Founding members Bep Vreudgenhil

A Cloverdale mosaic

As it marks its sixth decade, the Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church, founded by post-war Dutch, is rapidly becoming a cultural mosaic.

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

The evening celebration offered well-wishers a chance to browse vintage and photo galleries highlighting the early years of Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church.

But the main event was a commemorative program, 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, church member Sarah Vandergugten told The Reporter.

“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 Delftware – the distinct, blue porcelain created by Dutch artisans – a donation from a local family that saw the dishes at an auction. Other pieces are from tea cups, a pot, and even a dragon dish. A detailed list of donors, the story behind many of the pieces, as well as the mural’s vivid symbolism are described in a commemorative brochure.

The end result is, Vandergugten said, “Absolutely gorgeous,” and demonstrates the cultural diversity within the congregation – Dutch, Canadian, Metis, Scottish, Burmese, Congolese, Chinese, Taiwanese and South African – and their unity in their faith.

The mosaic was unveiled by the guest of honour, Jane Bysterveld (see photo page 1), who was a member of the original 1954 congregation at the first service on March 7, 1954.

According to M.C. Siebe DeJong, the first meetings were chaired by the Rev. W. J. VanOene, the minister of the Canadian Reformed Church in New Westminster.

Cloverdale was the first Canadian Reformed Church south of the Fraser River. The process of founding a church began in January of that year, with the support of 13 families, who quickly grew to 16, some 78 people in all. Elders, a deacon and treasurer were elected, and the new council agreed to purchase a typewriter for the church newsletter.

They rented a church building on the corner of Otter Road and Fraser Highway. Those first services were in Dutch, but by November, English language services were held every six weeks. The flock grew to 147.

Among the “exciting firsts” that year? The council decided that all cigarettes would be extinguished at least 15 minutes before the start of the worship service.

The church has undergone many changes in six decades.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, the congregation boasted enough farming families that service times were set according to the farmers’ schedules. Nowadays, members’ professions are more diverse.

As Vandergugten explained, most of the members of Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church in 1954 were post-Second World War immigrants from the Netherlands who came from many different regions.

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

“The Dutch have this incredible connection to the Canadians,” she said, explaining that her father, Reverend Jules Van Popta, was the first Canadian Reformed minister in Canada. He presided over a church in Edmonton before taking over in Cloverdale in 1966.

“I remember my dad telling this story about the Canadians liberating Holland and bringing food, throwing out crackers and chocolate bars. That’s why a lot of the Dutch came to Canada after the war.”

The members of the Canadian Reformed Church of Cloverdale have never forgotten what it’s like starting over in a new country, and have a proud record of sponsoring 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 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 in the Fraser Valley, 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 that’s run by parents.

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.

In 2000, the church began doing outreach to the Chinese community as well as launching a mission to China, and now has about 40 members who attend a Chinese language service on Sundays with pastor Frank Dong, one of two pastors at the Canadian Reformed Church of Cloverdale. The other is Theo Lodder.

“We are still attached to our Dutch Reformed roots, but we have become a clearly Canadian church, firmly planted in the soil of Cloverdale,” said DeJong, speaking at last week’s celebration.

“We now have church members with roots in South East Asia, China, and Africa. You could say our church is rapidly becoming a Canadian cultural mosaic. This is as it should be.”

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