The Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919 and “Churchless Sunday” – Origins Online

Maybe we are weary of hearing about the present flu pandemic, as well as of past ones, such as the Spanish Flu of 1918-19, often mentioned these days (even though there is no comparison in terms of the numbers of those who were afflicted and those who died).

But history is instructive, and the fact is that the church and saints have often had to face such plagues and epidemics. And what believers suffered in those times as well as how they handled those afflictions gives us valuable lessons.

I did a previous post referencing the Spanish flu from the perspective of a former PRC minister, Rev. C. Hanko (when he was a member of the CRC), and that was insightful.

Yesterday, while putting away a recent issue of Origins magazine, the Christian Reformed Church in America’s historical archives periodical, I came across a feature on the Spanish Flu and its impact on the CRC. I checked to see if the article was online, and while the full story was not, this abridged version was.

It is worth pointing to it, so that is our Friday post this week. A serious history lesson with important applications for us too. Below are a few paragraphs from the article; find the full post at the link at the end. [And now, in addition, I followed some links to  the University of Michigan’s online “Influenza Encyclopedia” and found a Grand Rapids Herald news clip about how the CRC churches were suffering. See that below.]

“What’s happening is unprecedented!” I keep hearing people say that about Covid-19 (a coronavirus). Some seem to mean that a pandemic like this is unprecedented. Others mean that the public health response—shutting down schools, sporting events, perhaps eventually churches, etc.—is unprecedented. Neither is unprecedented, really.

Around 650,000 people died in the United States in the flu epidemic of 1918-1919 and 50 million worldwide. Some scholars estimate up to 100 million deaths worldwide. In comparison, 20 to 22 million soldiers and civilians died in World War I, which ended in late 1918, and about 20 to 22 million were wounded.

What did churches experience in 1918-1919? For a broad overview, check out this story on Patheos. The Patheos story also points you to a great website at the University of Michigan on the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919.

…To find more material, I turned to the Christian Reformed Church Periodical Index and did some page turning in The Banner from late 1918 and the first half of 1919.

…My quick search yielded one lengthy piece, an editorial in the 24 October 1918 issue of The Banner: “Churchless Sunday and Its Lessons.” The governor of Michigan had ordered the closure of all churches in the state.

The Banner editorial called its readers to “pray earnestly that the scourge may soon be removed” so that churches could reopen. It also suggested “lessons from this appointment of Providence” to learn:

  • “the value of our church privileges,” as we really understand what blessing are when they are withheld
  • “the value of fellowshipping with God’s people,” “the communion of the saints,” which might lead to a renewal of devotion in the church
  • “to appreciate religious literature more than we have done,” as that is what people turn when they cannot come to church

With these lessons in mind, the editorial suggested that the epidemic might be a blessing in disguise. But it also wondered whether “churchless Sunday” was a sign divine judgment on the nation. It pointed to the description of God’s judgement in Revelation. The nation and world had seen famine, pestilence, war, and death, with the recently ended Great War and now the epidemic. It was time for people to repent and to turn to righteousness.

The editorial concluded by emphasizing that Christians respect government and law. It prayed that the burden of churchless Sundays not be too heavy and that the scourge of influenza be lifted quickly.

Source: The Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919 and “Churchless Sunday” – Origins Online


And here is that additional item mentioned above: the news clip from the October 26, 1918 Grand Rapids Herald on how the Spanish flu was affecting the CR churches in that city.

Sunday Closing Order Keenly Felt By Members Chr. Reformed Churches

There are perhaps few congregations in the city feeling the hardship of the church closing order as keenly as the Christian Reformed churches. Members of these churches have been trained from childhood to regard regular church attendance as natural in their lives as eating breakfast, and at each of the two or three Sunday sessions the churches are wont to be crowded.

Church people are glad to do all in their power to help check the spread of influenza, but much dissatisfaction is voiced by both clergy and laymen of the apparently unjust distinction between schools and churches. The schools are in session five days a week and it would seem that if there were danger of contagion anywhere it would be among the physically undeveloped youngsters congregating in the school rooms day by day. On the other hand, in view of the supreme importance of service of the Almighty in these critical times and the need of prayer it would seem that the church would be the last of all institutions to be asked to close its doors.

Family Services Substituted

In the meantime, however, church members are making the best of matters and conducting services in their own homes. Many a father had his family gathered about him last Sunday morning and afternoon and read to them one of his favorite sermons.

Pastors are making good use of their time by taking up some specific studies which have long demanded their attention, and by doing extended pastoral work. Rev. Johannes Groen is spending much of his time visiting the members of his congregation and averages about 30 families a week.

And if you are still interested in more information on this 1918-19 influenza, or the State of Michigan’s new archive collections of COVID-19, you will want to visit this page that came in my email this morning.

Stay-at-Home Activities, Like Reading, Etc.!

During this time of CV-19 lock-downs and stay-at-home orders (such as here in Michigan), many websites and blogs are offering practical help regarding activities for families and individuals involving all ages. Let me add my own suggestions, while relying on some of these other ideas.

Of course, you will expect me to say that READING should be at the top of your list! By all means let this be a time when we as grandparents, parents, and children spend “extra” time diving into books and renewing our love for the soothing activity of reading. March is, after all, National Reading Month (Make sure to read some Dr. Seuss to your children – it’s in honor of his birthday)!


Many physical bookstores that had been open are now closed, but they are open online and offering curbside service and free shipping, including Baker Books, Barnes and Noble (in the Rivertown Mall, Woodland Mall and Holland), and Schuler Books here in Grand Rapids. While the Reformed Book Outlet is closed, their website is also available for orders. The RFPA is also taking online orders. Don’t forget Monergism’s website too for great book ideas and many free ebooks.


If you are looking for other books ideas online, especially for children, let me recommend Really Good Reads and Redeemed Reader.


There are a number of great Kindle deals right now, including many classics and free ebooks. One I purchased this week is a wonderful devotional on prayers in the Bible from the pen of pastor Gordon Keddie (his commentaries are ALL worth while!): Prayers of the Bible is available free through today.

I’ve been hearing that puzzles are making a comeback and puzzle makers are doing a booming business. Wonderful – a great personal or family activity! My own wife has her card table set up in front of our large living room window and is currently busy with a 1000-piece one.

Speaking of puzzles – word puzzles, that is – Another fun activity our grandchildren enjoy is the “Scrambled Scriptures” Bible word search from Creation Moments (other good things on their website too!). You can subscribe to receive the weekly edition, or print off any available at the link provided. Give it a try and see what the kids think.

Watching videos and documentaries also has its place. And there are many valuable educational and inspirational things out there.

Ligonier Ministries is offering all their teaching videos free during this time. This is a great way to feed your soul and expand your mind right now – Bible studies, church history, Christian doctrine are all open to you.

Christian History Institute is offering their “RedeemTV” beta version free right now. This includes videos on church history and documentaries on world history.

Other activities online may be found at the National Archives website (a wealth of history, etc. there!) and your local state history website. The Michigan Historical Society website has all kinds of ideas for children.


Of course, for those of us missing March madness basketball and the start of the MLB baseball season (Cubs!), there are plenty of classic games being broadcast right now. Yes, sports has its place – just keep it in its place (Indeed, I need that reminder too.).

Better yet, get outside and play your own games, take bike rides, and walk. Some of us West Michigan pickleball players got our first 2020 outdoor game in this week. It was only 50 degrees and breezy, but it sure felt great to be out playing! 🙂

Feel free to pass along your own suggestions in the comments section!

*Update: I forgot to share this bookplate I came across in some books I was sorting through this past week.



PRC Archives – H. Hoeksema’s Inaugural Sermons 100 Years Ago Today


Today is leap day in this leap year of 2020. And this date of February 29 marks a significant event that relates to Protestant Reformed history (though the PRCA would not be officially formed until five years later): the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of the inaugural sermons of Herman Hoeksema after he was ordained as minister of the Word in Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church.


These sermons (two of them, one in Dutch, one in English) were soon published under the title of one of the messages, “Ik Wil Dat, Gij Weet” (“I will that you know”) en “I’ll Cry” by J. Hoorn, a publisher on Eastern Ave. in Grand Rapids, MI (see photo above).


The Dutch sermon that was published (morning service) was based on Colossians 2:1-3, the opening words of which text form the title (“I would that ye knew” KJV). The English sermon that was published (evening service) was based on Isaiah 40:6-8, as you will see from the above first page.


Both of these sermons were featured in a fairly recent issue of the PR Theological Journal (April 2013, vol.46, #2, pp.80-109), including the first translation into English of that first sermon. The editor of the PRTJ introduced this featured article in these words:

Recently Miss Agatha Lubbers, long-time educator in the Protestant Reformed Christian schools, came into possession of a booklet containing the two sermons preached by Rev. Herman Hoeksema on the first Sunday after his installation as minister of the Word and sacraments in the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. One of these inaugural sermons was in Dutch and the other in English. She immediately took it upon herself to translate the Dutch sermon. Struck by its message, as well as by the accompanying English sermon, she brought them to me. We gave the Dutch sermon to Mr. Marvin Kamps. Having read Miss Lubbers’ translation, Mr. Kamps produced his own, which we include in this issue of PRTJ. The sermons are stirring! They encapsulate Hoeksema’s entire ministry. And they serve as a powerful reminder to the Reformed minister today concerning the nature of his calling. You will want to read both sermons.

And Miss Lubbers (my high school church history teacher among other things!) provided her own introduction to these “HH” sermons:

It was on Tuesday, February 24, 1920 that the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema, one of the “founders” and theological leaders of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, was installed as minister of the gospel in the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church (at that time generally called the Eastern Avenue Christelijk Gereformeerde Kerk). Rev. Herman Hoeksema, a young, vigorous, and industrious 34-year-old man, who had been ordained in the 14th Street Christian Reformed Church of Holland in 1915, received and accepted the call to be the pastor of Eastern Avenue.

Rev. Hoeksema reports in one of his writings that he had been very busy in Holland. In Holland he had established himself as a minister who loved the gospel and who was an exciting preacher. It is perhaps worthy of note that during those years he served as a member of the Board of Trustees of Calvin College (Curatorium) and was the main speaker at the dedication in 1915 of the new Calvin College Building on Franklin Street campus. He was also a regular contributor to the Banner.

Rev. Herman Hoeksema was installed in Eastern Avenue CRC to take the place of Rev. J. Groen. The building is still standing today on the same site, though with some changes. The congregation is reported to have consisted of approximately 450 families. Rev. Hoeksema, in his first Sunday morning service, called upon the Lord and the Consistory “to help him in the work of this large congregation.” It was reported that the work of catechism instruction and the leading of Bible study societies had been largely neglected.

On this historic date, it would be worth your while to read these sermons. They will make for edifying reading on this last day of the week – and great preparation for the Lord’s Day tomorrow. Want a taste of one of these sermons? Here you go:

Everywhere Holy Scripture lays heavy emphasis on this growth in knowledge. Really, there is no better proof of the intent of God as regards His relation to His people, than the existence of sacred Scripture itself. Indeed, Scripture does not merely offer a limited, very narrow revelation of the God of our salvation. It does not inform us only of the fact that there is in the blood of Christ reconciliation with God for our souls. It does not present, that which men in our day regard as sufficient, a gospel on a postage-stamp-sized sticker. But Scripture reveals to us the full counsel of God, it gives us insight into the full redemptive plan of deliverance, and it presents to us all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God. And there can be no two ways about it, that God the Lord absolutely has not bestowed in His wisdom this Bible so that we should let it lie ignored, or so that we can choose to take from it what pleases us and at the same time leave be what does not suit our taste; but God gave it to us so that we should submit to the whole of the Bible, so that we should appropriate the whole of the revelation of God, and so that in this way we should mature in the knowledge of God, who is life.

Time and again Scripture lays emphasis on that fact. In the Old Testament the complaint is made that the Lord’s people perish for a lack of knowledge. In the new dispensation the apostles proclaimed the full, rich Christ, and Paul preaches the whole counsel of God. The church is admonished not to loiter in the first principles but go on to perfection. She must know what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of God. She must grow up into the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. For, of course, this is eternal life, that they may know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

Nota bene: I wish to thank current church history teacher at Covenant Christian HS, Mr. Dan Van Uffelen, for reminding me of this anniversary and encouraging me to make this post today, as well as for the pictures he provided. And yes, we do have original copies of these published sermons in the PRC archives.

PRC Archives – A Missionary’s 1949 Expense Book


For our latest PRC Archives post, we focus on a unique item from the PRC’s Mission Committee’s materials found today in an envelope – a collection of expense reports from PRC ministers who traveled for missionary work in the late 40s and early 50s.


The one we feature is from December 1949 and was filled in by Rev. Andrew Cammenga, PRC home missionary at the time. The little booklet that was used for these expenses is also unique, being a handy pocket-size, monthly “traveler’s expense book” – “Beach’s ‘Common Sense'” – published by Beach Publishing Co. of Detroit, MI.


A glance at the pages shows various entries for mileage, meals, laundry, and hotels. And special entries for mission labors: hall rentals, advertising, phone calls, etc. And, when you see the numbers, you will realize that they reflect the times – three meals a day for under $5.00! Others showed train and airline fares (including a flight from Chicago to Grand Rapids for $9.37!).


Another small treasure from the past. I keep telling people when they see all those gray and tan archive boxes on the shelves that they only look boring on the outside. Inside are wonderful tidbits of historic tales! Come and check them out yourselves some day!

Published in: on January 16, 2020 at 10:10 PM  Leave a Comment  

PRC Archives – The Early Years: Communion Wine and Curatorium Report

Kevin R. putting in place in the new archives room the last of our “official” archive boxes.

Today we feature a couple of fascinating items out of the PRC archives – both from the early years. Both were discovered yesterday while sorting through and cataloging old Theological School Committee (TSC) files, which Bob Drnek has been working on, in part because he is TSC secretary and has a personal interest in the history of the seminary and its committee. 🙂

For years these files had been stored in a cabinet in the seminary building, but this summer we decided they belonged in the archives, both for better protection and for preservation. And we are glad we made that decision, because these are a valuable part of our history and because there are some real treasures here!


GMO-faculty-report (2)

This first item is a report of the rector of the seminary, at the time Rev. George Ophoff (the professors, as they still do, held this administrative position by rotation), to the Curatorium, the “committee” that oversaw the seminary prior to the formation of the TSC. Writing on behalf of the faculty, Ophoff reported on the work that was being done both by the professors and the students, as you will see. But the brief report breathes the spirit of Ophoff. Don’t waste words, get to the point, and if there isn’t much to say, make sure you indicate that “something was also accomplished.” We think this report dates from the 1930s but are not sure as yet.


This second item is even more fascinating. Remember the Prohibition Era, when alcohol was mostly prohibited and strictly controlled?! Well, most of us know about this age only in name, since it goes back to the early years of the 1900s in this country. What you may not know (I didn’t!) is that churches had to fill out a special form to gain permission to use wine for communion (the Lord’s Supper)!

So, what you see above is such a form (stored away in the seminary’s early history files) filled out by the clerk of our Hudsonville PRC to purchase two gallons of wine from a U.S. government-approved, wine supply house in Milwaukee, WI! The date? May 24, 1928!

Amazing! Can you imagine?! No wonder, given the times, they ordered by the gallon! I’m also guessing that that “domestic Muscatel” was a rather cheap, red wine. Anyone have memories of these times?

Published in: on December 12, 2019 at 3:54 PM  Leave a Comment  

Recent PRC Seminary Images (Inside and Out!) – November/December 2019


Since our last PRC Seminary update in pictures, much more has happened that has been captured in photos. So, in this post we bring you up to date with a selection of images from the last month.


Yes, we did have an early snow in the middle of November – always pretty and exciting, especially for those of our number from Mexico and Australia who don’t get exposed to a lot of this white wonder. 🙂 But then things returned to normal – gray skies and green grass!


As usual, our friendly turkey and deer neighbors make their appearance, including a nice buck – a little unusual.


On the plant side of things, Mrs. Judi Doezema’s Thanksgiving cactus broke out in full bloom just in time again – always a treat in our entry way.


Our Friday brat/burger lunches are always special, especially when wives, children (including new babies!), and friends join us. And sometimes we have a guest give a talk on something, as Mr. Rick Noorman did recently on PR Christian School teacher training.





On Wednesdays during devotion times we often have area PRC ministers give a chapel talk, as Rev. N. Decker (Grandville PRC) did this past week.


In other exciting news, we recently had our final building inspection on the new addition and were approved, so we could finally start moving the PRC archives into their new home upstairs. Over the last two weeks about 2/3rds of the boxes have been moved into the new room. Kevin Rau has been my willing and ready moving partner!

Out of the old room downstairs…


Around the outside with our carts…


And into the new room!


And due to the extra space at this point, we have a better home for our rare books and Dutch titles as well as lesser used magazine boxes from the library.


And our other archivist assistant, Mr. Bob Drnek, has also moved upstairs into the archives “research room” to continue his work of organizing and cataloging.


So grateful for the new archive room(s)! We have plenty of room to grow (tripled our size with the Spacesaver shelving)!


Finally, in the physical education department, our ping pong team continues to practice for the seminary winter olympics. 🙂


What’s the Latest at the PRC Seminary? Some Updates in Pics – October 2019


Indeed, the calendar does show November now, but we are going to bring you up to date on things at the PRC Seminary through the month of October. It has been two months since I posted anything on the new archives/library renovation project, so let’s catch up with the help of some photos I have been taking since then.


The main addition to the archives room has been the new SpaceSaver shelving, purchased through and installed by the Casper Corporation. This is an amazing, high efficiency shelving system that runs on tracks installed in the floor and turned with the ease of a large wheel at the one end.




The key was getting the tracks and raised flooring just right, and the crew spent almost two days just on that. And then, of course, the shelving units.




This past week we had our final fire alarm and fire suppression system test and inspection for this special room (we passed!), and now await final building inspection before we can start moving in and transferring our PRC archives into this room. We are eager and excited for that day!


Just outside the archives room, in the hallway leading up to it, was an old doorway that was converted by Bosveld (Mike Rau) into a beautiful display case, which was immediately filled with a few seminary history treasures.


The other main event has been the near-completion of the library renovation. Most of the new furniture and its accents have been added now, making for beautiful and functional areas for reading, study, discussion, and fellowship (done quietly, of course!).




We welcome you to come by and take in the new look, as well as to make use of the library . There are plenty of resources for you to use for your own personal reading and study! Plus, don’t forget our bookstore!



As far as seminary life is concerned, the semester is filled with the regular activities: daily classes, daily devotions, weekly chapels (not quite every week), lots of study, and then end-of-the-week Friday brat/burger lunches that often include guests and the wives and children.


And, naturally, the tradition of playing (and learning to play!) ping-pong in the lower level continues.


We’ve had a couple of special events too – our Fall picnic at Hagar Park in Jenison…



and two lectures by Dr. Nick Willborn of Greenville Presbyterian Seminary (on southern Presbyterian theologians in the 19th century) – very informative and instructive. You may find those on the seminary’s YouTube channel.


We also had a certain professor celebrate his 50th birthday, complete with some fun brought in  by his family for one of our morning coffee times.


And, of course, it is Fall here in West Michigan, so we end with some pictures taken of the fall colors in the last few weeks.




This is the area to the west and north of seminary where a walking path runs, part of the trek and scenery some of us take and enjoy after lunch.


Remember to pray for us!


And to send us your wood!

Published in: on November 2, 2019 at 8:37 PM  Comments (1)  

Ann Arbor’s Wonderful Libraries


Last week Thursday and Friday my wife and I took a few days off to explore the city of Ann Arbor, a couple of hours east of Grand Rapids.


And while Ann Arbor is home to the mighty victors, the University of Michigan Wolverines, it is also home to a great study and research university, supported by its wonderful libraries, archives, and special collections.


Plus, the downtown area is packed with great eateries (Zingerman’s famous deli – our lunch stop!) and shops, including a few bookstores.


We spent time visiting several of the libraries, including the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, the sister center to the Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids (both operated by the National Archives).



There are terrific displays of Ford’s life and work, as a student-athlete at UM (he played football), as a long-time congressman from Grand Rapids, then as the Vice-president of the U.S. under R. Nixon, and then as President. The other side of the library features Ford’s influential wife Betty. It is worth your while to visit this important presidential library.


But there are other libraries that hold amazing treasures too. Probably my favorite is the William Clements Library, named after one of the university’s early regents who donated his collection of rare books, maps, etc. to UM and for which this library was built in 1923.


It is a beautiful old structure, designed with Italian renaissance style. And the holdings are truly amazing.


Another wonderful library was the Hatcher Graduate Library, especially its special collections. This included a room which held the desk of poet Robert Frost who taught at UM,  the rare St. John’s Bible, and a 2nd-3rd century Greek papyrus (P-46) of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians (chapters 11-12).



But the other libraries are wonderful too (all in a cluster in the central campus area), such as this one.



And so is the Museum of Art located in that same cluster.



One of the first rooms you enter is full of art with Christian and biblical themes – from the Flood to Esther, to St. John on Patmos.



And, of course, among the shops in town we visited was a classic old bookstore, and another store that had some neat book art.


But don’t worry, our trip was not just about libraries and bookstores. We also did some other shopping, spent a few hours at Ikea in nearby Canton, and played a round of golf on the way home. Two great days of relaxing while profiting from the world of books, archives, and history.20190607_100724-effects
The Lawyers Club at UM.

PRC Archives: A 1953 Event in Photos


It’s Spring Break week here in chilly Michigan, and while others may be playing hard in warmer climes, we are going to create our own warm fun – with a PRC history/archives photo trivia post.

These are some more pictures donated recently by John Buiter (Hope PRC), and your only clue is that this event took place in the summer of 1953. The rest is up to you! Guess the event and identify the ministers and others in the group photo. And, of course, where the event was held that year!


I realize there were serious and significant things going on in the PRC in that year, but we can still celebrate the special fellowship and fun these members had that summer.

Published in: on April 4, 2019 at 4:22 PM  Comments (1)  

A Special Standard Bearer and Two Special Interviews on Dordt 400 *(Updated)

Today we feature two items in this post.


The first is something archive assistant Bob Drnek found today while sorting through two large boxes containing PRC Foreign Mission Committee material (and that will be your only hint as to the source of what is to come). He pulled out copies of three issues of the Standard Bearer, translated in a foreign tongue and published as complete issues (cf. image above).

And, of course, he wondered what language they were in, so he came up and asked. I guessed one of two, based on a little knowledge of our mission history. But I will let you make a guess before revealing it. It was a nice find, and a good addition to our mission archives.


*UPDATE: The translation is indeed into Burmese (confirmed by John VB of Hope PRC and Rev. J. Laning of the FMC). And the work, as supposed, was that of Rev. Titus, who continues to do some of this for his weekly “Sunday Digest.” Above is a picture of two other issues that he translated.


The second item we feature today is notice of two special interviews to be held TOMORROW, Wednesday, April 3. Both Prof. Doug Kuiper and Prof. David Engelsma (PRC Seminary) are going to be interviewed on the live Internet program Iron Sharpens Iron.


Host Chris Arntzen will interview Prof. Kuiper on the subject of his upcoming Dordt400 Conference speech, “The Doctrine of the Covenant in the Canons of Dordt,” while he will interview Prof. Engelsma on the subject of “The Great War: What Led to the Synod of Dordt?” 

These back-to-back interviews will take place Wednesday, April 3, from 4-6 pm (ET). Sounds like something you won’t want to miss!

*UPDATE: The audio file of these interviews are now available at the “Iron Sharpens Iron” website. You can listen to both interviews at this link.