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Interview with Agatha Lubbers (2)

MHH:  And at that point you became…

AL:  The principal until 1997. And I had the problems of being a principal.

MHH:  For example.

AL:  For example. There were people who felt that I was too severe.  There were people who felt that I wasn’t severe enough on certain things. There were kids who lied to me.  There were kids who didn’t lie to me.  There were kids who were more like kids than like young adults. You simply lived with those kinds of things and you didn’t stick to those issues so much, but you tried to get young people, who ought to learn to be Christians in their life.  I used to say to people—usually people who were unhappy in one of the other Christian high schools, “OK, you came here this morning.  I want to say to say to you that I’m very happy that you came. But remember you did not just pass through the pearly gates when you walked in this school.  You walked into a school that has sinful teachers, has sinful young people, and has young people who need to be correctly disciplined and loved.  It’s going to be hard sometimes to love, it will seem that you’re loving them at a time that you do what you have to do, but that’s what you have to do.  You believe that you have to do that, and you mustn’t be concerned about that.  You have to be concerned between you and God that this is what you believe for the order of the school.”  So between 1982 and 1997 I had very good years. But I always enjoyed working with young people.  To me, that was my life.  When I finally thought of retiring, I thought, shoot, not ninety-five percent of me has died, but a hundred percent (laughter). That’s what my dad said when his wife died. Yes, it was a good life. Not a sinless life.  But a good life. We always do things about which you’d say, “Wow, if I could do it over.”  But you can’t.  You just have to live what you live as you live, and be willing to admit mistakes. If you feel that you’ve made a mistake, be willing to admit mistakes. If you feel that you’ve been too severe, be willing to admit that.  I always believe that you have to be faithful and fair and forgiving.

MHH:  After your enjoyable years at Covenant, you were apparently headed down the road for retirement.  But somehow the train went off the tracks, so to speak, and you became involved with Eastside School.  Could you elaborate a little bit on the background and the history of the formation of that school and your involvement with it?

AL:  Yes. In 1979, there was work being done by people who were very unhappy with the fact that Adams Street Christian School moved from Adams Street to the west side of town.  These were long-time supporters of Adams Street Christian School. They were descendants of people who were early advocates and early supporters of Adams Street Christian School, and they were convinced that Adams Street belonged on the northeast or at least on the southeast end if they could possibly work it.

Well, there was a greater desire to have Adams Street on the southwest end, and there were more people that wanted that.  So that’s what happened. The people from the northeast end even sent their children to Adams Street when it was on where it was on Byron Center, for a couple of years.  Then it became pretty obvious that they were going to get started in September of 1997.  And they needed a principal.

I thought about it, but not much. Then several people came to me and said, “Would you consider thinking about coming to Eastside as a principal”?  I said I would consider thinking about it.  Then I met with the board. I wrote a letter—not really a letter of application, but kind of a letter of acceptance because I never really received a letter from them, just personal requests. At that meeting, they said, “You’re our principal.”

I was going to go part time as a principal.  That would be ideal—that I would be only a part-time principal. I was not going to teach, and I didn’t that first one or two years. As a principal you teach, but I was not involved in the classroom.  I was busy doing things to make it possible for the school to become a complete entity as a beginning school.

We had lots of help from many volunteers, and we had, I think, a good faculty. I think the school has gone on well. It is a small school—probably between 40 and 50 most of the time—a very small school, but very accommodating class size with sometimes not more than 8-10 students in a classroom.  So the student there got a very good, close relationship with the teacher and lots of help.  We’ve had good students graduate from Eastside because they’re good students. Eastside didn’t necessarily make them all good students, but good students come to a school, and then you use those good students. We have one of them as a valedictorian from Covenant Christian High School, and there were people with good grades in their ACTs.  So I don’t think we really did poorly at all as far as our students were concerned.

We had to develop the curriculum. We patterned it pretty much after what the other schools were using as a curricular type of things. That probably was the easiest. But the building was not in existence when we started, so we had our classes in the basement of First Protestant Reformed Church. I was very much opposed to it. I said, “This is far too small for the number of people that you’re going to squeeze into this building. It will be absolute chaos. You can’t do it. No matter how many whips you have, you can’t do it. It’s not a teachable situation. The rooms would be way too small. It would be just a wreck-em derby of some kind (chuckle). Fortunately they were able to find a building that they needed, and Adams Street has prospered. I’m happy for that.

Eastside has prospered, not in the sense of numbers, but I think in the sense of the work that has been done.  We tried to be not a charter school so much, but a classical school, because we taught Latin and taught some logic (I taught the Latin and I taught the logic), and we used tape materials from a strongly logical school; in fact, it is called the Logos Christian School. I even visited the school in Moscow, Idaho, to see what kind of program they were using.

That’s kind of the background of Eastside.

The actual school building came into existence about 5 or 6 years ago. It was built on to the church, and  it really looks like a church-school. All Protestant Reformed schools are parentally operated, but they are church schools, no matter what you say.  They are schools that most of the people in the church have promised to send their children to.  They didn’t make that promise when they made their baptismal promise.  They just said they’d see to it they were properly educated, but Christianly and piously educated.  But they didn’t say, “We’ll send them to the Protestant Reformed Christian School,” because if they did, then there would maybe be a discipline case. I’m not sure.

MHH:  Are there any other memories, events, incidents that you would like to mention at this point?

AL:  I’m not sure exactly how long it is ago, but in the early 60s or late 50s that Perspectives [in Covenant Education] came into existence. There was a desire on the part of the Protestant Reformed Teachers’ Institute for teachers to have an opportunity to express their ideas in print. As we started out, we borrowed from other Christian schools and other Christian organizations. I was the editor for the first ten years of the magazine. After that time, other men and women took over the editorship of Perspectives,  and it is still in existence.

As it started out, we came out twice a year. Then we came out three times a year. Now Perspectives is coming out quarterly. I think it’s been a good development.  It’s been an opportunity for our teachers to have an opportunity to give expression to what they believe and how they conduct themselves in the profession that they have chosen to be in.

It’s a great reward to me to see so many young people that I have taught go into the teaching profession, and I praise God for having given me the opportunity to be part of that.

On the matter of the current situation [a controversy regarding the use of the Christian schools vs. home schooling].  If I look back over the years that I taught, I never in my whole life thought at all about the competitor called home-schooler.  I knew that there were times in the history of the world and there were places in the history of the world where people were getting tutored by a tutor in somebody’s family. But for people to choose not to send their children to either the Protestant Reformed Christian school which has come into existence before I came into Grand Rapids or not to send their children to a public high school or a Christian high school when I came to Grand Rapids that was the only thing that I was taught to believe. I was going to go to Calvin College. We may not have agreed with all that was taught, but we knew that Calvin was a good school in the sense of its academic proportions.

When I think about the current situation which has developed in the last fifteen years or so within the Protestant Reformed Churches, more people are saying that they are going to home school their children. I’d rather say teach their children at home, because a school is an institution.  It’s a man-made institution, but it is an institution of some kind because people get together and say, “It’s our corporate responsibility.” Whether it’s their corporate responsibility or not, it’s sometimes up to them to decide whether or not it is their corporate responsibility to be part of that corporation.  I mean, that is one of the theological reasons given for it.

I think one of the good reasons for having particularly a high school that there is such a thing as people meeting a possible a spouse or having good companionship—although young people are young people, and young people are by nature totally depraved, and they’re not necessarily going to be good when they’re not under the supervision of their teachers, and they aren’t necessarily going to be good even when they are under the supervision of their teachers.  But in the current situation, it is my belief that you cannot prove from the Bible that people who teach their children at home are sinning against any of the commandments of God, or sinning against anything that they are taught in the scriptures.  The scriptures say that they must be piously and religiously educated; they must be taught by fathers in the way, by the home, all of that. The father can get rid of that responsibility by organizing and becoming part of a corporation and listening to the urging of ministers and various people who for a long time have urged our own schools, for whatever reason they believed that was the right thing to do—usually because we could provide a more doctrinally safe and correct school.

However, I don’t believe that the Bible says you have to have those.  It’s something that people reading the Bible say that would be good to have. Abraham Kuyper believed that you should have Christian schools, and most of us believe that Abraham Kuyper was right on that.  But there are people either for financial reasons or for other reasons who say, “We don’t want to send our children to the Christian school because Article 21[sic] does not say you have to send your kids to the school.  It only says, ‘consistories shall see to it that there are.’”  I believe that when you are a consistory member, you have to live up to Article 21. If you’re going to say there ought to be [schools], then you ought to send your children to that which you say ought to be.

So I think in the present situation, what happened in the Protestant Reformed Churches and in Classis East was a mistake, and I think members have to declare it to be a mistake and say, “Let’s go on from here and let’s interpret it.” I tell you that those interpreters who say the consistory shall see to it that there are good Christian schools are right. But they are wrong when they say that when you make the promise at baptism to have your children piously and religiously educated, you do not make the promise to send them to a Christian school, although there are some people who feel that they make that promise.  If they did, they are not sinning against God that they made that promise and that was in their heart. But they had better carry through on their promise.

As far as I am concerned, I love our schools. I couldn’t have worked in our schools for 56 years if I didn’t love them.  I would always advise people to send their kids to Christian schools.  I would always say to them, “Our schools are not perfect. Our schools have people who use drugs. Our schools have people who don’t keep the seventh commandment as they should. Our schools have people who are not respectful to their parents and authority. Our schools are filled with all the sins. But so is every home, so you’ll find it there too.”  So you can’t escape sin.  You can only try as much as possible to teach sinners how to behave in the academic area, in the behavioral areas, in the relationship with each other areas.

There may be weaknesses in any school program or in any home school program, and there are weaknesses in our schools. But that whole moral issue and that whole ecclesiastical issue is wrong. They should simply say, “We’re wrong,” and get it out of ecclesiology. And if it’s an ecclesiastical school, women can’t be principals.  Then you have another issue.

Somebody said to me, “You should be on our study committee.”  I said, “Then you’d have another issue (chuckle) because I’d be coming in the back door instead of the front door (laughter).”

MHH:  Miss Lubbers, how would you compare the church of today with the church of your youth?

AL:  Well, I’ve been admonished not to be necessarily critical and not to be necessarily positive by Winifred Koole [AL’s lifelong friend and companion].  But this is going to be in the nature of a critique.  Winnie always advises me on certain things that she thinks I might neglect. She has been a good companion in that way.

But in the form of a critique, I would say this.  I was young when I became a member of the Protestant Reformed Churches—so young that I don’t even remember that I was a member of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Winnie, my friend here, had been a member of First Protestant Reformed Churches since 1924. She was not baptized there, but she was a member in 1924, and remembers the basement being dug and all of those things.  But I do not remember that.

I don’t remember bad things.  Somebody asked me not so long ago, “Did you ever not like it that you were a minister’s daughter?” I said, “No.  I always liked it because I liked my dad and I know he liked being a minister.” I liked it because I knew that he had an important position in the church.  Not the most important position, but an important position.  And I liked it because we had certain possibilities because of the fact that I was a member of the Doon Protestant Reformed Church, Pella Protestant Reformed Church, Randolph Protestant Reformed Church.

I’ll talk now about behavior. As far as my youth was concerned, we did not do some of the things that young people have the privilege to do today.  We would not, for instance, in my early days have a group that was going to Detroit for a ball game. We just didn’t do that. We did not have those kinds of opportunities. We had perhaps a few people who attended theaters, but the movies in those days were just plain factual things and hardly none of the stuff that you find in movies today. And our churches have never taken a position on drama or movie attendance other than the fact that consistories have discouraged their young people from doing this.

Doctrinally I believe that we are the same, although I think we have become a little bit more affected by things that we did not emphasize in the early days. In the early days we said churches can go down the wrong direction because of common grace. They are going to justify things that are not to be justified. Herman Hoeksema said this would be one of the outcomes (and other men did, too) of common grace. I ask the question:  “We did not espouse common grace.  But why are our people often times doing the same things or even worse than the Christian Reformed Church?” I think it’s because of our evil natures, not because of our doctrine. Our doctrine doesn’t make them careless and profane.  They are careless and profane in spite of the doctrine.

There are many Christian Reformed people who have a bad doctrine, who behave themselves very well. For what reason?  That’s between them and God.  I don’t judge whether they’re going to heaven or hell.  I just judge whether they are behaving themselves according to the commandments.  I think in that sense we have changed. Our preacher is preaching against smoking, for instance.  These are things that belong to the Christian liberty of people. I think sometimes Christian liberty is not really understood in our community any longer.

As far as the synods are concerned, I think that the synod has become more authoritative than Herman Hoeksema would like it to be.  I think he would like to see that it continue to be the case that there would be most control by the consistories in the church. Consistories can depose. Classes cannot depose. The Classes have to be very careful that they are dealing with problems that can approve the deposition of a minister, can approve that.  And I sometimes think that there is an erosion in that way.

The other thing that I see as erosion is that ministers do not carry with them the absolute need of preaching Christ in every sermon.  They end before they get to preaching Christ.  I’m just saying that this is a critique and an analysis of what I think.  Our minister one time preached a very good, strong sermon from the Heidelberg Catechism on total depravity. It was excellent. Good strong sermon. But after church I stood and talked with some of the young people who were going to Calvin College, and they were having some questions about these good people who walk on the street. They don’t swear.  They don’t cheat on their wives, and all of those kinds of things. What are you going do about them?  So I said to the pastor, “Good sermon, but what about those people that these young people are talking about who don’t cheat, don’t do this or that?  Is it common grace?” I said to the young people, “It’s not common grace that makes them that way, but it’s probably the natural light and the glimmerings of natural light that the Canons of Dordt speak of. They know about good order in society and all of that.”  He said, “You think I should preach another sermon on it?” I said, “Absolutely.  Preach it so they understand the relationship between living a godly life and what is not necessarily a godly life, but what seems to be.”

I think our young people’s societies have changed, and our young people’s conventions have changed, probably out of necessity. I remember the first kids that went to the first convention, I think it was in 1939 or 1940. It was before the war. I remember them going with Cecil VanderMolen’s truck from the front door of our parsonage in Pella [IA] (all these young people sitting on hay bales going to the convention) all the way to Oak Lawn [IL].  That was where the first convention was.  From Pella to Oak Lawn, on the back end of a truck (which was about a 300 mile trip over and back).  No buses.  No air conditioning.

Ministers have changed too. I don’t think many ministers know how to butcher a pig anymore.  They don’t know how to butcher a chicken anymore. My father butchered chickens. He butchered pigs.  He kept gardens. He lived on a miniscule salary. I have to thank the consistory of Doon.  They sent my dad (I’m not sure how much money it was), the money that he had not received (this is under the leadership of Homer Hoeksema) when he was a minister in Doon. He had a salary coming of $800, and he got $500.  And he had three kids to feed in those days. When we went to Doon, we took a Model T Ford Roadster. There were five of us in it and just enough room for two in the front and three in the back It was 800 miles [from Grand Rapids to Doon].  Fortunately nobody traveled in the winter because we hardly had a heater in those cars.  You’d have to ride with robes on. I said, “Dad, did you ever have to change the bands?”  “Nope.”  “Did you ever have to back up the hills?”  “Nope.” I said, “How long did it take you?” He said, “It took me 36 hours from Grand Rapids to Doon.” I said, “Did you stop?” He said, “Yes, we stopped at Dubuque, Iowa.” I said, “How did you get going in the morning?” He said, “It was pretty tough.”

Then he said, “We came to Doon and the furniture had been delivered by Huizings furniture, and it had all been dumped in the front room.” You probably remember, Mark, the parsonage in Doon. There was no insulation, there were box elder bugs by the hundreds inside there. It was just really a very, very primitive place. It had cold rooms. My mother had a kerosene stove to do her cooking on, and she had probably an old washer of some kind. We did have an indoor toilet, I’ll have to say that for it. But anyway, when they came to Doon, there wasn’t any furniture set down.  The Doon people had been busy doing what they had to do—they didn’t have telephones in those days, and so they didn’t know what was going on unless somebody came over with a horse or something.

Well, a man rode up.  My uncle Peter was along. They worked that night to get two bawling kids into a bed.  My sister had a kerosene burn on her foot, and my mother was busy with all of that. And we had to be fed. There was no restaurant in the town. In the morning a young man rode up on a horse and said, “You guys need any help?  I’m from the Doon church.”  My uncle Peter was seventeen years old.  He stepped out on the porch and said, “Nope, we don’t need any help right now.  We’ve got it all arranged with whatever we’ve got”—which wasn’t much. Included was the table on which he was going to make his first sermon. He said, “Well, I can help you.” Uncle Peter said, “You can help me.  You let me have that horse and I’ll get a plow and I’ll plow this man’s garden so that next spring he can plant his garden.” The kid went and got a plow, and Uncle Peter plowed the garden to get is ready for the next year.

Ministers today don’t have gardens. Some do, maybe. Most of them don’t. They don’t butcher chickens. They don’t butcher pigs. My dad was born on a farm, so fortunately he could do that. My dad painted buildings. My dad did many things that he had to do. He didn’t need a big education, but he needed the truth.

I’d like to repeat two unique stories that  I think will be very interesting. Our ministers, all of them, would go to the Protestant Reformed young people’s conventions.  You can look over the old pictures of the Protestant Reformed conventions, and you will see in the front row at almost all of those conventions a row of ministers, including the ministers’ wives. This was usually just before the banquet at the church, and everybody dressed up for it and they didn’t have any big-time themes. Herman Hoeksema was there, although he didn’t usually make that speech because he made the pre-convention or the first speech. He always said, “I made the first speech.” My dad said, “You didn’t do it.  I made the first speech.” He said, “That’s OK, George, I’ll just keep thinking I made the first speech and you can think that you made the first speech” (laughter).  He said, “We’re both right.”

One time they went to a convention and were on the beach (which they usually did). Rev. Hoeksema had taken his mile swim out and mile swim back, and he had taken his swimming suit off. My dad, who couldn’t swim a lick, wanted to get in that water, but he didn’t have a swimming suit. Rev. Hoeksema said to him, “You can wear mine.”  So he went into the bathhouse and he put the bathing suit on.  And he said, “Dominie, know what?  I can fill your pants, but I can’t fill your shoes” (laughter).

At the time of 1953 my dad was at Classis, and he had made the concession and the confession that he had to go back on his writing on the majority report [which favored DeWolf]. He had to say, “No, I can’t go with this.” He had heard what Rev. DeWolf had said on the Classis. I had said to him on the way home from Classis, “You can’t support DeWolf any longer.”  He said, “Nope.”  He spent that whole night calling his cohorts and other people. Then the next morning he went to the Classis to tell them that he was not going to continue to support the majority report because of the position that had been publicly stated by Hubert DeWolf. They were standing in the hallway, one of the hallways of First Church, and Rev. Hoeksema was having a smoke. My dad didn’t smoke at that particular time, but he did smoke on occasion. He said, “Dominie, I think I’ve denied the Reformed faith.” Rev. Hoeksema said, “No, George, you didn’t deny the Reformed faith.  You defended what you believed was necessary in the Reformed faith, but you didn’t know DeWolf.  You didn’t believe DeWolf.”  My dad said, “You’re probably right, Rev. I had a hard time believing that DeWolf could mean what he said.”

MHH:  Very interesting recollections. Are there any other issues you would like to address or any other opinions that you would like to express?

AL:  I just hope before God that the Protestant Reformed Churches will be able to maintain the basic stands that they have taken. I think divorce is going to become a really major issue in our churches. In my family we have two divorces at this point. How to deal with a divorce situation is always a huge challenge in a family. There are certain families who take it one way and certain families who take it another way.  I think the church has to maintain what it has always maintained, and that is that divorce is wrong.  God doesn’t want people to divorce. But if they have to because of the hardness of their heart, they had better, and if they do that, they cannot be a member of the Protestant Reformed Churches.

MHH:  Very good.  Thank you for your time, Miss Lubbers, for your thoughts, for the answers that you have given. They are all appreciated. This concludes this interview.