Music in the Woods (3)

It was May of 1849 when a visitor in black coat and top hat rode into the city of Holland. Who was he?

By now Holland had grown to over 200 log cabins and several shops. The surrounding woods were steadily being cleared to make room for fields and farms. Though the Dutch immigrants worked very hard to settle the area, it was all they could do to grow enough food to keep them alive and have some semblance of a roof over their heads. Luxuries and comforts were none. The visitor was obviously not one of them.

Rev. Isaac Wyckoff! Yes, the man from the east who had so helped their own Rev. Van Raalte three years ago, and had helped them and many more immigrants since. They welcomed him with open arms. And he was very glad to see them.

He came on behalf of the large Reformed denomination that was already established in America since 1624. Could these new immigrants from Holland join his Reformed Church? And could the Reformed Church in America help them?

They certainly needed it. Rev. Wyckoff saw their severe poverty. Families lived in one-room cabins with boxes and crates for tables and chairs. They had only a little salt pork, potatoes, and corn meal to eat. But he also saw their faith and hope. He reported back east that he had never seen such piety before. And he heard them sing their beloved Psalms with such joy and zest! “They do all things with prayer and praise,” he wrote.

The Reformed Church in America held to the same confessions that these wooden shoe-clad believers did. They ought to be brothers.

But the matter was not so easily decided. These immigrant Dutchmen were battle-worn spiritual warriors. They had been sorely persecuted in the Netherlands for holding to these Reformed truths in all their distinctive fullness. They had been forced to leave the State Reformed Church there, a secession known as the Afscheiding of 1834. That was not so long ago. Now in joining with the Reformed Church in America they might be compromising those very truths they held dear as their lives. The State Reformed Church in the Netherlands claimed to hold to these confessions too, but…

Rev. Wyckoff added one more persuading argument. He told them they could bid his Reformed Church “a fraternal adieu” (a brotherly good-bye) if they were at any time not happy about the union. Rev. Van Raalte supported joining the large denomination. Finally, the handful of elders and ministers in the woods of West Michigan agreed.

The following year, in 1850, these Seceders of the Afscheiding were officially united to the Reformed Church in America. They were called “Classis Holland” of the west. They were one.

It was a union that would not last.