History of Calvin CRC: 1946 – 2018

After World War II, returning servicemen took advantage of the GI Bill and flooded colleges around the country.  Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was no exception.  As a result, Christian Reformed Churches on the southeast side of the city were overwhelmed with new student members. So, in the fall of 1946, extension worship services began to be held in the Calvin College Chapel on Franklin Street.  Within a few months it became clear that a new congregation could be formed.  Comprised of Calvin College students, as well as 57 families who came from surrounding congregations,  Calvin Christian Reformed Church held its first services on October 20, 1946.

In 1947 the congregation’s search for its first pastor concluded with a call to Clarence Boomsma, who at the time was serving his first congregation in Imlay City, Michigan.  Rev. Boomsma accepted the call and began his work in January 1948 launching a pastorate that would last for thirty-five years!  During the congregation’s first few years, Rev. Boomsma led the effort to construct a large church facility a few blocks from the Calvin College campus.  Featuring a sanctuary that could comfortably seat up to 800 people, a large downstairs fellowship hall, and many classrooms, the new Calvin CRC building was dedicated on December 1, 1955.

With the Calvin College campus just a short distance away, Calvin Church remained very much “the church of the college” through the late 1960s, growing to become one of the largest congregations in the denomination with over 1,400 members by 1967.  During the 1970s, Rev. Boomsma was assisted by associate pastors, including Rev. Warren Boer and Rev. Jake Heerema.  With the move of Calvin College to the Knollcrest campus several miles away membership at Calvin CRC began to gradually decline throughout this period.  The distance from the college campus now meant fewer students attended and the college’s faculty also began to join other congregations.  In 1983 Rev. Boomsma retired after a long and distinguished ministry.  The Council decided this was an opportune time to reconfigure the staff, replacing Rev. Boomsma with three pastors.  Rev. Joel Boot became the church’s preaching pastor in February 1984; Rev. Harvey Kiekover was called in June of 1985 as the pastor of congregational life; and Rev. Edward Laarman became the youth and education pastor in September 1985.

During the mid- to late-1980s Calvin Church would see nearly a third of its families depart, most having moved out of the Eastown neighborhood. Nonetheless, under the leadership of Revs. Boot, Kiekover, and Laarman, the ministries of Calvin Church continued.  Youth and education programs flourished and new programs of congregational care were instituted.  Rev. Kiekover was instrumental in establishing the new Stephen Ministry program, which had begun just prior to his installation, and Rev. Boot continued the Calvin Church tradition of a recognizably Reformed worship service characterized by a regular order of worship, traditional sacred music, and excellent preaching.  Mrs. Shirley Boomsma, who served as the church organist from the late 1940s until September 1993, led the music ministry. Calvin Church continues to be blessed by the music and worship leadership of Dr. Kenneth Bos, who joined our staff in 1996.

In the early 1990s, the congregation underwent further transition.  Between 1992 and 1994, all three pastors took calls to other ministries.  The Council once again faced the task of assessing the makeup of the ministry staff.  For the short term, it was decided to have just two pastors: one to lead preaching and administration and another to oversee pastoral care.  In mid-1993 Rev. Scott Hoezee accepted the call to be Minister of Preaching and Administration.  Hoezee was installed on September 12 and served with distinction as preaching pastor for nearly 12 years.  Harvey Kiekover continued his service as pastor of congregational life until 1994, when he accepted a call to become the chaplain for the Holland Home retirement communities.

A retired minister, Rev. John Medendorp, served two years as an interim pastor, faithfully calling on the sick and homebound.  In April 1997 Rev. Robert Koornneef accepted the church’s call to be Minister of Congregational Life.  Pastor Bob brought considerable skills to this job, having been in charge for many years of the bereavement division of Hospice.  Rev. Koornneef retired from full-time ministry in November 2005, but continued to serve the congregation in a half-time capacity as Minister to Seniors, focusing on elderly and homebound members.

The 2001 building expansion project, which doubled the size of our building provides us with a facility that enhances our ability to reach out to our neighbors, and greatly increases our accessibility, hospitality, and fellowship capacities.

In May of 2005, Rev. Hoezee accepted an offer to serve as the Director for the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.

A search was initiated in fall 2005 for a full-time Minister of Congregational Life.  The duties of this position would continue many of those of the previous Minister of Congregational Life, while adding responsibilities for outreach, evangelism, and program development.  In January 2006 the congregation called Rev. Lora Copley to this position.

Calvin Church has always placed great value on its youth and education programs. During 1994 and 1995, Chris Walter coordinated youth and education programs on a part-time basis.  He was followed by seminarian Brian Turnbull, who worked from the summer of 1995 until June 1999.  Curt Kuiper led our youth and education programs for about three years.  When he left in 2003 the congregation decided to hire a full-time person to oversee youth and education.  Amy Trifan served in this capacity from 2003-2006, and Char Bulthuis served from 2007-2016.

Following a three year search, in September of 2008 Calvin Church welcomed Rev. Douglas MacLeod to be the Minister of Preaching and Administration.  With 24 years of parish and pulpit ministry experience he joined our already proven pastoral staff with Koornneef, Copley and Bulthuis.   In 2011, after five very fine years with Calvin Church Rev. Copley, directing her energies and focus to her growing family, concluded her role as our Minister of Congregational Life.  In August of 2011 we welcomed Rev. Rebecca Jordan Heys to the new role of Minister of Discipleship.  In the summer of 2015, after 18 years of service with Calvin Church, Rev. Koornneef retired from his part-time role as Minister to Seniors.

2016 was a year of staff transition as Rev. MacLeod began a new call at Second Christian Reformed Church in Fremont and Char Bulthuis began a new season of ministry at Shawnee Park Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids. In 2017, a new staff structure was established in which Rev. Rebecca Jordan Heys would serve as Minister of Worship and Pastoral Care, Rev. Jake Heerema would serve as part-time Minister of Visitation, and a Minister of Faith Formation would be sought to join the pastoral team.

From early on in its history, Calvin Church has seen itself as a “Ministry Center” to the community.  As an example, the Family Assistance program which began in 1969 continues as one of the city’s premiere clothing ministries.  After being housed in the old parsonage for many  years the congregation approved the construction of a new Family Assistance Building which was completed in early 2015.   In the 1970’s refugees from Vietnam were resettled.  In the late-1980s other programs of outreach began.  The growth of Neighbors Night and tutoring programs resulted in the church’s hiring of a half-time coordinator of outreach.  Cindy Vander Kodde began this work in the fall of 1997.  Under her leadership, these programs saw rapid growth, and several new programs for neighborhood youth and single teen mothers were started.  Cindy left in 2001 and Calvin Church was fortunate to have seminary intern Ken VanderPloeg oversee these outreach programs for three years.  In 1997 Calvin Church was one of the original churches participating with the Interfaith Hospitality Network – Family Promise in hosting homeless families in our facility for a week at a time several times each year.  This ministry continues with many church volunteers providing this hospitality in Christ’s name.   In recent years the church has renewed it’s refugee resettlement ministry, began a Summer Learning Program for neighborhood children, and in 2008 began a Kids Hope mentoring program which continues at Campus Elementary School.

Although Calvin Church has undergone many changes in its 70 year history, worship services continue to closely follow the Reformed heritage of emphasizing preaching and in employing traditional forms of quality sacred music.  The congregation continues to recognize Calvin Church’s unique placement in the Eastown neighborhood and the challenges and opportunities that presents for our mission.

Among our neighbors and across our generations we seek to honor and worship our Lord and to be “Growing in Discipleship, Transformed for Ministry.”  Calvin Church has been richly blessed and welcomes all who seek the Lord and wish to share in those blessings.