For the past quarter century conventions have been an annual expectation and, with few exceptions, realization. But the event has not always been an assumed part of our youths’ summer plans. For the first fifteen years of our Protestant Reformed Church history there was no convention, no federation board, no unifying event bringing all our young people into one place during one time. Each society, separated from each other society, carried on individual activities quite apart from the rest of the societies. Some of the Western societies formed a league, but its activities were confined to a limited area; no organized effort existed which sought to unite all the societies in any way.
Many young people felt a need and desire to have closer connections with their fellow societies, but it was not until 1939 that something was done about it. In that year the South Holland Young People’s Society decided to hold something entirely new to our churches—a convention of all the Protestant Reformed Young People’s Societies. Early in the year invitations were sent to all the societies asking them to send delegates and visitors to South Holland in August. A tradition was about to begin.
1st Convention—August 2 and 3, 1939
If you can make out the print on the badge of the first convention which is pictured on this cover, you will catch an idea of the enthusiastic optimism of that first convention. So sure of its success were they that the host society already planned it as an “annual” event. Eight societies were represented and “a motion from the Grand Rapids Young Men’s Society was passed unanimously to organize permanently into a national federation” (article eight of the minutes). According to article twenty-seven of those first minutes the purpose of this federation and of this convention would be “to unite all Protestant Reformed Young People’s Societies to work in close unity and in this matter secure a sense of solidarity and to seek the mutual edification and development of talents as becomes Christian young people and that we strive to maintain with united front our specific Protestant Reformed character.”
Lasting only two days, the convention had much to do in a short time and, said reporter Alice Reitsma, “it was spent in appointing committees, passing resolutions, electing officers and discussing pertinent matters: in fact, laying the foundation for a permanent organization and paving the way for future conventions.” The delegates put a committee to work drawing up a constitution for adoption at the next convention and the first convention closed with what soon became the traditional close of the conventions—the banquet.
2nd Convention—August 21 and 22, 1940
Fuller Avenue’s Young People’s Society was host of the second convention. Beginning the practice of having a definite theme each year, they chose for their theme “Attitudes”. Our attitudes toward the church, toward politics and toward missions were some of the speech subjects. Three more societies joined the federation, bringing it to a total of eleven. The important step of adopting a constitution was this convention’s main work. After a full day of discussion and debate, a constitution, which was suitable to all, was agreed upon. Nearly 300 young people attended the banquet that night where the first official Federation Board was introduced. The announcement that Oak Lawn would be the hosts for next year brought to a happy close the second convention.
3rd Convention—August 21 and 22, 1941
Those attending the third convention at Oak Lawn were surprised and pleased with the presentation of their first “souvenir booklet”. Consisting of 24 pages of messages and programs, it included the federation financial report which showed a balance of $22.65. The theme for that year was “Thoroughly Equipped” and no less than four speakers gave what must have been a thorough development of it. Two societies joined the federation as the delegates busied themselves with the matter of the federation magazine and of their relationship to the Western League. Friday morning was devoted to a tour of Chicago after which the young people heard and discussed two speeches. After the banquet, a debate was held on the intriguing topic: “Resolved, that Principle is the only possible reason for affiliating with any denomination”. With the introduction of the new president, the convention closed.
Closely connected with the history of the early conventions is that of Beacon Lights. Already at the first convention the South Holland Society was given the task of publishing a column in the Church News concerning society life. The second convention decided to find a more suitable means of expression than that column and again the task was given to the South Holland society. Five months later, in January of 1941, Beacon Lights for Young Protestants came off the press. Rev. C. Hanko was the editor of this new Federation venture. During the third convention, this paper was discussed and criticized. It was decided to make the magazine a permanent function of the Federation Board. Its size decreased and the number of pages increased. Since “Beacon Lights” was only a temporary name given by the South Holland committee, a name had to be chosen. A contest was held and the judges picked two names to be voted on—“The Witness for the Protestant Reformed Youth” and “Our Youth’s Guide”. By special motion the delegates added the name “Beacon Lights” to the list. After some discussion, the delegates voted and “Beacon Lights” was chosen with a seven vote majority. The Federation Board set up a permanent staff and since then Beacon Lights has been a continuous project of that staff…
Two Years without Conventions—1942 and 1943
The April, 1942, issue of Beacon Lights advertised the 4th Annual Convention to be held at Roosevelt Park Church. “We have selected our theme for this year and it has to do with youth. What is always characteristic of youth—Of what is youthful? And that’s the theme of the 1942 Convention.”
It never materialized. The October Beacon Lights of that same year tells why. “In one word, who could have imagined that it would be possible for the war to so soon make such inroads into our lives that the Federation Board would deem it advisable to call off the 1942 meeting, even while the plans were in the making?” The rubber shortage had reduced traveling to a minimum. Most societies had their ranks greatly depleted by the call to service. The war with all its horrors tended to depress spirits. All in all, the board felt that a convention was out of the question for some time. For two years federation activity was reduced to the production of Beacon Lights.
4th Convention—August 30 and 31, 1944
The first wartime convention was held as a result of the young people’s societies voting overwhelmingly in favor of it. The Young Men’s and Talitha Societies of Fuller Avenue chose “Christian Liberty” as their theme. The two meeting days were changed from Thursday and Friday to Wednesday and Thursday. Since the terms of all five officers had expired over the two year interval, the board proposed that all five offices be again filled. The 43 delegates also dealt with an invitation from the Western League to have the Federation dissolve into an Eastern League and have a Board elected from these two Leagues. Assuring the Western League that the Federation did not want to break it up, the delegates decided to remain as Federation and invite the Western societies to join it in addition to their League. The first pancake breakfast was held on Thursday morning and the banquet was held that night. As a fitting close, a denominational service flag, with a star for each boy in the service was displayed. With this reminder of both their spiritual unity and their physical separation, the young people ended the convention.
5th Convention—August 29 and 30, 1945
Had there been seven more delegates to the second South Holland convention, it would have been illegal. Government wartime regulations limited the amount of delegates to any type of convention to fifty. “Steadfastness” was the theme around which the convention centered. An innovation consisted of a girl’s glee club which sang at every meeting. Still operating a tight budget, the treasurer reported a balance of $87.92. One society joined the federation as the delegate board decided to initiate a major revision of the constitution. A full report of this convention can be found in the October, 1945, issue of Beacon Lights. Here also are registered the impressions of some of those who attended. One reported that he counted ten ministers present. With few exceptions, the impressions seemed to be very favorable. The excursion to the Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry was especially enjoyed.
6th Convention—August 21 and 22, 1946
“Well organized” was the almost unanimous opinion of those who attended the sixth convention at Hudsonville. The speakers talked on “The Strength and Beauty of Youth” and one of the orators called his listeners “the most beautiful audience in the world.” One more society joined, bringing the total to fifteen societies in the Federation. One example of the efficiency of the Hudsonville Society was the ability of one former navy cook to prepare 170 pancake breakfasts.
7th Convention—August 19-21, 1947
The Fuller Avenue societies sponsored the first three day convention. The business took almost that long as the delegates discussed and debated the revised constitution for two days. Between times, they found the opportunity to accept four new societies and to raise the price of Beacon Lights from $1.25 to $1.50. The treasury finally began pulling ahead with a $372 balance. The extra day gave time for a really long outing at Townsend Park, complete with a treasure hunt and ball game. The four speakers developed the theme “Fellowship in Christ”. Having decided to accept Holland’s invitation to meet there next year, the delegates adjourned and enjoyed the banquet. After the banquet, they watched and listened to a chalk talk which brought to a close the longest convention yet.
8th Convention—August 18 and 19, 1948
The delegates to the Holland convention had to seriously take stock of just what the Federation and the convention should be, since there were proposals which would greatly affect both. First of all, two more societies joined, leaving only five societies which were not Federation members. Round Robin society letters were adopted to be tried as another means to unite the societies. South Holland proposed that the western societies leave the Federation and join the Western League in order to cut down on costs. This was defeated. Oak Lawn’s society wanted to see a definite separation between the edification part and the fun part of the convention, e.g., have all the speeches one day and the outing the next. They felt that to mix the two took the spiritual matters from the center of attention. The delegates referred this suggestion to all future host societies. The theme of Holland’s convention was “Faith of our Fathers”. Going back to a two-day convention, the banquet seemed too soon over and the convention at an end.
9th Convention—August 22-25, 1949
Everyone expected that the ninth convention would be held in Manhattan, Montana. Plans were being made and everything was going fine. But in the February Beacon Lights this announcement appeared “But—this morning after checking and re-checking during the past weeks, with the C. & O. Railroad Co., and after being assured each time that the rates were as reported and that we could go ahead with plans—this morning, C. & O. called and stated that Detroit had quoted the rate as $86.35 instead of $42.64 as formerly reported.” So because the cost would be too high, Manhattan was lost as the host society. But, in this confusion, Pella and Oskaloosa came through. Choosing as theme “Redeeming the Time” they hosted a three day convention filled with essays, debates and round table discussions. Oak Lawn again proposed the same idea as the last year regarding convention activities and much the same action was taken on it. Many proposals by the Federation Board to improve the convention proceedings were debated and some adopted. The banquet was held in the Kletzing College Dormitory and after Second Church in Grand Rapids was announced as the host for the 1950 convention, the closing prayer brought to an end one decade of annual Protestant Reformed Young Peoples’ Conventions.