HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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THE DUTCH REFORMED CHURCH IN IOWA
ON HIS way to the American West in 1847 Scholte met many clergymen of the old American Dutch Reformed Church at New York. In answer to their urgent appeals to ally himself with their synod he said that he had no inclination to do so. It was his impatience with human regulations in church life, his spirit of independence which compelled him to turn a deaf ear to their proposals. In fact, he could not be said to belong to any sect. "Boldly and cheerfully", as he expressed it, "do I profess that God's Word is my only regulation in the affairs of God's church on earth."
Between him and his fellow-Separatists in Holland there had once arisen a difference of opinion as to the application of the church regulations prescribed by the Synod of Dordrecht, the administration of sacraments to the unconverted, the baptism of children, the return of Christ, and other subjects, which led to so much friction that at a general synod of the Separatist congregations in 1840 Scholte was forbidden to preach the gospel. It is not surprising, therefore, that he did not hurry to the fold of the Dutch Reformed Church or any other church in America, though van Raalte and his Michigan people were welcomed as early as 1850.(274)
The First Christian Church at Pella emerged from the quarrel with Scholte and for a short time its members worshipped God without a pastor, until they elected one of their number, Rev. A. J. Betten, to fill the vacancy in 1855. The congregation had always observed the sacrament of the Lord's Supper every Sunday. This was an innovation which certain brethren felt was not in keeping with the doctrines promulgated by the Synod of Dordrecht in 1618, and accordingly, as their number grew with increasing accessions of Hollanders from Europe, they formed a separate independent congregation in 1856 and called it the Dutch Reformed Church.
They voted unanimously to effect a closer relation with the Michigan churches, and appointed two men to attend a special convention at Chicago. In September, 1856, they secured a visit from Rev. van Raalte. At an open meeting of the members of the Christian Church and of the Dutch Reformed Church practically all of the members voted to be received into the Dutch Reformed Church in America. Thus nearly two entire congregations of Hollanders became united under the name: "Protestant Reformed Dutch Church at Pella". Those who refused to be parties to this arrangement continued as the First Christian Church.(275)
The Dutch Reformed congregation tendered calls to Rev. A. C. van Raalte, Rev. A. Brummelkamp (then a professor in the theological school. at Dampen, Holland), and Rev. Donner of Leyden, Holland, but all declined. Finally, in 1858 they induced Rev. P. J. Oggel of Grand Haven, Michigan, to come for a few weeks, and later, in 1859, Rev, van Raalte. The first Baptist church organized by Americans at Pella in 1854 had taken over the Sunday-school founded by Bousquet. Since this school was the only one at Pell a, and was attended by both Hollanders and Americans, Rev, van Raalte successfully urged the Dutch Reformed people to establish a second Sunday-school, which Dutch children attended at eight o'clock in the morning! Then in 1860 Rev. P. J. Oggel became the first permanent pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church.(276)
At Pella, just as in Michigan, there arose what has been termed "the terrible language question", once so productive of disputes in congregations of the eastern American States. For many of the first settlers, who had found no time or opportunity to acquaint themselves with English, preaching in the Dutch language remained an absolute necessity; and so it has always been in the case of Dutch immigrants who ,have come to Iowa. The children who had grown up at Pella since 1847 had received instruction in English, but had acquired only a slight speaking knowledge of Dutch: they were not prepared to read Dutch books or to follow Dutch sermons with profit. Accordingly, there was little opposition in 1862 to the formation at Pella of a second Dutch Reformed congregation which has always had preaching in the English language.(277)
The first Dutch Reformed Church in Iowa existed in the city of Burlington from 1853 until 1860. Davenport also had a congregation from 1859 to 1876, and there was one at Keokuk from 1863 to 1865. Hollanders were numerous enough in the district north of Pella to build a house of worship near the Skunk River: Bethel Church, which has been maintained since 1866. A third Dutch Reformed church was built at Pella in 1868 and the congregation secured Rev. van der Veen from Holland as its pastor. Scholte's congregation of the Christian Church dissolved in 1869 and became the foundation for the fourth Dutch Reformed Church, the members of which sold their parsonage and church property at auction in September, 1909, and in January, 1910. In the month of November, 1869, a series of meetings was held at Pella and the outcome was the organization of a Dutch Presbyterian Church, which held together until 1882. In 1872 a society of Derbyites or "Brethren" was formed and has existed with a small membership including a few Dutch families. (278)
As fast as the Hollanders bought up farms at long distances from Pella, they organized them selves into church congregations. Thus numbers warranted the founding of churches at Otley in 1871, at Bethany near Sully in 1886, at Leighton, Mahaska County, in 1889, at Galesburg near Reasnor, Jasper County, and at Muscatine in 1891, and at Bethlehem near Taintor, Mahaska County, in 1894. Since 1902 congregations have been formed also at Killduff in Jasper County, at Sully in Marion County, and at Eddyville in Wapello County. In 1910 these churches of the Pella Classis served about eight hundred families, and claimed an enrollment of one thousand three hundred and ninety Sunday-school pupils and eight hundred and twenty-seven catechumens. Six of the thirteen pastorates were vacant - a fact from which one might infer that the Classis was not flourishing, were it not for the additional fact that the churches contributed liberally to benevolent and congregational enterprises.(279)
The Dutch Reformed Church spread with greater rapidity among the Hollanders of northwestern Iowa than it did in the vicinity of Pella. The early settlers first met in the various homes, then in 1871 they organized a congregation. For a time they were served by preachers who came from Pella every two weeks, but finally they unanimously called and obtained as their pastor Rev. Seine Bolks who arrived from Zeeland, Michigan, in the spring of 1872. During the next eight years he filled the role of minister, doctor, and counsellor, while his people struggled against locust depredations. This "old patriarch" or "vader ", as he was styled by the settlers, had wrestled with the hardships of backwoods life in Michigan; for in 1848 he and a large body of immigrants had left Holland and founded Overisel, Michigan. He was, therefore, equal to the demands of the first years in Sioux County,, and hundreds of Hollanders would have forsaken their farms had not his simple faith buoyed them up.(280)
For many years Rev. Bolks was the only man who ministered to the widely-scattered Hollanders. At Orange City he preached in the schoolhouse until a separate church building was finished in 1873. Late in November of this year a famous visitor from Holland, in a book of travels in America, described the events of a Sunday which he spent at Orange City. Translated from the Dutch his account reads as follows:
Rev. Bolks visited the Dutch settlers in various parts of the colony, holding fortnightly mid-week services in district schoolhouses. His activity and sincerity of purpose were long remembered. "No matter how cold or stormy it might be," one writer asserts, "or how rough or muddy the roads, or how deep the water in the sloughs, he was always at his post; his prompt presence and his earnest efforts for the spiritual welfare of the people could always be depended on. His words of wise council, of kind admonition, and of encouragement and good cheer in the days of severe struggles and affliction are ever remembered with gratitude and sincere regard."
When congregations arose in 1877 at West Branch (now Sioux Center) and East Orange (now Alton), Rev. Bolks served them whenever he could. An old settler afterwards wrote, with a touch of exaggeration:
After 1877 as the Hollanders increased in numbers and spread out over the adjoining townships, churches sprang up at North Orange (now Newkirk) in 1883, at Maurice in 1884, at Middelburg and Hull in 1885, at Hospers in 1886, at Boyden in 1888, at Le Mars, Plymouth County, in 1889, at Rock Valley in 1891, at Sheldon, O'Brien County, in 1895, at Carmel in 1896, at Archer, O'Brien County, in 1900, and at Doon, Lyon County, since 1902.
The language question made its appearance at Orange City in 1885. Owing to the need of services in the English language for the benefit of the younger generation, a second congregation was organized and styled the American Reformed Church. A similar need also existed at Sioux Center and when a second congregation of the Reformed Church had been organized in 1899 and services had been commenced, a large number of the members appealed in vain to the district judge for an injunction to prohibit preaching in the Dutch language because they had subscribed money for the new church building according to the terms of a contract which, they claimed, stipulated English as the language to be spoken in the pulpit. At Maurice an American Reformed Church was planted after 1902, and another was founded at Sioux Center in 1911.
These churches, mostly in the Iowa Classis in northwestern Iowa, were in 1910 the houses of worship of about 1400 Dutch families, and claimed in round numbers 3000 communion members, 4500 baptized non-communicants, 2000 catechumens, and 3000 enrolled in Sunday-schools, while their members contributed generously to various denominational and congregational purposes.(282)
Ministers of Dutch Reformed congregations in the neighborhood of Pella and in northwestern Iowa have received their training almost exclusively at the Western Theological Seminary at Holland, Michigan. Some of the older ministers, however, took their courses at New Brunswick Seminary in New Jersey. Most of the pastors of the Reformed Church in the Middle West have obtained their preparatory education in the Northwestern Classical Academy at Orange City, Iowa, or in Holland Academy at Holland, Michigan.
These academies have always been the chief feeders of Hope College at Holland, Michigan; and Hope College in turn has been the chief feeder of the Western Theological Seminary. New Brunswick Seminary has depended upon Rutgers College and Union College for its students, and has prepared its graduates chiefly for service in eastern congregations of the Reformed Church where English has been preached for about one hundred and fifty years. During its existence for nearly forty years the Western Theological Seminary has had as its motto "Train Western men, for Western work, on Western soil", and ministers are therefore trained to preach in the Dutch language.(283)
Most of the Hollanders of Iowa in 1910 formed part of a church polity which consisted of 689 congregations, 750 ministers, 65,675 families, and 117,288 members. Over four hundred of these congregations were situated in the States of New York and New Jersey. Michigan ranked next with 62 and Iowa fourth with 50 churches.(284)
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(274) Van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part I, pp. 32, 33; Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, p. 59; Nollen's De Afscheiding, pp. 55-58; and Dosker's Levensschets van Ds. A. C. van Raalte, D. D., p. 52.
(275) Van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, p. 128, and Part III, p. 102; and Nollen's De Afscheiding, pp. 64, 65.
(276) Van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, pp. 95, 98, 108, 109. The second Baptist church at Pella held services in English at 11 and 4 o'clock. There were also congregations of Methodists and Congregationalists in Pella. See' announcement of church services in The Pella Gazette, September 14, 1859.
(277) Nollen's De Afscheiding, p. 65.
(278) Corwin's Manual, pp.
935-1044. See also Pella's Weekblad, March 30, May 4, 11, November
2, 16, and December 7, 13, 1869.
(279) Corwin's Manual, pp. 935-1044; and Minutes of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America, 1910, p. 803.
(280) Van 't Lindenhout's Zes Weken tusschen de Wielen. Rev. Bolks was president of the Classis of Holland, Michigan, which sent a commissioner to Albany in 1850 to ask to be received into the Reformed Church of America. -- Corwin's Manual, pp. 139, 335; and Pella's Weekblad, August 16. 1871.
(281) Rev. de Pree 's and Gleysteen's articles in The Historical Atlas o f Sioux County. See also Stuart's Zes Maanden in Amerika, Part II, pp. 25-27; and Buddingh's De Hollandsche Hervormde Kerk in de Vereenigde Staten van Noord-Amerika (1852), pp. 105, 159.
(282) Corwin's Manual, pp.
935-1044; and Minutes of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in
America, 1910, pp. 781, 787.
(283) Corwin's Manual, pp. 135, 143-207.
(284) Minutes of the General, Synod' of the Reformed Church in America, 1910.
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