HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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RELIGIOUS LIFE OF THE HOLLANDERS IN 1910
FROM the foregoing glimpse of the congregations of Hollanders in Iowa it will be seen that in most towns Dutch Reformed and Christian Reformed churches exist side by side. Except among the prejudiced and less enlightened members of the two denominations there is no open hostility or show of enmity. The ministers of the two sects live on good terms. As a rule Hollanders are tolerant in the matters of belief; and yet it must be admitted that whenever opportunity offers they spend considerable time in pointing out each other's theological weaknesses. Indeed it sometimes seems that despite their faithful attendance at church they are more sectarian than religious.
Members of the older church tend to abhor all that is "separatist"; while members of the younger church seek too diligently for things to criticise and condemn: they are too ready to draw up indictments against the Dutch Reformed Church which has urged that its standards of doctrine and polity and those of the Christian Reformed Church are for all practical purposes identical, and that, therefore, the two denominations should fight shoulder to shoulder for the interests of God's Kingdom. The Christian Reformed Church decries the idea and prophesies that union would be a calamity rather than a blessing.
Neither sect appears willing to budge: each still prefers to emphasize and judge the other's faults. And so the chasm is gradually widening.(291) Nevertheless, the fact that a spirit of Christian brotherhood exists was never better shown than when a hurricane in 1902 destroyed the large Dutch Reformed church at Sioux Center: the Christian Reformed congregation at once allowed the unfortunate people the use of their building for services.
In their religious life the Hollanders of Iowa have always donated liberally to benevolent causes. Pella sent $1500 to the fire sufferers of Chicago in 1871; and besides a carload of necessities, such as clothing and flour, they contributed $2500 to the people of Holland, Michigan, when their city was laid in ashes. They gave munificently of their means when famine-stricken British India called for food much money and numerous carloads of corn found their way to the hungry thousands of that land. Their charity was equally exemplified when the people of Galveston, Texas, were rendered homeless by flood. With open purses they welcomed a man who preached in their churches on behalf of an orphan asylum in Holland; thousands of dollars were raised for the Boers; and a similar spirit was shown by the ladies of various church organizations when they collected clothing for Boer war prisoners on the Bermuda Islands. (See Appendix B.)
For local church objects the Hollanders are equally ready to give. For instance, at Sioux Center they have constructed three handsome and substantial brick church buildings, for which they subscribed and pledged as much as $50,000. Churches of the Iowa Classis in northwestern Iowa in 1910 donated over $10,000 to foreign missions and about $6000 to domestic missions, while the Pella Classis contributed over $4000 and nearly $3000 to the same causes.(292)
The Dutch are regular in attendance at church, going at least once on Sunday, either in the morning or in the afternoon, and frequently attending both services. Evening services are seldom held in Dutch churches. Women usually occupy certain pews, mothers taking their smallest children with them. The men folks also sit together, fathers with their older children. Such old-fashioned practices as these, however, are beginning to disappear, and now one does not infrequently find all the members of a family seated in the same pew.
Pew rents were once collected at Pella. In one church in 1860 pews were auctioned off for $4200 - a sum which nine years later had fallen to $1700. This arrangement was necessary in the days of small buildings and large crowds: people wanted to be assured of seats when they went to worship.(293) But pew-letting was bad on principle: it was not only undemocratic but savored of sacrilege, as it was an unchristian way of raising money for the Lord's work. Worst of all it destroyed the spirit of voluntary giving, a spirit which is now well displayed by fathers who before Sunday church services distribute one cent pieces or nickels or dimes, according to their means, to members of their families. Thus children are taught early in life to give to the church.
Religion pervades the atmosphere of Dutch communities. Church-going is practically the only unique feature in the life of people who toil hard as day-laborers, mechanics, men of business, and farmers. The motto which rules them is surely: "Laborate et orate" ("Labor and pray") . On Sundays, morning and afternoon, highways in country and town are thronged with buggies and carriages bearing the people singly, in couples, or in families - to church. With the exception of Saturdays when farmers come to town for marketing, town streets are never so lively as on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
Of course not all the Hollanders of Iowa are church-goers, but those who do not have church connections of some sort are comparatively few. The great majority of the Hollanders attend church. They do not wish to sacrifice the spiritual welfare of themselves and their children - a fact attested by their numerous commodious church edifices in both Marion and Sioux counties. In practically all Dutch Reformed churches and in a few Christian Reformed churches Sunday-schools are held immediately after preaching services from three to four o'clock. Just as the church service consists of scripture lessons, long prayers, the dolorous singing of Psalms, and orthodox sermons, all in the Dutch language, so the Sunday-schools are usually conducted by means of lessons printed in the Dutch language. Instead of Psalms, however, American hymn-books are coming to be used in the Sunday-schools. Once a week as a rule the pastors of the churches catechise the children. Annual Sunday school picnics and distributions of presents at Christmas time are red-letter days for the children.
In religious matters Hollanders differ from Americans in certain noteworthy respects. They firmly believe in infant baptism; they cling to the catechism; they seldom if ever have exhibitions or concerts to raise money, - for they are not fussy when it comes to giving; and they have no choirs. Furthermore, they do not lock church doors for the hot season: fifty-two Sundays in the year, besides Thanksgiving and Christmas days, pastor and congregation meet together. They take no demoralizing vacations. In recent years they have been holding "mission feasts", and they have contributed large sums of money annually and not a few men and women to missions. Many now celebrate the Fourth of July in a Christian way. But they do not countenance dancing or card playing, and are seldom visited by theatrical companies.
English is the language preached in only four out of fifty congregations of the Dutch Reformed Church in Iowa, while the Dutch language has been preserved in all the other congregations and especially in the Christian Reformed Church. (See Appendix C.) Nothing more typical can be suggested to show the Hollander's extreme dislike of innovation. It is said that English preaching was introduced into New York City in 1763 not without "a lawsuit, besides sad losses of temper, money, and membership". Of this remarkable display of Dutch tenaciousness one historian has written:
The clannishness of Hollanders is perhaps due chiefly to their activity in church affairs. One can not deny that they look askance at the habits, manners, and usages of Americans in religious life. Pastors of both Dutch denominations assume a natural leadership in the community and their congregations continue to represent old-fashioned orthodoxy. What was once asserted with regard to the Dutch Reformed Church applies with equal force to the Christian Reformed Church, namely, that in loyalty to the interests of their church, in charity and truth, in practical piety and Christian beneficence, the people of Dutch congregations in the West in no respect fall behind American churchmen. Surely they "are not perfect; they have not reached the ideal of Christendom; but they are a serious, industrious, and pious people who do not need to retire on account of a comparison with other congregations." (294)
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(291) The Banner (Grand Rapids, Michigan), Vol. 46, pp. 265, 376, 393.
(292) Van 't Lindenhout's Zes Weken tusschen de Wielen;
Pella's Weekblad, October 28, 1871; and Minutes o f the General
Synod of the Reformed Church in America, 1910.
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