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Interview with Agatha Lubbers (1)

It is June 27, 2009, and I am interviewing Miss Agatha Lubbers in Grand Rapids, MI.

MHH: Miss Lubbers, where and when were you born?
AL: I was born on a Thursday, December 24, 1931 on 12th Avenue in Jenison, Michigan. The house in which I was born is still standing—a little brick building.
MHH: who were your parents?
AL: My parents were Rev. George C. Lubbers, a minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches and Rena Lubbers, a lady who came off the farm in Hudsonville, member of the Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church. They married in 1930 when my father was a student in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
MHH: Can you tell me a little bit about your childhood, your youth, your family life?
AL: I said to somebody recently that I probably had gone to more Protestant Reformed churches or been a member of more Protestant Reformed churches than many other people in the Protestant Reformed Churches. My first membership, where I was baptized by Rev. Gerrit Vos sometime in January of 1932, was in Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church. I was there until 1934 when my father took a call to the Doon, Iowa Protestant Reformed Church. In September of 1934 I became a member of the Doon Protestant Reformed Church.
After about three years, my father took a call to the Protestant Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa, and I was a member of that church for another six years. I remember Pearl Harbor in 1941 in Pella when we were going to listen to the Reformed Witness Hour, which was one of the excuses for having a radio in those days, and then we heard the voice of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who came on the radio instead of Herman Hoeksema.
Then we were in Randolph until 1950. I went to the Randolph Christian School, which was in East Friesland prior to that, graduated in the eighth grade, and went to the Randolph Public High School—no Christian high school in the community—although my father thought of sending me to Grand Rapids so that I could either go to Grand Rapids Christian or to Holland Christian. But I think better sense prevailed and I went to a very conservative public high school in Randolph, Wisconsin. They taught Latin in those days in that school, and we had a Carnegie Public Library in the town. The Andrew Carnegie of great fame had given money so there could be a Carnegie Library there.
Then we moved to Grand Rapids, and in 1950 I became a member, with our family, of the Creston Protestant Reformed Church. The building is still standing. It is now used by the Seventh Reformed Church as a fellowship building. It is across from St. Alphonsus Catholic Church on Leonard Street. My father was minister there until about 1954, give or take. He lived through the 1953 collision and when the church became small, it didn’t fall into nonexistence. But he felt he was called to be a home missionary to those who had left the Protestant Reformed Churches, and he felt that maybe he could be influential in getting them back.
Then in 1950 I went to Calvin College. I was there one year and a summer when I was asked if I would please teach at Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School. That began a 56-year career, which was interrupted by certain times that I went to college or took about a two-year break when I went back to college and got my degree and graduated in 1959 from Calvin College in the days of president Bill Spoelhof.
My career, beginning in 1959, was that I was principal and teacher in place of Alice Reitsma at Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School until 1968. Then Covenant Christian High School came into physical existence. There had been several years of planning. I applied, and I taught many courses at Covenant Christian High School.
After 29 years of having been at Covenant, I went to Eastside Christian School during a time of some controversy with respect to the move of Adams Street Christian School. I worked for eleven years at Eastside Christian School.
Now I come to the time in my life, after one year of retirement, that I’m going to try to do something a little bit different, if I possibly can.
That’s a short resume of my life.
MHH: Very interesting. I’d like to take you back to some of the elements you mentioned, perhaps in a little bit more detail.
What are your recollections of the time prior to and including what you called the great collision of 1953?
AL: My recollections of that period of time were that my father and other ministers in the Protestant Reformed Churches were laboring with the issues that were brought into the Protestant Reformed Churches because of the connection that had developed between Herman Hoeksema and Klaas Schilder. Fact of the matter is, Klaas Schilder stayed in our home in Pella, Iowa with several other ministers, I think in his first visit. I do not know exactly when that was, but I know it was in the very early forties, or it could have been in the late 30s. I remember seeing a photo of my dad’s Model A car, and they were going to help him get to where he had to be at his next place.
I recall Schilder’s being in Randolph. It had to be in the 1940s, when he came here once again. He was going to speak in the Congregational Church where we had our services, and various Reformed people were invited to come.
My dad, after that time, had a nervous break-down, and he spent time at Pine Rest. In fact, he had 24 shock treatments, and he had great questions in his life. I can recollect that his first task was to translate Believers and Their Seed from Dutch into English. He did that work in lieu of being able to go into preaching immediately. We would have preachers coming in, although very soon he did go back into the labor of preaching.
At that time there were ministers particularly associated with the group called the Concordia, and they were friends of my dad who were becoming more and more interested in the Liberated movement in the Netherlands and their theology. I think they believed that there was a kind of sterility or probably an incorrect emphasis in the covenant theology of Herman Hoeksema and other people. I don’t think my dad really went along with that completely. I know he didn’t because he would not have espoused the idea of seeing to it that Believers and Their Seed would get into the seminary. He was hoping that it would be used there and that it would be distributed further. I know Homer Hoeksema did some other translating to make it just a little bit more free in its English, because Dad was very close to the Dutch in his translation—he wanted to be accurate and didn’t feel he had the freedom to do that, although he was a very good Dutch scholar and could preach in Dutch. In fact, he preached in Dutch in the two congregations that I remember: Pella and Randolph. Until I was about sixteen years old, they had a Dutch service once a Sunday for those people who believed that that was an important way for them to worship God.
My dad did not really have very many connections, although in the early days his connection was with Andrew Petter. Andrew Petter became strongly concerned that the theology that had been taught before was not what he could espouse. But he did not have a lot of influence on my dad. That’s the early days prior to 1953.
When we came into Creston in 1950, that’s where he was more closely in contact with the people in Grand Rapids. I would say that’s where things became much more a concern for him because he had friends who were in churches in Grand Rapids. There was Hubert DeWolf, there was Richard Veldman, and people like that with whom he communicated. They were personal friend of his. I don’t know that he always agreed with everything that they stated. But my dad was a very trusting man. I just believe that he couldn’t believe that people could be unorthodox. That was basically, I think, his position, although he strongly emphasized that we always have to preach admonitions of the gospel. I can remember that term coming through many times—admonitions of the gospel.
I remember that Herman Hoeksema listened to my dad and said, “George, I always like to hear you preach because Christ is central in your preaching.” And that is true. I don’t think my dad ever preached on the break of 1953 in his sermons. I never heard him say anything about that. I know there were others who did, but he did not.
MHH: What effect, if any, did these events have on your own personal or family life, and on your contacts in the church?
AL: I was in my early 20s in those days. Young and impressionable in a certain sense, but very interested in what was going on. I was always interested in what my dad was doing. Because of the fact that he was involved very much in this controversy, I was involved with it too. My dad wrote the, basically wrote the majority opinion. Although there were other ministers who labored with him, he was the spokesman for the committee, but he wrote it too, as I remember it. I was the person who typed it for him on a little Royal typewriter. I’ll go back too, to the days of the translation of Believers and Their Seed. I typed every page of that from his notes from Dutch into English. That was one of my big typing practices when I was about sixteen or seventeen years old.
The effect of ’53 was this kind of effect: there were two positions in the Creston Protestant Reformed Church. Some who were very oppositional, not necessarily so much to the theology or somewhat to the theology, but more toward the personalities of people involved in the controversy—anti-DeWolf or pro-DeWolf. Maybe not many anti-DeWolf. But there were those who were anti-Herman Hoeksema, and they had had a minister by the name of John DeJong, and they had very much love for him. I think he had preached, prior to 1953, the doctrine that he had learned and espoused when he went with Bernard Kok to the Netherlands prior to 1953, and said that these people and this theology is what the Protestant Reformed Churches ought to have.
That had an effect, I think, on the people. My dad came in as a person who did not espouse that, although he was not an adamant opponent of it because they were still reading and studying the Declaration of Principles. There was a lot of discussion about that and if that was going to be a new confession rather than its intention of being simply an explanation of what the confessions taught. My dad understood that it was an explanation. He never said anything about its being a third confession. He was not concerned about that. But there was plenty of argument and there was plenty of discussion.
MHH: I’d like to take you back a little bit again, this time not from the viewpoint of the ecclesiastical situation necessarily, but from the viewpoint of education. As you mentioned, you’ve been involved with education for many years. I believe that you also mentioned that at a very young age you began to teach, even without a college degree. Would you please elaborate a little bit about the Christian school movement and your involvement with the schools? I’d like to know about that.
AL: 1951 is when I became a teacher in Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School. I thought I was going to go just for a very short period of time and then return to Calvin College and get my degree. But as it turned out, because of the lack of teachers, or at least as far as Hope’s Board was concerned, the lack of teachers, there was a continued request for me to continue. So I would go to summer classes at Calvin College.
Going back to 1951 and 1952 and 1953, this is when the fracas in the Protestant Reformed Churches was developing. There were no signs at Hope School. There were a few people from Southwest Protestant Reformed Church and, I would say, none from Hudsonville, none from Hope who took the side of Hubert DeWolf. Even though Hubert DeWolf had been a minister at Hope Church prior to this time, I wouldn’t say that there were any sympathizers in the school that I could notice. Everybody was basically sympathetic to Herman Hoeksema.
The teachers in the school were all people who agreed with the Herman Hoeksema position because it was myself (this is in Hope Protestant Reformed), and it was Alice Reitsma and Jessie Dykstra. Those were the three teachers. I was there just briefly and then Catherine Stuursma became a teacher there, and she was not what we would call a Hoeksema follower. She was on the DeWolf side of the issue. But it didn’t really enter into Hope School so much, although I had one complaint. That was from John Blankespoor, that I had said something in a class about the position that was being discussed and debated. He even called me about it and asked why I had brought it up. I said, “I thought it was important.” And I said, “You know that I am not in favor of the position that’s being taken by yourself and certain other people.” I don’t know how long the children stayed there, but I think after ’53, the Blankespoor family went to other Christian schools.
At that time, 1950, the Hope School preceded Adams Street School. Those were the two schools in the town. Adams Street came into existence in 1950 and they had a much greater impact than we did. In fact, about one-half of the school did not come back after the collision of 1953. Many of the teachers were, let’s say, in agreement with the position that was taken by the Classis. They even had to have a secret meeting one night to determine who was going to be faithful in their instruction and who was going to go along with the position of 1953. The secret meeting was in the home of Tom Newhof, Sr. on Hall Street. Winnie Koole in that particular situation went with a monkey mask on (laughter).
I wasn’t at the meeting. I was told about the meeting, particularly by Winnie, because I lived with her for 40 years and we shared stories. And she said she went there. Mrs. Newhof was just about scared out of her wits. Winnie said. “Well, I thought I had to come here incognito. So I did.” So she came in a monkey mask (laughter). As a result of that meeting, because the principal was no longer with them, the result of the meeting was that Winnie and Fred Hanko became joint principals at Adams Street. For many years after that, they had nothing but women principals in the school. I think there was a lady by the name of Mrs. Veltman and Mrs. Gertrude Hoeksema and various people.
One of the greatest impacts on us—and that wasn’t with the school so much—was with the Protestant Reformed Young People’s Convention in 1953 There were two conventions. One was the convention of the so-called Orthodox Protestant (no, I can’t remember what they actually did call themselves). They didn’t stay Protestant Reformed very long. But they were the DeWolf group (I’ll use that for terminology), and they had their own Young People’s Convention. We had a Young People’s Convention that was sponsored by Southeast Protestant Reformed Church. I remember going to the one that was at Southeast Church.
But to come back to school. No, I don’t think that the school was involved in that theological issue so much because I think the school is a school that believed that children who are born in the covenant family must be taught as covenant children. They were taught as covenant children, with the understanding that they would not make any ultimate decision, but they would make decisions in their life that might, because of their own moral, rational freedom, had to affect them in this life.
After 1953,there was a greater activity in a group called the Federation that organized in about 1955 or 1956. Its purpose of that was to see to it that teachers in the schools were thoroughly committed to the Reformed faith and had not espoused any of the ideas that might have had an influence on education and certainly not the influence of common grace. That was certainly one of the goals of the meeting—to help the teachers grow in an understanding of what Reformed education really is all about.
MHH: With respect to your teaching career, what subjects did you teach? What stands out in your mind, if anything?
AL: I would have a hard time remembering all of the courses that I taught. But I would say, in the field of religion, I taught some courses in the history of the Bible. One of the main courses that I taught was Church History. I constructed a syllabus on ancient church history, because I felt that that was a very important thing to emphasize with young people, and it was not something that in typical church history books was emphasized greatly. The high points were emphasized and taught in the B.K. Kuiper church history book, which we used as a standard book at certain times. And I did quite a bit of writing on medieval church history as Prof.[Herman] Hanko had done in the seminary. The syllabus on ancient church history was used quite broadly by people who followed me in the church history department. They even used it in Redlands, California, for their young people’s discussion and study, and other places used it. It was not copyrighted in any sense of the word. It was just in a mimeographed form. I really enjoyed teaching church history. My remembrances are good, and some of the comments by some of my former students indicate that they said that they learned a great deal as a result of that course.
As far as other things that happened during that time was that the Federation became quite active in asking teachers to work in the summer. We worked on various projects. Teachers would head certain study projects, and these study projects would meet for about three weeks. I remember the first one was on a Reformed treatment of pagan literature, or at least literature from Christian countries. I shouldn’t say “pagan literature,” but literature from Christian countries. That was a labor of experiment in a certain way because many of us had not done this kind of thing before, so it took us awhile. Then there were some on writing, and there were some on social studies.
The PRTI (the Protestant Reformed Teachers’ Institute) developed quite soon after the split of 1953. Now there are over a hundred teachers who get together for the PRTI meetings. At that first meeting, I became the secretary, and Winnie was the treasurer, and Fred Hanko was the president. There were twelve teachers, and they were just from Adams and Hope. So that’s how it started. One of the main reasons, at least in the Grand Rapids area, was to attempt to provide more unanimity and happiness between the two schools, because there was sometimes kind of a competitive attitude that we felt was not necessarily to the benefit of the two schools.
Well, we introduced some competition anyway. But it was supposed to be friendly competition—running and various things like that: field games and kids getting together. Maybe that was sort of a grassroots beginning of Covenant Christian High School.
MHH: That provides a lead-in to my next subject. After your career at Hope School, you became associated with Covenant High School. Could you tell us a little bit about the beginnings of Covenant and the development of the high school and your involvement in that process?
AL: The high school began to develop about 1965. There were meetings. There were even meetings of women who were involved. They were like associations that thought that they maybe would be able to raise some money for this. Covenant Christian High School was built for about $200,000. It was a six-room school in those days.
When I was seeing the school develop in the Walker area, I was teaching on the sands of Hope School with more burdocks and more sand burrs than probably there were even blades of grass in those days. The kids would count the number of sand burrs they took into school. It was unbelievable. There were tons of flies. They were always killing flies or catching them with their hands. They’d make a little mark on their rulers whether or not they caught a fly or not. Whoever had the most marked-up ruler was the most special person in the classroom at that particular time. No screens, just lots of flies.
I taught almost everything in the humanities. It taught history, and I taught church history. I taught almost all the literature courses that the school could offer in those days. I can’t remember that I ventured really outside of those areas. I did teach German for several years because that was my major in college.
I remained a teacher for the first 14 years, and I remained a teacher for the next fifteen years—not as much, because I became principal in 1982. I was principal from 1982 to 1999. During that time some of our students were coming back to the school.
Before I became the principal there was quite a controversy as to whether or not I could be a principal. Some were opposed to my being the principal in the school.
MHH: Could you elaborate a little bit? I do remember that there was such a controversy.
AL: In 1982 there was a collection of fifteen people who signed a request for a society meeting because the board had made a decision. There were nine members on the board. They had decided that there were only two applicants—both of them from the faculty of Covenant Christian High School. I don’t know if they advertised farther than that. They had to have a society meeting because that was what the constitution said: If you had fifteen people who signed a document that said they wanted a society meeting, they had to have it. And they did.
MHH: You were one of the applicants?
AL: I was one of the applicants for the position. I believed that I should be considered. I didn’t believe that the word of God [forbade me] from being principal, as these men told me—men from my consistory at Faith Protestant Reformed Church. They told me that I was sinning against the word of God. And I said, “No, I don’t believe I am. And obviously the board doesn’t believe I am.” A committee from Faith Protestant Reformed Church visited me many times and told me that I should take my name off the list of those who were applying for principal.
MHH: On what grounds?
AL: The grounds were that women are subject to men in all kinds of situations. Women are always subject to men, even if you were working at Steelcase [a local corporation]. I said,”Well, that’s not a Christian organization. I believe that the Bible does not teach that. It does teach that a woman should be subject to her husband and her husband should be kind to her and loving to her. And that would make it possible for her to be subject to her husband, and she would not object to that. The relationship in the church should be such that the teachings of the apostles Paul are adhered to—that women should be silent in the church. That is to be understood as the authoritative word of God.”
In 1982 the society met, and it was not a unanimous vote. But there was a large enough vote that I felt comfortable. I said to the board at that time, “If you feel that this is not expedient ( that’s the term I remember using), then I will be very happy to step down and remain in the classroom. I don’t want to leave Covenant at this point. But I think it would be a matter of expediency for me to be off.” They said, “Absolutely not. This is what we believe is right.”
I remember saying to the consistory members, “Gentlemen, I have enjoyed this discussion with you. I think I’m still right, and I believe you’re still wrong. The Bible does not teach that.” I said, “If you believe that you are right, would you please tell me what commandment of the ten I am sinning against? That’s why you should be here. Is it the fifth commandment? The society has said it, the board has said it. It has to be the fifth commandment that I was not obeying.” I said, “I’m going to work for [the board]. I have to obey them. I have to do what they tell me to do.” And I said, “If there is a commandment, put me under censure. And if there is no commandment, please don’t come here with that as your agenda. You may come here, but don’t come with that as your agenda.” They never came again.
After that, they took off after my dad because he had preached a sermon during the summer that talked about the relationship between men and woman. He didn’t talk about me, but he used that moment. I was in Europe when that happened. There was a big uproar. Nothing really happened, but they took after him, and they went even as far as Classis West because Pella was his church from which he had retired. Well, they never proved that he was doctrinally wrong. They just didn’t like the sermon. So you could like sermons or not like sermons. But you’ve got to prove that the man spoke something that is against the word of God, and they couldn’t do that. They had all kinds of theories, but nobody agreed with them.
My dad said to me, “Ag, don’t worry about it. This is not a doctrinal issue. This is an issue of life, so don’t worry about it.” So I didn’t.
To be continued…