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Legacy CRC

By June 9, 2023 10 Comments

For someone like myself, not to bring up the CRC Synod, which begins today, is quite frankly impossible. Pardon the me-ness of what’s here, but it’s the story to which I have come heir and have myself created. 

When they came to America in 1868, my Schaap ancestors came in a bunch, all of them long-time residents of the island of Terschelling, where they’d determined that the God-directed importance of a new separatist church, an afscheiding church, was sorely missing. The island had none. Other opportunities the new life offered must have played a role in their decision to leave, but the only Dutch relative I ever met (in a retirement home in Harlingen) told me that because the island had no separatist church our great-grandparents left the island to set course for America. 

Clannish? For sure. That whole bunch, a couple dozen Terschelling-ites, crossed the ocean and half the continent together, then stayed together at a place called German Valley, in a state called Illinois. Why German Valley? Because a friend back home, from East Friesland originally, had a relative or two or three in that colony of German Reformed folks. She knew someone who knew someone. . .that’s how it went, how immigration always goes.

How long they stayed in German Valley and why they left I don’t know, but their next stop on the way west was Parkersburg, Iowa, another German Reformed community. Then, somewhere in the 1870s, still in a bunch, they tried life in a new colony in northwest Iowa. But cheaper land led them even farther west into South Dakota in the 1880s, where years of drought wiped them out and sent them back to Parkersburg, where their youngest son, and my grandfather, John C. Schaap, graduated from high school in 1898. His diploma hangs in our library. The one he received a few years later from Calvin Theological School is also in our possession. Every word is Dutch. 

The immigrants, C. C. and Neeltje Schaap, eventually returned to northwest Iowa, where he died in 1905, in Orange City. The newspaper said a heart attack took him sleepily that late Sabbath night after having returned, by buggy, with his son, a brand new preacher, who’d held forth that morning and afternoon at a rural church five miles distant, a whistle stop burg named Carnes, Iowa. My great-grandfather’s death that night has always seemed to me a most blessed departure.

His son, that fledgling CRC pastor, had married a fair daughter of his own Theological School professor, a man named Gerrit Hemkes. All their nine children, including my father, were raised in a parsonage to be fine, God-fearing folks, loving people, including my dad. Throughout their lives, my parents were entirely and devotedly CRC.

My fingers have been slapping keyboards for 50 years, turning out all kinds of work for and of the denomination, including its history, as well as a book for the Back to God Hour and another for Rehoboth. I dare to say that more than a few synodical delegates, when kids, were read devotional books with James C. Schaap on the covers. On stage, in the company of talented actors and musicians, I’ve told the story of the CRC to delighted audiences around the continent. For forty years I taught English and writing at Dordt College.

Post-retirement, my wife and I moved away and worshipped at a tiny Presbyterian Church for a time. We were young people, it seemed, in an elderly church so small we greeted everyone come Sunday morning and still were back in the pews in less than five minutes. 

A year later–and for a variety of reasons–we left Alton Pres and returned to Covenant CRC, Sioux Center, where we’d worshipped for decades, even though going back meant an extra hour of travel. Alton Pres decided to break from mainline Presbyterians and affiliate with a more conservative fellowship, even though gay marriage didn’t alter a thing during their and our Sunday worship. We left, both of us feeling we’d had enough of drawing lines in the sand. At tiny Alton Pres, the denominational break was engineered by two elders–both were reared CRC. 

Like everyone else, I don’t know where this year’s synod will go, how it will move if it moves at all. I’m just hoping that we keep talking. If not, I’m quite sure I’ll be on the outs. That’s difficult to imagine; but that I’ve always been CRC doesn’t mean I’ve forever been at home with its many peccadillos.

I was a shocked little boy when my mother took me to a movie, Old Yeller, and we sat in a dark movie theater. My dad used to grouse when nail heads would emerge from dry wall he’d hung himself in our house, proof, he said, that my older sisters and their friends were dancing. I sat through more than one dinner conversation about the Martin Luther King’s dalliance with, you know, “known communists.”

Last Sunday when we walked into church, a squad of bikes stood just outside the front door. I was reared to believe the Lord had spoken somewhere in Deuteronomy that riding bike on Sunday was, well, verboten, a Sabbath transgression. Believe me, on Sunday morning I certainly wasn’t offended by those bikes; but it darkened my entrance to have to remember that bikes on Sunday was some kind of sin. It’s in me. I’ll die with it, I’m sure, just as I’ll die with the promises my faith tradition have given me. Some things are marked “no exit.”

No matter which direction this Synod takes, I think I’m incapable of change, because I was born Christian Reformed and a part of me, quite simply, shall not be moved, even if the opposition rounds up a squad of skid loaders, which may well happen. 

My fourscore and ten passed a while ago. I’ve reached an age C. C. and J. C. Schaap never did. No matter what happens, no matter where we choose to attend Sunday worship next year, for better or for worse a not-to-be-lost part of this old man’s heart and soul and mind and strength will always be somehow Christian Reformed. 

Like so many others, I’ll be praying.


Up top, C. C. and Neeltje Kuiper Schaap; middle, Rev. John C. and Gertrude Hemkes Schaap

James C. Schaap

James Calvin Schaap is a retired English prof who has been something of a writer for most of the last 40 years. His latest work, a novel, Looking for Dawn, set in reservation country, is the story of two young women joined by their parents' mutual brokenness and, finally, a machine-shed sacrament of reconciliation. He writes and narrates a weekly essay on regional history for KWIT, public radio, Sioux City, Iowa. He and his wife Barbara live on the northern edge of Alton, Iowa, the Sgt. Floyd River a hundred yards or so from their back door. They have a cat--rather, he has them.


  • Ed Starkenburg says:

    We are watching and praying with you, James.

  • Al Mulder says:

    Thanks, Jim. So much to be celebrated in our CRC history, and so much to be lamented. Yes, no matter how the current conflict plays out — one may be able to squeeze the boy out of the CRC but not the CRC out of the boy. I too am praying..

    • Lois Roelofs says:

      Al and Jim, I agree that once CRC, you can’t squeeze it out of a person. Raised in an environment much like Jim’s and in a CRC personage, I’m now Presbyterian primarily because of the long-standing “issue” in the CRC of “women in office.” Like a recent writer on this forum, I was tired of being an “issue.” I’m in full agreement with the “inclusive” stance in my present church. However, I will always appreciate the firm grounding I got from the CRC. .

  • June says:

    I loved this. Everything from the squad of bikes to the squad of skid loaders. But the emerging nails attesting to the dancing daughters 😉. With you in hope and prayer.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    There’s something to be said for staying in until they kick you out.

  • Joel Slenk says:

    Not sure what the main point of this article is.
    Is it to recount your family’s unique – or maybe not so unique sojourn over the last 170 years?
    Is it to hint at your stance on the human sexuality issue?
    Is it to encourage the reader to pray like you will be?
    Is it a lament for your denomination that is destined to split?
    Or is it to remind us that regardless how sub-Christian the CRC becomes – it is still difficult to un-CRC one’s self?


    “Like so many others, I’ll be praying,” me too – pondering the poetry of this moment in time. Colorado-based poet Wendy Videlock’s poem comes to mind.

    Change is the new,


    word for god,

    lovely enough
    to raise a song

    or implicate

    a sea of wrongs,
    mighty enough,

    like other gods,

    to shelter,
    bring together,

    and estrange us.

    Please, god,
    we seem to say,

    change us.

  • George Bruins says:

    Even if born CRC, all of us have diverse roots: Dutch Reformed? Dutch Afscheiding? RCA? German CRC? Dutch CRC? A newer offshoot? Does it matter?
    A far greater threat than schism is the accelerating rate of withdrawal from the church and the increasing frequency of God becoming another “god.”
    Our common roots are in the worship of one God–see the Apostle’s Creed.

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