Sixtieth Anniversary Retrospective
Adapted from the 60th Anniversary Program—Siebe Dejong
About sixty years ago, a few of our recently immigrated forefathers got together and formed an unusually bold new plan: they decided to establish a new church on the south side of the Fraser River. Back in 1954, that was thinking outside the box. There was an existing Canadian Reformed Church in New Westminster already. There were even plans for an independent Christian school. What were these folk thinking? A new church on the south side of the Fraser River? Why would anyone want to do that?
The answer to “Why Cloverdale?” lies mainly in the shared values and history of immigrant Dutch farmers who had arrived in the Fraser Valley in the early post-war years.
They all came from various parts of the Netherlands. They came to this region, saw the green grass, the prime farmland, the mountains, the moderate climate, and the rain, and said, “Ja, we can live here.” It was all very familiar to them, and so they stayed. They came with different backgrounds and trades, but they shared a very strong love for God, for the church of Jesus Christ, and for their own families. For the most part, they shared a strong love for the land and for dairy farming. Above all, their common language and Reformed Church heritage welded them together into a strongly cohesive group.
They were fiercely independent people. They were people who did not want or expect help from the government. But, they were also people with a strong sense of community, who helped each other a lot. As farmers, labourers, carpenters, or salesmen or mothers at home, they used their skills to support their families and their church. Not many of them were well-educated or academics. But, they could tell you where to find almost anything in the Bible. They valued their church and Christian education very highly. Even with low wages and long working hours, they were prepared to make large sacrifices to build a church, call a minister, establish a school, hire teachers, and so on.
The first consistory met on March 7, 1954. All of the early meetings were chaired by the Rev. W. J. VanOene, who was, at that time, the minister of the church in New Westminster, which was the first Canadian Reformed Church in British Columbia. The minutes of each meeting were neatly written in longhand in the Dutch language, and then reviewed and signed by the office-bearers at the next meeting. These minute books are still carefully stored in our church archives.
The process of founding the church began in January of 1954, with support of only thirteen families. This quickly became 16 families, representing a total of 78 people. The first consistory was established by an election: Peter Huttema and John Peetoom were elected as elders, and Harm Bosscher was elected as the deacon, and given the church treasurer’s position as well. Among the many urgent decisions of the day, they decided to purchase a typewriter for the church newsletter and decided that each man would receive .07 cents a mile for all the driving they did on church business. Since there were only a few members on Council, they agreed that the deacons would have to read sermons at Sunday services as well as elders. They rented a church building out on the corner of Otter Road and Fraser Highway, and the church on the south side of the river was born.
In the minutes of these early meetings, we read of a number of exciting firsts. The very first Lord’s Supper in Cloverdale was celebrated on March 21st, 1954. At the second council meeting it was decided that all cigarettes would have to be extinguished at least fifteen minutes before the beginning of the worship service. Sunday collections would be held once a month for the mission field, and every third Sunday for the Church Building Fund. An overall plan to buy some property and build a church building started immediately!
The first baby born and baptized in Cloverdale was Gerrit (Germt) Bysterveld, on March 28, 1954. He still lives nearby, in the Abbotsford area. The first wedding in Cloverdale Church took place in October, when William Hoogerdijk married Martha Ann Jongs on October 17, 1954. Consistory decided at that time that weddings would not be part of the worship service, but would be held on a separate day.
Rapid Growth of the Church:
In May of 1954, three more families joined the church from Edmonton, Lethbridge, and New Westminster. The VanderHorst family arrived with 8 children. The Sikma family arrived with 8 children. And then the Flokstra family arrived with 7 children. These were large families, quite typical among Dutch Christian farm families. The council was surprised by this rapid growth, and immediately decided to hold elections and expand the council by one more elder and one more deacon. The election was held on June 30, 1954, and brothers Klaas Flokstra and Martin Vreugdenhil were added to the church council. Some new families arrived again in June, including the John Jongs family, who son Bill has been our church caretaker for many years.
In November another first took place: two young men publicly professed their faith and became confessing members of the church. Consistory decided to set up a pre-confession catechism class. At this same meeting, they agreed to have English language worship services once every 6 weeks, stipulating that the singing of psalms and hymns be done in English as well. By the end of the year 1954, an additional 64 people had joined the church, bringing the total membership to 147, with 5 children being born and baptized in that first year.
Seven months later, in July of 1955, the consistory met and decided to call a minister from Holland. The consensus was that they could afford a minister if they could pay him $8000 per year. After some unsuccessful calls, the council extended a call to Rev. Dirk VanderBoom in Holland in the fall of 1956. He cheerfully accepted the call, and arrived with four children in January of 1957. From then on, all council meetings were held at the new pastor’s house, and he chaired all the meetings.
One of the most striking things about the Cloverdale congregation was its generosity. Liberal gift-giving has been a trademark of the Cloverdale church from the start. In 1956, a revolution against communist rule took place in Hungary. When Russian troops moved in to crush the revolt in Hungary, thousands fled the country. Cloverdale’s council held a couple of special collections for the needy people of Hungary. Even in tough times, they readily and cheerfully shared their blessings with those in need.
Pastors Who Served Cloverdale Congregation
Rev. Dirk VanderBoom served the Cloverdale church with distinction. He was an energetic and dynamic preacher on the pulpit and in the classroom. Many senior members of our congregation still remember him fondly. In 1964, Rev. VanderBoom received a call, and he accepted it. In April of 1964, only ten years after institution, the Cloverdale consistory decided that all worship services would henceforth be conducted in English.
In 1965, council extended a call to Rev. J. T. VanPopta in Edmonton. He accepted, and a whole new phase of Cloverdale history began. Rev. VanPopta arrived in February of 1966, and served the church extremely well until he passed away suddenly in November of 1968. Many of his children and grandchildren have remained here in the Fraser Valley area, and his family members have become a valuable part of the fabric of our church community.
Skipping on through the decades, we would like to extend a word of thanks to all the pastors who have served in Cloverdale over the years: Johannes Mulder, James Visscher, Jack Moesker, Jan Huijgen, Frank Dong, and Theo Lodder. Each has served our church well and left an indelible mark on this community of believers. We are deeply indebted to each of them for teaching, explaining, and helping us understand the powerful message of God’s Word.
The Church of the Present Day
Has the character of our church community changed over the three generations and 60 years? Yes, it has. We reached a high of 520 members at one point in 1987. Since that time, some of our members split off to form the Willoughby Canadian Reformed Church, and our overall membership has to date remained around 300.
Over the decades, the Cloverdale church community has actively funded a Mission Aid ministry to Brazil and it continues to do so. Bill Bredenhof, one of our pioneer members, chaired this committee for many years, and has even written a book about the work in Brazil entitled, “The Gospel Under the Southern Cross”.
In 1999, the Langley and Cloverdale churches teamed up and initiated the Urban Mission Project to promote the Gospel to Chinese Canadians as well as overseas, and called Rev. Frank Dong to the task. Since the year 2000, he has been instrumental in founding and building the Chinese Reformed Church as an important part of our community. He continues to promote the Gospel with enthusiasm both here and in overseas
Are we a different church today? Yes: We now have a multi-ethnic church community. We have always known and taught that the church of Jesus Christ comes from every tribe, tongue, language, and nation. We are still attached to our Dutch Reformed roots, but we have become a clearly Canadian church, firmly planted in the soil of Cloverdale. We now have church members with roots in Eastern Europe, South East Asia, China, and Africa. You could say our church is rapidly becoming a Canadian cultural mosaic. This is as it should be.