formal name given to the church was Faith Reformed Church.
The first pastor was installed on Oct. 18, 1955-Rev. G. Molenaar. This was the the actual time when the church was formally organized within the RCA. At this time, the church had grown, there were 45 confessing members and 31 baptized members. Services were held in the Dutch language and a formal consistory was now possible. An interesting fact, the church paid the minister $60 a month to serve the church—the Board of Domestic Missions of the RCA contributed the rest.
The first parsonage was located at 61 Askew St. in Leamington. It was purchased for the sum of $12500 in 1960 and sold in 1969, when a new parsonage was relocated to the church property here in what was then called Albertville.
As many young people were from the Dutch families, a desire to have English services became a need for success. Experimentation with the English language started Jan. 29, 1956, and eventually moved to one English service a month. At this time two church services were held every Sunday.
The location at Wigle Street started to not be sufficient, as the church group wanted their own building. A search was made and the school in Albertville, known as S.S. No. 3 Gosfield), which was built in 1886 and was closed in 1956 became available. The church purchased the building from The Board of School Trustees of The Township School Area of The Township of Gosfield South for the sum of $3500in 1957. The mortgage of $5000 was assumed by the church on May 3, 1960 for the purchase of the property.
It was a good old building, complete with good hardwood floors and chalkboards on the walls. The building needed extensive change to make it usable as a church. Many of the church members would meet on weeknights and Saturdays to get the building ready for services. Between each window area was a heavy black slate blackboard that was removed. The walls were not in the best shape and were strapped and covered over with tiles. The high ceiling was painted. An alcove was built in the north interior of the church and the pulpit was placed there. The upper windows were redone with panels that were shaped in a traditional church style, made of green and red fiberglass. The building was transformed as it was renovated from a school to a church.
When the property was first occupied, it was found that the rope for the bell at the top of the church was still operational. This was then put up in the ceiling access so that the bell would not be used especially for those tall, eager, inquisitive young people.
New pews were hand made for the building. I can remember my father working on them for several months in the basement of our neighbor. He was a master carpenter, who spent many hours building these pews out of hardwood flooring. Once each was completed, they would be picked up by Alan Monsma and Ernie VandenBerg.
The basement required major work to clean it up and make it suitable for a kitchen area and space for Sunday School classes. It was expanded around 1965 to accommodate a growing Sunday School. The old building was right at a corner of what is now Seacliff Drive. Many Sunday mornings, people would see that some time during the week someone had not negotiated the curve properly and some damage to shrubs, or even the cement work of the front of the building had occurred. In 1962, the Department of Highways purchased a small portion of the property to realign the roadway with a gentle curve. The purchase price was $250 or about 5 cents a square foot.
The front of the building had two doors, and one door at the back, with a rather large drop to the ground. For weddings, the traditional walk from the back of the church to the front by the bride was rather difficult, however for the first wedding, a stepladder made for an interesting entry into the rear of the church. Once the basement was extended to make room for the larger Sunday School, weddings were even more of a challenge…getting that wedding dress up. One couple, Narda Rutgers and Nick Nieuhof even had a second problem…Narda was able to get up to the top of the basement floor using a ladder, but her dress did not want to go through the rear door until some major force pushed her through.
In 1968, a new parsonage was begun on the church proper, in preparation for the new pastor who would be arriving with his family in 1969. It was a nice three bedroom home that suited the DeJong family quite well.
Rev. Moerman left in 1957 and a new pastor, Rev. VanderPol, from the US came. Services started to change from almost all Dutch to English once a month, to English evening, then a change from Dutch In the morning to Dutch evening and English morning.
In the 1970’s, it was recognized that many of the families were growing and that the original church was getting too small to allow the congregation to grow. A plan to build a new church directly behind the old church started. Much of the building of the new sanctuary was accomplished by the workmanship of members of the congregation. A mortgage of $80000 was taken out to build the new sanctuary. One of the members Mr. Stewart Zuidema was selected to be in charge over the project. By 1978, all was ready and on Sept. 8, 1978, the church was officially opened to services.
When the new sanctuary was ready, the old school house was buried, mainly in the basement hole from where it began. Today the front of the parking lot covers the old church/schoolhouse.
The new building was magnificent, compared to the school house. The sanctuary has a beautiful, traditional set of rafters and wood roof. The Cross on the front of the sanctuary, the pulpit, the baptismal font were all recycled from wood that was part of the flooring of St. Mary’s Academy in Windsor.
The new pews were donated from Church of the Redemeer in Detroit. We were still under the auspices of The Classis of Lake Erie, Reformed Church in America. They fit perfectly in what we needed and are still used today.
Shortly after, The Classis of Lake Erie and the RCA Board of Missions decided it would be in the best interest of Faith Kingsville to be joined with The Classis of Ontario. This is where we still are today.
During the time of Rev. DeJong and then Rev. Carson Culp, the church was really trying to get away from the label that we were “the Dutch church”. Yes there were several members at this time that were still able to understand Dutch, but many of those attending church could not understand a word of it. We were also starting to realize that many of the church founders had either already passed away, or were getting very elderly.
The congregation was trying to stay active at that time, and realized that adding an elevator to the church would allow us to keep making it able for members with mobility issues, especially the elderly. The congregation was asked if they wished to pursue this, since it would be an expensive undertaking. In the end, the whole project was paid for with no debt undertaken by the church as the members donated the funds.
In all, the basement was renovated with wheelchair access washrooms. The front foyer was totally enclosed, a new elevator was installed. The elevator was able to take people from the ground floor, either down to the basement or up to the sanctuary. This addition was officially dedicated on Feb. 29, 2004.
The elevator has been a good addition, but many of the people who it was designed for were too stubborn to use it. It has also been used for funerals, the first being of Stewart Zuidema in April of 2007.
A memorial gardens was started roughly the same time, with people purchasing plants in memory of past loved ones. What a beautiful addition it is when you drive by. We constantly get comments from everywhere as to the sign and what messages it has from people who drive by. What an inspiration it has been.
The following Pastors have served Faith Reformed Church:
Rev. G. Moerman: 1955-1957
Rev. R. VanderPol: 1958-1965
Rev. R. VanFarowe: 1965-1968
Rev. P DeJong: 1969-1995
Rev. Carson Culp: 1997-2006
Rev. Ken Labbe: 2007-present
It has been a real journey—1952 through today. We have seen our church founders work so diligently so that we might continue our Journey with God…for that we are truly thankful. I have not mentioned hardly any of the names of people who have attended Faith Reformed Church throughout the last 60 years. Almost all of our Founding Members have now passed into Eternal Life, and have left us with the job of keeping this church alive. May they Rest in Peace as part of Our History and may we take the Challenge to keep God’s Word alive right here….
Written by Cor Demeris for the 60th anniversary celebration on 26 September 2015