60 years: Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church marks a milestone

Members of the Canadian Reformed Church of Cloverdale gather for a 60th anniversary celebration.

Canadian Reformed Church of Cloverdale celebrates 60 years in 2014.

Friday marks a special occasion for the Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church – its 60th anniversary.

The evening celebration gets underway at 7 p.m., offering well-wishers a chance to browse vintage and photo galleries highlighting the early years of Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church.

A commemorative program starts at 8 p.m., followed by the unveiling of a special anniversary mosaic.

The piece – kept under wraps until the March 7 celebration – owes its existence to the generosity and spirit of creativity of the entire congregation, explains member Sara Vandergugten.

“We asked all the congregation to contribute their dishes,” she said. “Everything is made by little bits and pieces of people’s dishes.”

Some of the pieces are from Delftware – the distinct, blue porcelain created by Dutch artisans – a donation from a local family that saw the dishes at an auction.

“For some of [the donors] it was almost a hard thing to do,” she said. But they relented, “because it would be put into something that would represent the whole congregation.”

The end result is, Vandergugten said, “Absolutely gorgeous.”

The guest of honour is someone who was a member of the original 1954 congregation.

In the 1950s and ’60s, the congregation boasted many farming families.

“We have two farmers left, whereas initially, in the ’50s, we had to set our church times for the farmers,” she said.

As Vandergugten explains, most of the original members of Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church in 1954 were post-Second World War immigrants from the Netherlands.

Canada was a country of choice for those seeking a new life after the ravages of German occupation.

“The Dutch have this incredible connection to the Canadians,” she said, explaining that her father, Reverend Jules Van Popta, a post-war emigrant himself (her family is from Groningen), was the first Canadian Reformed minister in Canada and he often told his children about how grateful his countrymen were to the Canadian forces who liberated Holland. He presided over a church in Edmonton.

The members of the Canadian Reformed Church of Cloverdale have never forgotten what it’s like starting over in a new country, and are proud to sponsor refugees. Currently, the church is sponsoring a Karen family from Burma and two families from Congo.

“We make the long-term commitment,” she said. “We support them for as long as they need to actually make it here.”

The church was the first Canadian Reformed Church outside New Westminster and opened in 1954. It got its first pastor in 1957.

The current congregation of around 300 members, she said, is down from a high of 400 to 500 only a decade ago. Members with young and growing families looking to buy homes are moving east, where larger housing is more affordable.

“That is a challenge for us,” she said, adding enrollment is likewise dropping at William of Orange Christian School, a private, K-to-7 school next door.

The Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church has been at its current location at 17473 60 Avenue since 1969. It initially held services at the Elks Hall, and later moved into the old Lutheran church in downtown Cloverdale, on 176 Street.

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