Tuesday, July 02, 2024

25. The Pastor Receives a Call

25. The Pastor Receives a Call

Our beloved shepherd and teacher has received a call. As far as we can judge, it must be appealing: a large congregation, a beautiful setting, a church with a rich history that has long since navigated the challenges of a nascent 1950s immigrant community.

Some among us still believe that the highest promotion for a pastor is to be called by a large congregation in a big city, where he becomes one of a team of ministers. This may be the case in Holland but, fortunately, it does not apply in this part of the world. Here pastors move from cities to villages and vice versa, and receive almost the same salary in all places, and all this has much to commend itself.

The pastor himself came to tell us that he had received a call, and it seemed that he was quite pleased with it. Katrien shed a tear, and I, with many compelling reasons, highlighted to the pastor the many needs and requirements of our large growing congregation. However, I doubt whether this had much effect. After all, a pastor himself knows what his congregation looks like.

The distress within the congregation seems to be greater than that within the pastor’s family. At least, our pastor continues his duties undisturbed, offering a friendly smile to all the brothers and sisters who approach him to assure him that it would be best if he remained here.

Both the old and young are involved. We even discovered that our sons and daughters had placed a bet with each other, with a small radio as the prize. The boys said, “He’s leaving.” The girls declared, “He’s staying.” When Katrien found out about this, she eradicated this gambling root and branch.

Indeed, there is significant confusion and unrest within the congregation, which is quite unfortunate. We Dutch are often quick-tempered, and Dutch immigrants are typically even more so, with their hackles easily raised. This is evident in our immigrant church during these tense days of the pastor’s call.

So, what transpired? People have started making assumptions. They’ve said, “If our pastor accepts the call, where will that leave our church?” Whom should we call upon then? Pastors come in various styles and forms; what kind of preacher should we call upon?

This sparked a debate on this crucial question. The congregation hastily began to split into two factions: the A and D directions. The A-movement consists of believers who exclusively want an American pastor. The D-direction is made up of Christians who solely desire a Dutch preacher.

Every evening, we receive visits from interested congregation members who come to gauge and test the opinion of elder Arie and attempt to align us with either the A or D faction. Katrien, as the hostess, is kept quite busy, and I get the sense that the coffee is starting to taste a bit weak.

On Tuesday evening, Gerrit van Putten, accompanied by a friend, paid us a visit. Gerrit has been in Canada for five years. He is a successful livestock and poultry dealer and has been nominated twice for the position of elder, but has yet to secure the esteemed role. After failing to be elected for the second time last year, he has found himself in opposition. Gerrit claims to be thoroughly Canadian and struggles with Dutch, which he views as a foreign language. Critics argue that Dutch has always been foreign to him, as he has only managed to grasp the Overijsel dialect with a Zwolle accent. However, that's a different matter.

Van Putten's companion initiated the conversation, expressing hope that the pastor would remain, as it's better to stick with the known than venture into the unknown. He hoped that there would be abundant prayers for the pastor's family during these times. We all concurred wholeheartedly.

But what if the pastor accepts the call? What then?

Well, Van Putten, with his Canadian accent, opined that we should opt for an American pastor. They perform well, and you never have any issues with them.

At this point, Katrien, who was only half-awake, made a naïve comment. She asked how heavy the Americans were when they arrived, mistakenly thinking that Van Putten was endorsing a particular breed of pigs. Gerrit, however, didn't catch the misunderstanding and overlooked Katrien's comment in his eagerness to continue the discussion. He assured us that he had observed that the Americans were sufficiently heavy, yet not overly so, while the Dutch were often either too light or too heavy.

From Katrien’s expression, I could tell that she thought the chatty cattle trader was still discussing pigs, and that this was his roundabout answer to her question. Following this, Van Putten asserted that Dutch pastors were more rigid, substantial, and pretentious than their American counterparts, and that simplicity was the essence of truth. He suggested that we should abandon the bilingual system as soon as possible and conduct all our services in English for the benefit of the youth and the progressive segment of the congregation.

And what were Arie’s thoughts on this?

I attempted to clarify to our esteemed guests that I hadn’t given it much thought, as we currently have a pastor and our church isn’t vacant. Moreover, I don’t align myself with either the A or D factions.

Following this, Gerrit encouraged me to broaden my perspective, embrace progress, and adopt a principled, decisive, and firm stance during these tumultuous times for our local church.

The evening didn’t yield many productive outcomes, leaving our visitors dissatisfied as they departed.

In the meantime, tensions escalated daily. Everyone anxiously wondered, “What will the pastor do?” And everyone was confronted with the crucial question: “Do you align with A or D?” The American and Dutch factions began to clash more intensely. Both sides were starting to get personal, scrutinizing the pasts of party leaders for vulnerabilities. There was intense conflict, but prayers were scarce. The situation in the congregation was becoming increasingly serious.

Following Brother Van Putten’s visit, we were visited on subsequent evenings by four of his like-minded associates, who each repeated Gerrit’s wisdom in their own words.

Due to these frequent visits, the children were becoming increasingly restless, and Katrien began to regret the day I was called to the office of elder. Both parties were doing their utmost to win over the church council.

We made the intriguing discovery that there were numerous sub-factions within the parties. There was even a group within the Dutch faction that desired a Frisian pastor, believing that a Frisian sermon or home visit could touch the deepest chords of the human heart.

And so everyone was stating their case and expressing their opinion.

Brother Rijkman, the undisputed leader of the Dutch faction, showed up two nights ago, accompanied by two associates. After we all, excluding the hostess, had lit authentic Dutch cigars, Rijkman gently wafted the burning Ritmeester under his nose. He softly sniffed and delicately commented that one could truly smell the real Dutch essence, and that both the products of Dutch cigar factories and Dutch pastor factories were not to be underestimated.

“Ha-ha-ha,” laughed the two companions, while Katrien and I remained silent and waited.

Indeed, this witticism turned out to be merely a superficial introduction to a deeper conversation. Rijkman proved to be a better debater than Gerrit van Putten on Tuesday evening, and he brought up some heavy arguments. He asserted that the Dutch soul can only be understood by another Dutch soul. According to him, only the genuine and unadulterated Dutch sermon could effectively feed the Dutch soul. He then smoothly steered the conversation in a different direction. He authoritatively stated that American preachers tend to emphasize the sanctification of man, while in contrast, Dutch ministers preach more about justification, which he deemed preferable.

My innocent question as to whether the sermon should not focus on the message of the forgiveness sins led to a lengthy discussion in which we did not find common ground.

I pulled out a few of the scarce theological books from our bookshelf, but neither Kuyper, Geesink, nor Schilder could settle the dispute. One of the companions, who also wanted to contribute to the discussion, remarked that American ministers tended to lean towards the side of the Arminians, while we, as solid Dutchmen, were Gomarians. However, he was sharply reprimanded by the group leader and remained silent for the rest of the evening.

At the end of the discussions, Rijkman rightly concluded: “I notice that we can’t count on you, Arie; you’re not taking sides.” “Shame,” declared companion number two emphatically. While the brothers were busy putting on their overcoats, there was a late-night ring at the door. I heard Katrien sigh. But to our pleasant surprise, it wasn’t a representative of A or D who sought entry, but the pastor himself, who came to tell us that he had just posted the letter in which he announced that he had declined the call! What joy! Hands were shaken, compliments were made, shoulders were patted, and edifying words were spoken.

Rijkman and his companions eagerly and wholeheartedly participated in all these activities.

By the next day, the whole congregation already knew, and everyone was delighted, both the A-folks and the D-people.

But the pastor will still be busy trying to calm the heated spirits.

For even though the pastor stays, the battle is not yet over. That wouldn’t be Dutch.


Dof, Arie. (1958). “De Dominee Heeft een Beroep.” (George van Popta, Trans., 2024). In Arie en Katrien in Canada (pp. 104-119). Hamilton, Ontario: Guardian. (Original work published in Calvinist Contact [Christian Courier]).