PRC Archives: Did You Know…?

As we take our weekly look at matters relating to PRC history and archives, I begin with that simple question -only filled out now: Did you know… that Prof.Russell Dykstra, our resident church history professor, wrote a feature article on the PRC archives nearly ten years ago? And did you know that this article was published in the November 2005 issue of the PR Theological Journal?

PRTJournal-Nov-2005_Page_1

I suspect that many of you did not know this, or remember this – and you are not alone. I had forgotten this too, until I recently saw the title of the article on the cover of this Journal issue. And then I also knew I had to feature it here. Today is that day to do so.

In his Journal article Prof.Dykstra first of all gave a brief description of the origin of our PRC archives (and of the importance of keeping good, historical records), which is interesting and edifying in itself. Here is a part of what he has to say about this:

Like most Reformed and Presbyterian churches, the Protestant Reformed Churches have archives — a collection of records, documents, or other material of historical interest.  The synod of the PRC has demonstrated concern for the archives of the churches.  The Acts of the first synod of the PRC (1940) records the following (Art. 32):  “Because this Synodical gathering is the first in the history of our denomination and it therefore will undoubtedly prove of great historical interest, Synod decides it proper that a photograph be taken of the delegates and officers of Synod and a copy be preserved in the archives.”  A later synod assigned the stated clerk the task of “maintain(ing) the archives of synod.”  This includes, in addition to the printed Acts, correspondence, supplements, agendas of synods, as well as the original copies of the first and second clerks’ minute books from each synod.  For many years these records were kept in boxes and filing cabinets in the home of the synodical stated clerk.  In 1977, synod appointed a committee to microfilm all the synodical records (an estimated 16,000 pages at that time) and to place the same in safety deposit boxes.

      These synodical archives are currently part of a more general collection of documents of historical interest.  The archives are stored in a special, climate-controlled room located in the lower level of the Protestant Reformed Seminary.  The concept of denominational archives was approved by the synod of 1978, acting on a proposal that arose out of the faculty of the seminary and was brought by the Theological School Committee.

In the second place, in his article Prof.Dykstra focused on the earliest history of our fledgling denomination, the period from March 1925 to November 1926. I believe you will find that quite interesting as well, and I encourage you to read about our early struggles to form a faithful Reformed church anew. Below is just a small section about the ecclesiastical minutes from this period:

One interesting and significant set of documents in the Protestant Reformed archives is the minutes of the combined consistories in the early days of the Protestant Reformed Churches (1925 and 1926). To call them the Protestant Reformed Churches is not accurate.  During those first two years they called themselves the “Protesting Christian Reformed Churches.”  In November of 1926 they would form a classis and adopt the name Protestant Reformed Churches.  The minutes of the classis continue through 1939.  In 1940 the churches began meeting as a synod, and from that time on the (printed) Acts of synods are the record of the broadest body in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

      All the minutes from 1925 to 1939 were written in Dutch, and for many years were stored in various places, mainly in the home of the stated clerk.  Eventually it reached the point that no one ever referred to them, due not only to their inaccessibility, but also to the fact that few members were fluent in the Dutch.

      Providentially, however, they were (largely) preserved, and Rev. Cornelius Hanko, in his later years, gave a significant gift to the PRC — he translated these minutes and the supplements into English. His son, Prof. Herman Hanko, then undertook the painstaking work of checking and editing the translation.  The result is that a copy of the early minutes is available in English — stored in the archives.

Interestingly, Prof.Dykstra also includes in this brief history a section on the origin of the PRC Seminary. You will find this too informative and fascinating. I include here a small part of that as well.

Another immensely significant decision, this one concerning seminary education, further demonstrated the resolve of the consistories to maintain a separate existence as needed.  At the January 1925 meeting, the combined consistories appointed a committee to prepare advice in the matter of training students for the ministry.  At the May 6 meeting, the consistories adopted the following program of pre-seminary and seminary instruction: [after which follows the program of classes].

…These were not empty plans.  The word evidently went out into the churches that seminary training would be offered.  Concrete action followed at the June 4, 1925 meeting when the combined consistories considered numerous applicants for the seminary.  The consistories interviewed twelve applicants, most of whom hailed from Grand Rapids, though some were from Kalamazoo and Chicago.  It is noteworthy that the consistories granted student aid only to the unmarried students, thus setting a precedent that would continue in the Protestant Reformed Churches for decades.[3]   Hoeksema reported that the seminary started classes immediately that June, with eight students.[4]  Of those, five would be among the first ministers in the Protestant Reformed Churches, namely C. Hanko, R. Veldman, W. Verhil, L. Vermeer, and G. Vos.

Significant information, I trust you will see. Now, will you follow up and read the complete article? I hope I have whet your appetite enough for you to do so!

And if you ever wish to stop in and visit our own PRC archives, we would be happy to show you the basics. You might even become “hooked on history”! That is a good thing, especially when it is the history of Christ’s church in this world.

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