At the beginning of a new decade, the 50”s, few could have envisioned the disturbing scenes which would create cacophony in our already smallish denomination. Scenes which would leave pulpits in pitiful plights, pews in barren desolation and conventioneers bereft of number. But in 1950, not even the hoary heads, much less those strong in body and fair of face visualized such harsh realities…and so, everything went on as before. Ministers preached efficaciously, parishioners listened avidly and the host society of Second Protestant Reformed Church made plans for the tenth annual convention.
Twenty churches were represented at this convention, including such enigmas as Manhattan, Montana; Oskaloosa, Iowa; and four delegations from First Church—Talitha, Esther, David and Young Men’s Society.
Ominously enough, the theme for the 1951convention, chosen by Kalamazoo Society, was, “The Last Hour” taken from I John 2:18, “Little children, it is the last hour…” Rev. H. Hoeksema, Rev. James Howerzyl and Rev. L. Doezema developed this theme.
Added to the roster of representative churches were Sioux Center, Iowa and Bellflower, California. Interesting to note is that Creston Young People’s Society, which in the early 60’s was composed of five members (one official capacity for each member), at this time boasted a Junior as well as a Senior Society.
The First Protestant Reformed Church of Hull, Iowa welcomed those who were 1952 convention bound. At the business meeting of this convention two proposals were heatedly discussed and then passed. The first stipulated that all Federation Board members, except the president, be selected from members of member societies. Prior to this proposal, anyone from eight to eighty could have been nominated to the Federation Board. The second proposal, originated by the Oak Lawn Society, made the convention free to all members of member societies by assessing each society during the year.
The thirteenth annual convention was held at First Church and centered around the theme, “The Armour of God”. Because many young men had entered the service at this time, each meeting was opened with an audience singing for these “warriors” who must serve their country. A debate was also given this year, 1953, by the Randolph, Fourth and First Societies featuring the subject, “Resolved that Doctrinal Controversy is Healthful for the Church of God.” The affirmative side won this debate.
And in 1953, the beginning faint rumblings of dissension crescendoed into vibrating claps of thunder, simultaneous with the lightning streak which rent the denomination in twain. Consequently, the fourteenth convention held in South Holland, Illinois, was comparatively small, reducing the representation from First Church to two (the more familiar Senior and Junior Young People’s Society), and depleting several other delegations.
Still in effect, though not used to date, is the proposal made and passed at this convention that if the Federation Board and host committee so decide, the second speech of the convention may be substituted with various discussion groups.
Another feature of this convention was the extemporaneous speeches orated by several brave young people. Winners of this contest were: Dwight Monsma in the men’s division and Bernice Bleyenberg in the women’s division. Prizes, however, were awarded on the basis of need; hence, contestant Evie Veldman received a teething ring and Jim Jonker a toy horn.
Hudsonville’s young people welcomed the conventioneers in 1955, selecting as one of its speakers the late Rev. G. M. Ophoff. Once again, a debate highlighted the special numbers. This time the topic dealt with the place of television in the Christian home. Bob Decker, Jim Jonker, David Engelsma and Jake Kuiper participated in this debate. This convention adjourned with the exciting announcement that the following year the convention would be held in Iowa.
So in 1956, many enthusiastic young people boarded a chartered bus and headed across the country to Doon and Hull, Iowa. Upon arrival the many exhausted young folk gratefully tumbled into the arms of western hospitality (and beds).
Although this convention pattern was similar to those previous, style was indeed distinctive. Even the usual pancake breakfast was replaced by a cornbread breakfast. Lakes continue to pose a problem in Iowa, so the swimming took place in an aqua-colored pool in Rock Rapids Park.
Each back in his own territory once again, the young people were saddened to hear of the tragic death of a fellow conventioneer, Gordon King, member of Creston Society, was killed in an auto collision on his way back from Iowa to his army camp.
The Fourth Young People’s Society had invited all the young people to be their guests in 1957. So at this convention the West had to undertake all the tiresome traveling, but they at least could relax in the near freezing waters of Lake Michigan. Rather than another debate, a witty game of Twenty Questions was played for one of the numbers of the programs. Lamm Lubbers, Jim Jonker, Al Buiter and Bernie Huizinga were participants.
Hope and Creston joined hands in 1958 to plan the eighteenth annual convention. Once again a debate seemed to be in order. This debate consisted of panel members, David Engelsma, James Jonker, Rev. B. Woudenberg and Rev. H. Hanko who debated on the tempestuous subject, “Resolved that it is Necessary to Believe in a Young Earth”. Indeed, a lively and vehement debate ensued.
Also to be keynoted was the program, “This Is Your Life”. By means of narration, pictures and actual personalities, a history of the Protestant Reformed Young People’s Federation was portrayed. Rev. C. Hanko, first editor of Beacon Lights, Rev. G. Lubbers, first convention speaker, Homer Kuiper, first Federation Board president and Alice Reitsma, instrumental in the workings of Beacon Lights, were introduced to the young people. Children of early conventioneers were also introduced during this program.
At the Oak Lawn convention in 1959, the “hard-nosed” proposal was adopted that any delegate who was not present at all business meetings would not receive traveling expenses. Strangely enough, attendance soared and even participation seemed less languid.
The twentieth convention held in First Church will go down in history as the fosterer and developer of the Scholarship Fund Program whereby aid is and will be established for future ministers and teachers. Possibly a few years from now some young man or woman receiving financial aid will remember the 1960 conventioneers and inaudibly thank them for their resounding “ayes” when the vote was called.
“Protestant Reformed Young People of the Nation Meet Here” was the bold, black type found in the Loveland daily after the twenty-first convention was held in Loveland, Colorado. The theme “The Beauty of Holiness” was developed through inspiring messages as well as the majestic beauty of the area itself. In addition to going west for the first time, many young people also experienced their first train ride.
In 1962, Hudsonville Society once again welcomed its guests. The convention booklet was dedicated to the memory of James Jonker, always an eager and zealous promoter of conventions and other young people’s activities. Dune scooter rides at Saugatuck and swimming at Goshorn Lake along with the rustic atmosphere of Dune Schooner Lodge, decorated with driftwood and wild animal pelts, climaxed the enjoyable outing. Again the excitement was heightened with the announcement that the l963 convention would be out-of-state (that is, for “easterners”), Edgerton, Minnesota.
The Edgerton convention undoubtedly still reverberates for many of you young people and Edgerton was probably thankful that you could meet in their recently repossessed church edifice. If one incident stands out in your mind, it is probably that of the group singing in the natural open amphitheater or possibly the “Buffalo and Indian” banquet given in your honor.
And so, young people, the conventions are rather old, steeped in traditions and memories. The doctrinally discordant notes heard in the mid 50’s have not recurred in our present decade. Those disconcerting bass vibrations have been stilled and you young people hear once again the familiar trumpet calling you to commune together in holiness. The cadences of last year’s Edgerton convention still pulsing in the distance, you feel the old notes of unity, good fellowship and inspiration stirring as Hope looks forward to presenting this year’s theme, “Youth and Holiness”. The feeling of delightful suspense as the tuning instruments are hushed and become one—waiting, listening as the baton is lifted—the feeling of uplifting, expectant oneness of spirit and confession—that is the feeling which young people have experienced in past conventions and, prayerfully, shall continue to experience in years to come.