My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was a priest in the Netherlands. That’s thirteen “greats” if you weren’t counting. His name was Feito Ruardi, and he was born in Friesland in 1520, just three years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. The Reformation reached Holland a generation later, with a Calvinist flavor. As my dad writes in his account of this family history, by 1550, “the evangelically minded Father Ruardi was moonlighting as Pastor Ruardi, having laid the foundations for a Reformed Church in Groningen, developed in secret and meeting at night.”
I know about Feito because my dad, Henry, for the last many months, has been painstakingly tracing and building up his family tree. To this date his tree bears some 2,779 names and stretches back over six centuries. Some of the names are just that – a name with the dates of birth and death. But for some, like Feito, the internet bears a bit more information.
So we know that, like many reforming priests of the time, Feito gave up celibacy, allowing him to marry Grietje, with whom he had just one child – Klaaske, in 1560. Only a year before, William of Orange, then a Roman Catholic ally of Spain, had been appointed governor of much of Holland. By the time Klaaske turned 21, William had become a defender of Protestant Holland, and he led the Netherlands in declaring independence from Spain. A few years earlier, Klaaske had married Harmen Kolde, who became a prestigious pastor in Leeuwarden.
Their daughter, Grietje, married a cloth merchant, Hermanus Reneman, and together they had fourteen children, two of whom – Herman and Daniël – became pastors in the mid-17th century. Herman married Janke Hilarius (daughter and granddaughter of a few more pastors), and in 1657 Johannes Hermanus was born. Here the line of pastors ends. After the deaths of his first two wives, Johannes married Ytje Lieuwes Amminga in 1700 and settled on the island of Ameland, where one of their four children, Antje, fell in love with a skipper named Gerke Cornelis Bakker, who moved her to his home turf on the island of Terschelling, where their daughter Neeke married a man by the name of Cornelis Annes de Jong.
This is where I begin to be able to wrap my mind around the family line. Neeke and Cornelis had a son named Anne, who had a son named Harmen Annes de Jong in 1808. When I visited the island of Terschelling in 2011 and knocked on the door of my grandfather’s cousin, I introduced myself as “Laura van Henry van Herman van Hinne van Cees van Harmen de Jong.” The de Jongs lived on the island for many years, tilling the land and exploring the sea, until my great-grandparents returned to Groningen, where, ten generations earlier, Feito Ruardi had planted the first Reformed church in the city.
In a couple weeks my family will explore some of these places, returning to the Netherlands for a family reunion. We’re returning to the Netherlands because, like so many, my grandparents immigrated to Canada after the Second World War, joining communities of Dutch immigrants who relied on each other and worked together to establish friendships, schools, and churches.
The first Christian Reformed church established in Ontario after the war was First CRC in Kitchener, Ontario. On July 11, 1948, the church was formally instituted with Rev. G.J. Vander Ziel of Chatham officiating. This past weekend, this church (now Community CRC) celebrated its 75th anniversary, and I, standing on the shoulders of my ancestors, preached on Psalm 145. “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.”
As part of our anniversary celebrations, we put together a museum of sorts. Using old bulletins and photos, we displayed a timeline of events within the church. We also filled the timeline with events of the denomination, Canada, and the world.
So one bulletin announcement from June, 1952, shows the church buying its first property on Ottawa Street. The next event on the timeline is the U.S. dropping the hydrogen bomb in the South Pacific six months later.
As Jim Bratt reminded us last week, 1973 was a big year, seeing the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, Watergate, an oil embargo, and Roe v. Wade. It was also the year CCRC celebrated its 25th anniversary.
And in 2019, Community CRC completed a major renovation and addition project. Just a few months later, the first Covid case was reported in Canada, sending us home from the building for quite some time.
The world changes. From 1520 – 1581. From 1808 – 2011. From 1948 – 2023.
The world changes. The church changes. But faith – and the faithfulness of God – persists.
Psalm 145 is the last psalm of David in the psalter, and it comes near the end of Book V, depicting Israel’s life after the return from exile. When her world had changed.
And these words, what we might call the last words of King David, speak to the people from centuries earlier, reminding Israel to put her trust, not in earthly kings and kingdoms, but in the one true King, whose “kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,” whose “dominion endures through all generations.”
This has been a hard year for my church, as it has been for many. We’re in a season of uncertainty – the ground is shifting beneath our feet. But the words of Psalm 145 are as true for us today as they were for Israel in the 5th century B.C., and as they were for a fledgling Reformed church in 1550. As are these words, a paraphrase of Psalm 90 written by Isaac Watts in 1714, with which we concluded the sermon
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home.