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Forty-Five Years in the Christian Reformed Church

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The Christian Reformed Church of North America has always been my home. I was baptized by my dad – a CRC minister – in the Christian Reformed Church of Bunde, Minnesota. My earliest memories are of looking through the stained glass from the inside of that church and of walking among the gravestones between the church and the parsonage.

From Bunde, we moved to the CRC in Pipestone, Minnesota, where I remember attending Vacation Bible School and singing songs about Jesus from big orange and green and blue poster boards.

I loved the parking lot of our next church: Trinity CRC in Grandville, Michigan. I roller skated on it in the summers and built forts in the snow piled along its edges during the winters. My piano teacher was the church’s organist, and one Sunday she let me play Sonata in D Major by Michael W. Smith on the organ as a postlude. I would borrow books out of the church’s library, even during the week. I can still remember how warm, bright, and absolutely silent that room was, and how the books smelled when I opened them. Nancy Drew novels. Catherine Marshall’s Christy.

I made my public profession of faith in that church at the age of eleven. I loved Jesus and I desperately wanted to take communion. On the evening of my profession in front of the elders, I wore a plaid kilt with a big silver pin and a royal blue sweater and recited Question and Answer One of the Heidelberg Catechism. An elder told my mom, “I wish you could have been there. You would have been so proud.”

When I professed my faith in front of the congregation (wearing a white flowy skirt and a lavender sweater), my dad gave me my very own NIV Study Bible, a verse (Matthew 17:20), and a hug, because “a handshake just didn’t feel right.” He sang a song in that service: Wayne Watson’s, This One Was Born in Zion. My mom had a cake made for me. On the top of the cake, these words in blue icing: “Keep running the race, Heidi!” and a little pair of red plastic running shoes.

I spent my high school years as a professing member of Bellingham Christian Reformed Church (now Hope in Christ CRC) in the state of Washington. I played piano and flute in the worship services, acted in the Easter plays, and went on ski trips and mission trips with the youth group. I brought my boyfriends to church, ran the overhead projector, and right in the middle of the CRC’s tumultuous 1990s, I experienced the beginnings of my call to ministry. “Have you ever thought of becoming a pastor, Heidi?” my dad asked. I hadn’t until that point. But then I couldn’t not think of becoming a pastor.

Though my membership moved next to Faith CRC in New Brighton, Minnesota, I attended Covenant CRC in Sioux Center, Iowa, during my Dordt College years. I worshipped in the same church as the philosophy professors who continued to shape my reformed world and life view: John Vander Stelt, John Kok, Mark Tazelaar.

I married my first husband – a music teacher from Pella, Iowa – in the sanctuary of Faith CRC in New Brighton, and shortly thereafter, we transferred our memberships for a year to Unity CRC in Prinsburg, Minnesota (5 minutes down the road from where I was baptized). A year later, Layton and I moved to Michigan and were attending Church of the Servant CRC in Grand Rapids when he was killed in a car accident. The night before his accident, we had gone to a Christmas choir practice at COS. Eight days later, I pushed his casket down the center aisle and listened to his high school choir sing Silent Night and a combined choir sing Abide with Me, Fast Falls the Eventide.

A few months before receiving my M.Div. from Calvin Theological Seminary, I started working there as their Pastor for Discernment. I was a member of Faith CRC in Holland, Michigan, at that time. My husband, Tim, was their pastor of youth and education. We both had our classical exams in that church, and we were both ordained there.

We baptized our firstborn at Faith’s font. Afterward, the senior pastor gathered the children around to tell them what our daughter’s name meant. Samara, Pastor Jim told the children, means “watched by God.” He preached a message from Psalm 121: “The Lord will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going, both now and forevermore.” A few weeks after her baptism, Samara was diagnosed with neuroblastoma (a childhood cancer), and the people of Faith CRC held us in all the ways they could. We believe that the prayers of the children of our church were part of the way God watched over and healed our girl.

Our middle-born was also baptized at Faith. Her name, Naomi, means “my gladness.” Tim’s dad (a CRC minister as well) officiated. A few months after her baptism, I took a call to pastor my first parish: the Celebration congregation of Harderwyk CRC in Holland, Michigan. Tim’s dad had served as a pastor to and a missionary from Harderwyk in the late 1970s and early 80s. We have pictures of both of us preaching from the same pulpit – thirty years apart. The Celebration organist would invite little Samara to sit next to her before or after the services. Jane let her press the keys and pull the stops and scoot and stretch to reach the pedals of the 44 rank Wicks pipe organ.

Our youngest daughter, whose name, Zoe, means “life,” was baptized at Harderwyk by my dad. The people of that congregation loved our girls and loved us. We all cried tears of blessing when I accepted a call to pastor Westside Fellowship CRC in Kingston, Ontario.

I’ve pastored Westside for nearly ten years. They also hold the ministerial credentials of my husband, who is a chaplain at Kingston General Hospital. My two oldest daughters professed their faith here a few years ago, claiming as their own the promises made to them at their baptisms. Westside cheered me on as I cycled an 800 km leg of the Sea to Sea in 2017, raising money for World Renew, Partners Worldwide and The Mess, a local ministry. They prayed and cried with me when my mom died of cancer right in the middle of the pandemic. They blessed me to pursue my doctoral studies at Western Theological Seminary – writing a thesis about receiving conflict in the church as a gift.

As of this week, because of what has happened at our synodical gathering and because of our disagreement with the outcomes, we have no idea what is going to happen next. May God watch over us all and give us gladness and life (and wisdom and strength) in the coming weeks and months.

The De Jonge family at Kingston’s postponed Pride festival in September of 2021.

Heidi S. De Jonge

Heidi S. De Jonge is the pastor of Westside Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Kingston, Ontario. She and her husband, Tim, a CRC chaplain, parent three grade school daughters. Heidi enjoys cake decorating, cycling, and digital scrapbooking.

62 Comments

  • Tim De Jonge says:

    I love this! I love you and your writing and our girls and this photo. I mean, this photo is my favourite photo ever!

    • Andrea DeWard says:

      Love you both so much, and this is my fave photo of your family too! ❤️

    • Joel Slenk says:

      So was the purpose of this article to write one sentence at the end stating that she disagrees with synod’s decision, or was it to give a sanctimonious blow by blow account of her ordinary life story.

      Simple bottom line – the CRC is not yet ready for this. They will some day, just not yet As was blatantly obvious over the past week and a half. I left the CRC a few years ago to engage a more sophisticated denomination that is much further ahead than the CRC in partnering and utilizing the increfible insight of LGBQT spiritual leaders.

      Your family has a simple choice, stay in the denomination and grudgiingly accept and quietly respect the current position of leadership, or move on.

      • Phyllis Roelofs says:

        As a female who was born into the CRC nearly four score years ago, and knows much of its history, I do not view Heidi’s story as ordinary. I am not looking for a sophisticated denomination, rather one that believes and practices the priesthood of all believers. Do I detect an “edge” in your response?

        • Henry says:

          Amen! I joined the CRC through adoption rather than birth, precisely because it is not a “sophisticated” denomination. That doesn’t mean it’s naïve or dumb. Quite the opposite. I love this church and what it stands for, even when we don’t see eye to eye on every topic.

      • Erica Schemper says:

        Leaving and staying are both complex choices, and I’m not sure any of us are qualified to make those decisions for others, or to see the choice someone else has to make as simple.

        I’m a CRC person who left. In some ways, it was simple. In other ways, it was not.

        Right now, I’m trying to surround my siblings in Christ in prayer as they figure out what’s next, rather than telling them I have the answer.

      • Janet says:

        This is a lamentation. Please give us a minute to grieve before telling us to “suck it up buttercup”

    • Rev Curt Roelofs says:

      So beautiful for your whole family to stand up publicly for God’s full diverse inclusive family. Thanks for sharing your 45 years of being CRC. May God’s powerful keeping watch bless you all and continue to make you a blessing to many others.

    • Jeff Kallemeyn says:

      Thanks for sharing your story. Love the picture! Praying for you both as you navigate what is next.

  • What a wonderful story of your roots. Thank you for sharing your fears for the future. I will be praying for you during this time of uncertainly.

  • Kate kooyman says:

    Holding all of this with you, the love and the loss. I’m so sorry.

  • Bruce Buursma says:

    Thank you, Pastor Heidi, for telling your story of God’s faithful care through the seasons of celebration and sorrows. So many of us join with you in wondering what might emerge from the wreckage we witnessed this week. May God give us comfort, courage, and — yes, “clarity” for such a time as this.

  • Johannes Witte says:

    The picture spoke a thousand words! Thanks Heidi

  • Jane Vroon says:

    Thank you for sharing your powerful story.

  • James Schaap says:

    Thank you, Heidi. A couple of decades ago I didn’t ask to write a denominational history. The proposal came as a request–“Jim, would you help us with a project. . .” So I did, in part because the history of the CRC is a great story. I loved telling it–besides, it’s my story. On my own, I created a show that presented that story, and, with the blessing of and more than a few dimes from the denomination, we toured a lot of regions. I am cradle CRC, just like you; I could be Lutheran or Methodist tomorrow and still be CRC. But I want you to know that you’re not at all alone, as comments made clear yesterday and will again today, I’m sure.

  • Pat Cavanaugh says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey. I too grieve the decision and wonder where we go from here.

  • Sharon Davis Payton says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Pastor Heidi. So many of us what will emerge next after this past week. At the moment we grieve and are sad.

  • Jim Payton says:

    Thank you for opening up to us the precious story of how the Lord has led your life in and through the CRC, and how the CRC has meant so much to you. With you, many of us are grieving at the path the 2022 Synod has taken, one we can’t walk with them. Your post today articulates well the “What now, Lord?” so many of us who have served in and been shaped by the CRC are asking.

  • Scott VanderStoep says:

    Tim was a student of mine in my first year teaching at Calvin–I think it was Cognitive Psychology–and then many years later he was the chaplain for my mom’s last few days at Hospice of Holland. Please give him my kindest regards. I enjoy reading your essays.

    • Tim De Jonge says:

      Scott! So good to hear from you again. I had forgotten that I had been there at the end of your mom’s life. I have fond memories of my time with Hospice of Holland and the holy privilege of being with people as death neared. Thanks for commenting, and for reading Heidi’s writings. God’s peace to you!

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    For those of us in the RCA who wonder some of the same things in our denomination and find ourselves in a similar “What next?” moment, you are not alone. Thank you so much for your story. It matters to more people than you can imagine.

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    A beautiful story about the ordinary, yet so precious churches and people who have nurtured us and shaped us as the circle has expanded through the years. Having lied to the stern elders at my profession of faith because I knew I would not be granted admission if I admitted to attending movies and dancing, what will our rule-based admission now look like? Grieving and praying God provides a way forward.

  • Rev. Ruth Lenger says:

    Thank you. I, too, grew up in Gerald Rapids and am thankful for my heritage in the CRC. I am now an ordained pastor in the PC(USA) and am equally thankful that my life and God have lead me into a much more open and fulfilling place. I greatly believe in the wisdom of Ecclesiastes… there is a time for everything, especially a time to move on.

    • Kathy says:

      Sadly, not all PC(USA) congregations have been inclusive. My Seattle church experienced a split when our pastor hired a gay staff person. Those who “couldn’t go there” left, and we have struggled due to a serious decrease in numbers. Both our pastor and the staff person have been called to other churches and the staff person has since been ordained as a pastor (in conservative Idaho of all places!). We are crawling back, and still might not make it, but at our core, we believe that ALL are encouraged to belong and to serve. Having been raised in the RCA I am watching and praying and grieving over the distinct possibility that my own birth congregation will leave the denomination over this issue. My mother is the oldest member of that congregation and was baptized there.

  • June De Wit says:

    Such life-giving comments to this generous write. We will not compartmentalize. We will not stop loving wholeheartedly.

  • Tom Eggebeen says:

    I’ve taken the liberty of posting your fine essay to “Happy to be a Presbyterian” on Facebook, a group I founded some years back.
    As I read your story, I kept thinking of all the pain we caused our sisters and brothers in the PCUSA, for want of courage. But, we finally did it. We opened wide the doors of the church, many of the self-appointed gatekeepers picked up their marbles and left for another game, and how grateful I am that the matter has been resolved.
    I have no advice … with family roots in the CRC, a grad of Calvin (1966), and proud to be Dutch, I had real hope for the CRC at this point in time, but it looks like the Synod took a hard turn to the right. Sad, very, very, sad.
    Keep up the good work … the LORD will make the way ahead. All the best … and keep on writing.

  • Mary Huissen says:

    Stories are so powerful – thank you for sharing yours. I imagine many readers have similar stories, as do I; born and bred. James Schaap’s phrase resonates: “I could be Lutheran or Methodist tomorrow and still be CRC.”

    I’m grateful that after far too many painful years, the CRC Synod finally opened the pathway to ministry for gifted pastors like Laura De Jong and Heidi De Jonge. It wasn’t that long ago. I’m glad it was in time for these two, but many, many gifted women of earlier generations (including mine) either quit or went elsewhere. (See the comment by Rev. Ruth Lenger, above.)

    This issue slices pretty much the same way – differences of interpretation of texts mixed with culture wars. The denomination has already lost and will continue to lose extraordinarily gifted people and future leaders.

    But this morning I’m stuck on Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1, which I memorized, along with the rest of the brief answers in the Catechism in order to profess my faith. Belonging is such a powerful, emotional force. I have oriented my life around it.

    In my grandparent’s home there was a framed picture in the dining room of the first question and answer with an image of a church above it. I’m afraid to admit I always cared more about belonging to human families, communities, and church families and have struggled with the more abstract concept of belonging to Jesus. The church image above the catechism seemed completely, unquestionably apt to me when I was young.

    But the church does not make an appearance in the answer to the question of to whom we belong.

    Some realignment may be in order…

  • Jan Heerspink says:

    Heidi, I’m in tears reading this. I, too, am cradle CRC –with a short diversion to Central Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. I love and support your family photo, Tim and Heidi. Where will we all land? And when?

  • James Hart Brumm says:

    I can only begin to imagine the pain you are feeling, the pain so many people I love and respect in the CRC are feeling, based on the pain I have felt in the RCA–but the differences in our polity protect us a bit. I am praying so much for all of you. I stand ready to help all of you in any way I can as God, who didn’t want this to happen, uses it, somehow, for good.

  • Rev. Barb Swartzel says:

    I am a PC(USA) pastor, well educated at Calvin College and Western Seminary. I am a strong LGBTQ ally, and supported the changes that have come in the PCUSA. I grieve for you, for all my friends and colleagues in the CRC and RCA. I learned so much from both denominations, and am praying for both in these challenging times for you. Heidi, know that should you need to find a new home for ministry that you would be welcomed in the Presbyterian Church, who could learn much from your passion–all of your passions!

  • Rick Mast says:

    Beautiful. Thank you. Wishing you peace and every good thing…whatever you end up doing!

  • Mary says:

    From two who “did it”, finally wearied of being sad, and left the CRC, we can tell you that Schaap’s comment rings truest of all. We joined a PC(USA) in Bozeman, MT and when we moved to a summer home in Bigfork, MT and went church shopping, chose a small community Methodist(UMC) church where we have been happy beyond words. The Methodists and Presbyterians let us keep our membership fluid because it doesn’t mean the same thing as it did the in CRC. An additional benefit is that both churches have ecclesiastical fellowship, a phrase we love because the CRC tries to stay so “pure” that it fellowships with only a few.

    It was a difficult step to leave the CRC, but we thank God that we did. We serve freely and without checking to see if it’s OK. Both of us are used, wrung out and happily exhausted with serving in our churches. I pray for the future of all the CRC folks who are sad; God will give you direction and grace. Blessings to all of you…

  • Pat Weatherwax says:

    Since CPE in 2004, I always knew your story and your voice would be powerful. I left the RCA for the PC(USA) because of a stronger sense of acceptance for all.
    “God’s mercy, peace and love, in abundance” (Jude2).

  • Grace Veldheer says:

    Thank you Pastor Heidi for your writing in the Reformed Journal.
    We know the pain our CRC denomination has caused first hand. Many who made strong statements and ruled over decisions made are now long gone.
    We are with you all the way! Keep going so others may be encouraged in the future.
    Men make these decisions but our Lord rules over All of Gods children.

  • Cindy Visser says:

    Heidi,
    I was blessed to be on a SWIM team when your folks were in Pipestone! It was an incredible summer of growth and joy spending time with your parents and living with the Bloom’s. I thank God for this time in my life and I am so grateful that he allowed us to be a part of their lives.

  • Henry de Jong says:

    Sixty-six years for me. One hundred and twenty-two for the family members that I’ve known and loved (who were ‘goed gereformeerd’). There’s no way that I’m going to let that be taken from me. The CRC belongs to us all. It might seem, for a time, that hijackers are in control, but the Spirit remains strong throughout, I am committed to blooming where I am planted and I am confident that the CRC will continue to bear good fruit.

    • Daryl DeKlerk says:

      Good day Henry, I appreciate your faithfulness following Jesus in the CRC, and your thanks for God’s goodness in it. I speak as a fellow “cradle CRC’er” for 45 years, like Heidi. Just want to humbly ask: how you would feel if fellow believers called you a ‘hijacker’ for having a different interpretation on a point of ethics? Is it right to use language that implies murderous intent? Would that kind of name-calling be an example of what you cite as, “the Spirit remains strong throughout?”

      • Sheryl L Mulder says:

        I don’t think you can assume the term “hijackers” is being said because of those who hold a different position on the HSR. What many of us have seen, heard, and shared was the extensive political strategizing tactics on the part of those who first ensured the restrictions on committee members of HSR took place and this time supported the passing of the HSR. Before you say ” all sides do it,” I can safely say that what was preplanned by a group of pastors and delegates to ensure they “won” (their words) HSR passing was far outside the ways in which those of us with concerns about full passage of the HSR felt should be normative when trying to work within the church body to make change.

  • Joyce Looman Kiel says:

    Thank you Heidi. I have not been involved— “cradled”in the CRC as you shared so poignantly but I felt your sadness deeply nonetheless. It seems like a betrayal—not what or who you thought you were believing in. I can relate to that— though I hope I’m not projecting. What I learned over much time is the story—God’s story— is not over. And it is His Church. May we, as part of THAT Church be faithful.

  • I share deep roots in the CRC. The denomination must continue to be challenged to be inclusive. How to continue the journey with love and conviction for those wanting to participate in this denomination. As a person with a disability I relate to the CRC statement about members with disabilities; That all May more fully participate in the life of the church. My Neuro-disability is not always understood but usually accepted. May the acceptance of neuro-diversity become more broadly accepted inbthe denomination. Each of us are part of the diversity within God’s creation.

  • Ken Baker says:

    Thanks, Heidi, for sharing your story, your faith, your heart.

  • Helena Rhebergen Vreugdenhil says:

    Thanks Heidi! So good to read your story. I too am deeply rooted in the CRC. This decision has broken my heart. It was nice to see you at classes and you remembered me. May God bless you and your family.

  • Noreen Vander Wal says:

    I’d like to hear more about receiving conflict as a gift in a church. My take away from this post is that through hardship and turmoil, God’s faithfulness endures, and though there is conflict, there is also love and grace. “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail . . .” Thanks for your encouragement.

  • Janel Kragt Bakker says:

    Thank you for your courage in posting this piece, Heidi. I’m no longer in the CRC, but I grieve with you. May you find the wisdom, grace, and strength you need for whatever comes next. I love your family photo at the end of the essay.

  • Norman Heersink says:

    The Churches one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord. Not your length of membership.

  • Rick Theule says:

    Thank you. I have spent much of the last few days wondering the same. I lost my congregational family of 50 years 16 months ago. Am I now going to lose my denomination?

  • Paul Vanderzee says:

    Thank you for your well articulated experience of being born and raised in the CRC. It mirrors very closely my and my wife’s experience in the culture and faith of our denomination. While not surprised by the Synodical decision this past week it is still sad for me because I know our small CRC church will have some difficult decisions in our future. We have been loosening our emotional connections to the CRC over the past 10 years with our daughter, your cousin, being in a lovely gay marriage with 2 little kids. When/if it comes to our church separating from the CRC it will be a sad time for me, while resting on the foundation that my Jesus loves me and loves my daughter and her wife and their two “littles” as well as your lovely family!
    Love you!
    Uncle Paul

  • Joe M says:

    What would be a highly moving piece is undercut at the end by a sad family photo that conveys in a way words cannot just why the CRCs decision was necessary and good. Truth matters even when it is difficult.

  • Greg Wudrick says:

    You are making a terrible mistake. How can you endorse that which the Bible says is shameful and indecent?
    The CRC has declared it will not tolerate sexual immorality, such as adultery, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, polyamory pornography homosexual sex.

    You approve of homosexuality. Do you also approve of those who refuse to repent of and persist in indulging in adultery, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, polyamory and pornography? Would you make a flag to celebrate these sins? What has happened to you?

  • My husband and I bring an unusual perspective to this issue. A few years ago, all we knew about the CRC was that it existed. We grew up attending United and Presbyterian churches and were members at an AGC church here in Kingston, Ontario. Then I attended a course at Westside Fellowship, where Heidi is the pastor, on creating Restorative Communities in churches. I really appreciated the course and the way that Westside was implementing it. Fast forward to the pandemic, when we were looking for a new church home. We read Heidi’s posts in this journal, subscribed to the journal and read about the upcoming decision at Synod, and watched a few of Westside’s services online. Many, many things resonated with us and we decided, after Easter of this year, to attend Westside in person. Even though we were reading this journal, we didn’t completely understand what would or could be ahead for the future of the CRC or Westside. And now that we understand better, it is certainly an option to look elsewhere for our new church home and to run screaming from what could be a time of difficulty. But I was reminded of the prophet Jeremiah, who heard the LORD say to him to buy the field of his uncle and have it witnessed, because “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” Bless you Heidi and Tim! In faith and trust, Maureen

  • Paul J Bouwmeester says:

    Another nail in the coffin; the inevitable death of the CRC.
    And they wonder – why so many – continue to leave.
    Another sad day, for the CRC.

  • Norm Heersink says:

    Pursue holiness; it is the Christian’s crown and glory. An unholy church is useless to the world and of no esteem among men. It is an abomination, hell’s laughter, heaven’s abhorrence. The worst evils that have ever come upon the world have been brought upon her by an unholy church. O Christian, the vows of God are upon you.
    – CH Spurgeon-

  • Marcella Stroobosscher says:

    Heidi. You have garnered many comments. That’s because you put into words many things that many of us are feeling and you do not minimize any of it by offering solutions, platitudes, opinions (because really, in these times, what most people love doing is either voicing their opinion or posting articles that support their “view”.) I loved reading this! It was refreshing. It captures the tension many of us “cradle” CRC’ ers are feeling right now. The tension of loving a culture and denomination that has shaped so much of us: the fibre of our being rests in this denomination. Our individual narratives are part of the greater reformed narrative that informed many of the things we did, stood for, believed in (most of the time) and felt supported by. A few years back; I had the worst cancer diagnosis and it was my CRC community that poured out from all parts of North America. (Update: God healed). I loved going to Calvin where I could be part of a faith community willing to question and wrestle with the real parts of living on this earth. But the part of all that is good about belonging to this family is now clashing with the deep pain we now feel about its recent decision; almost like a mortal wound. It’s minimizing the whole thing if the solution is simply; “Just be done and leave” as someone so kindly suggested. It’s not about leaving the CRC. Even though that is what might happen for many of our churches. For some reason, this just seems monumentally bigger and I’m trying to figure out why. I can’t put it into words yet. And I’m not even going to a CR Church. And that is why I love how you ended your writing so simply; albeit a bit abruptly; but the point is made. We feel a deep connection to this denomination and it’s people. And we are grieving. And that is allowed to be shared.

  • Heidi, I feel your pain and feel like we are in the middle of a theological mess that may take my CRC from me after 80 years! I may not be buried from Calvin CRC! So sad for me but sadder still for my LGBTQ+ Christian friends, I hope to talk to you soon.

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