Back to the Future

(Published in Christian Courier, November 28, 2011)

This is my twelfth and final year of teaching catechism. I joke that I’ve finally learned enough church history to graduate! I always begin by telling my students that I enjoyed catechism as a teenager. They smirk. I tell them we’re going to have fun. They roll their eyes.  No really, I say.  I perform, with serious gangsta attitude, a catechism rap I “invented.” They perk up.

Wake up, kids, it’s half-past eight!

Ain’t nothin really changin’ but the date.

You’re a real grandslammer, but you’re no Babe Ruth.

You gotta learn how to relate,

Or you’ll be stoppin’ at the Pearly Gate!

Now Luther and Calvin’s who I’m representin’

Ain’t nobody better in my hood…

They say the only way’s by repentin’

And not by any works that you might call good.

So, wake up, kids, listen to what I say!

This ain’t no cheap rhyme display.

If you wanna get to Reformation Day…

It’s Geneva and Wittenburg, all the way. Yo!

On our first night together, I ask my students why they go to our church. Invariably, with amusement or derision, they answer, “Because my parents make me.” We go on a field trip and check out all the churches in our village – Baptist, United, Presbyterian. There are seven other churches in our bite-sized community! We slide through Tim Hortons for some donuts. I leave them with this question: Why don’t your parents (and you) belong to those churches? The next week we’re off and running, travelling back in time to figure out how we got here – to the classic white-sided church on  4524 Confederation Line in Wyoming, Ont.

Recently I had a chance to visit a museum in the basement of the Graafschap Christian Reformed Church, near Holland, Michigan. (Huge shout out to Bill Sytsma and friends who had the foresight and dedication to create this archival treasure). The artefacts and displays tell the story of the birth of the CRCNA. Those stubborn Dutch pioneers overcame tremendous obstacles to build a church and carve a community out of the inhospitable Michigan forest. I marvel at my ecclesiastical bloodline, simultaneously herculean and petty. In 1865, a scant eight years after secession and the formation of a “denomination” of four tiny congregations, they are squabbling about fire insurance. If you buy fire insurance, you betray your lack of trust in God and tarnish the church’s witness. After vehement  wrangling, the issue is finally resolved … you can participate in the Lord’s Supper if you own fire insurance, but can’t serve as  deacon or elder. Such austere faith was put to the test in 1871 when most of  Holland, Michigan was burned to the ground.  Insured or not, the settlers carried on. They rebuilt their town and their lives. They kept on going to church.

This year, one last time, I’ll guide my lone catechumen (no one really calls them that, anymore), yes, my ONE student, down the historical path from Paul’s missionary journeys to the Inquisition to Graafschap CRC to the Wyoming CRC. We’ll talk about her hopes and dreams, her faith, her choices about church membership.

I’ll testify to my love for the CRC and make a pitch for it being the church she should cling to as she matures. I’ll use every teacher’s trick I know – a rap song, video clips, and those old tried and true mnemonic devices like GRACE( God’s riches at Christ’s expense), ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication), and SIN, SALVATION, SERVICE (The Heidelberg Catechism). I’ll try to impart some sense of what drove her spiritual ancestors to sail across the ocean to nothing but hunger and hardship  – all for the exultation of worshipping God without fire insurance. In Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, Richard Mouw says, “For some of us at least, to be a Calvinist today also means that we will have to work at keeping alive the memories of older sayings and teachings in the hope that there will soon come a day when many others will want to learn such things again.”  

Mouw’s right. Thank you, Bill Systma, curator of our heritage. Thank you, Rev. John Wierenga, my first catechism teacher. And thank you, dear Hannah Klazinga, for showing up each Tuesday night and listening. For wanting to learn.  Another teenager, Graafschap settler Egbert Fredriks, wrote, “Even in the midst of this misery, prayers to God for mercy were heard and the woods rang with psalms. We remained firm in the belief that we journeyed with him. We kept believing on his promises that light would shine upon us out of the darkness and better times would come.”

                     

Seated beside Hannah, in a plain church basement room, reading from A.D.: A Study of Church History, I can still believe it: “The light will shine out of the darkness and better times will come.”

 

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