Conventions a Quarter Century Later

The house-cleaning season is both frustrating and amusing. When one engages in the annual ritual called housecleaning, the boredom and drudgery of the activity can be somewhat lightened by intriguing discoveries. In remote corners of closets, in neglected boxes, and in fragrant cedar chests one finds old hats, out-dated shoes, musty scrap books and treasured photo albums which seem to have been saved and stowed away for just such a time as this.

Humorous anecdotes are rehearsed and retold accompanied by gales of laughter as old hats and antiquated shoes are fitted and returned to their dust-gathering storage spots. Photo albums are fondly examined and each picture extracts an additional comment and reminiscence or chuckle.

As I prepared for this article, I did some house-cleaning and collating to refresh a memory gone stale because it has been several years since I last attended one of the highlights in the Protestant Reformed young person’s life. That highlight is the Protestant Reformed Young People’s Convention. One of the speakers at this year’s convention called it “the focal point of the society year” when he wrote the annual message from the president’s desk to the conventioneers in 1960.

The 35th Annual Protestant Reformed Young People’s Convention will convene in August, 1975, and my mind must travel back to the year 1947 to remember the first convention I attended as a naive, tender teenager. That was the 7th annual convention. Now it is about three decades or 28 conventions later. That really dates me, doesn’t it?

I won’t easily forget that convention because I was only 15 years old then, and I had just finished my first year in high school. I was going to be a sophomore in high school. I also won’t easily forget this convention because I was one of four delegates, who had traveled in my father’s forest green 1935 Chevrolet from Randolph, Wisconsin to Grand Rapids, Michigan. I had been to Michigan, the place of my birth many times before, but this was my first trip to attend the Annual Protestant Reformed Young People’s Convention. John De Vries, member of Hope P.R. Church, and Gerry De Vries, member of S.E. P.R. Church, and my sister Greta (spelled Garretts Lubbers in the convention booklet of 1947), now Mrs. Thomas Newhof. Jr., and member of the host church this year, were the other delegates from the Young People’s Society of the P.R. Church in Randolph, Wisconsin. The host societies that year were the Young Men’s, Tabitha, and Esther Societies of the First P.R. Church of Grand Rapids.

This was a memorable year for the Protestant Reformed Y.P.S. of Randolph because one of the proposals from the Federation Board to this convention was that the Y.P.S. of Randolph be granted membership in the P.R.Y.P. Federation. Doon, and David Society of First P.R. Church also became members of the Federation that year.

For a teenager from one of the small Western churches, a trip to attend a first convention is both a spiritual and exhilarating experience. I will always remember the inspirational mass meeting that year. That mass meeting was held in the spacious confines of the First P.R. Church in Grand Rapids. It was one of those typical warm August evenings in Michigan, when the locusts had been singing all day. Throngs of people poured from Bates Street, Worden Street, Neland Avenue, toward the corner of Fuller and Franklin where they would fill every corner of a structure that could seat nearly 1300 people. The building was packed. Additional chairs had been set up in aisles and spare corners.

Another convention that I will personally not soon forget was the convention that was sponsored jointly by the societies of Hope and Creston P.R. Churches. The theme of that convention was, “Hold Fast to That Which We Have.” The theme of this convention was based upon Revelation 3:11, “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” This convention held in 1958 had several unique features. The inspirational mass meeting was held at the Zeeland City Park. Zeeland City Park was a central location for many people of Western Michigan and those who came could hear the late Rev. H. Hoeksema speak for the 16th time, but this time under the open sky. Rev. Hoeksema spoke on the theme: “Holding Fast to the Truth.”

The outing of this 18th annual convention was held at Long Lake and the program included a debate and a survey of the history of the P.R.Y.P. Federation and of Beacon Lights. This historical survey was entitled “This Is Your Life.” Several, although certainly not all, of those who had been instrumental in the founding of the Federation and Beacon Lights were invited to this meeting and were introduced to the young people assembled in the shelter house at Long Lake. I remember particularly that Mr. Homer Kuiper, member of Kalamazoo P.R. Church, and first president of the Federation could be present at this meeting.

I said that we could have some but not all of those who had given leadership in the Federation. This is true because 1953 preceded 1958. 1953 was the year of the most disturbing split in the Protestant Reformed Churches. This split seriously affected our Federation too.

The Federation president, Edward Knott (Rev.), had written in the convention booklet of 1947 as follows: “It is also a pleasure to be able to write seventh annual. And although annual is not quite correct due to the fact that we were unable to meet for a few years during the war, the seventh is correct, and for it we rejoice. For it means that we are no longer an infant organization, but by the grace of God are growing up.”

That was 1947, my first convention.

But the convention of 1953 was drastically affected by the doctrinal controversy which had been waged and which swept across the Protestant Reformed Churches as a denomination. This doctrinal controversy resulted in a split which decimated the numbers of people who had previously called themselves Protestant Reformed. When the roll was called at the convention hosted by the First Protestant Reformed Church, some societies could not send all of their delegates, and some societies were simply not represented because they would not attend this convention.

I remember vividly and with sorrow the events of this year. I became the secretary of the Federation in the midst of these distressing circumstances and had to correspond with society secretaries to determine the exact status of the Federation that society year, 1953-1954.

Doctrinal controversy and the serious matter of being Protestant Reformed was on the minds of the members of the host society and the conventioneers at that 13th annual convention in August of 1953. The program plans included a debate on Thursday morning with the resolution: “Resolved that Doctrinal Controversy is Healthful for the Church of God.” The afternoon session of the some day featured an essay on the topic, “What is Protestant Reformed?”

Two decades have passed since the wounds inflicted by the split of 1953 were first felt by the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. These wounds also affected the united and federated cause of P.R. young people. Those, who were members of the host society of 1953, the same society that hosts the 35th annual convention, and other members of the Federation have become parents of many of those who will attend the convention this year. God has been good to us. He has established His covenant with us and with our covenant young people.

As we celebrate the Jubilee Year of our Churches, we are particularly reminded of God’s unchangeableness and His faithfulness in the midst of the strife and the turmoil of the times in which we live. We feel a profound affinity with the poet, who wrote Psalm 48. “Let mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad, because of thy judgments. Walk about Zion, and go round about her; tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following. For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.”

In this year of Jubilee we, who see our sons and daughters, our nephews and nieces, become active in these important areas of Christian living, say with Joshua, “…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Covenant young people of 1975, the torch has been passed! Run with it. As you run, REMEMBER! Don’t forget and don’t merely remember the past but “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh.” “Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”

Have a blessed 35th Annual Convention! This is my prayer for you.