Editor’s Note: During the years of his ministry, Rev. Hanko frequently preached from the book of Ephesians. Perhaps some of those sermons were addressed also to the congregation in Manhattan, which was so very dear to him. When one reads Rev. Hanko’s reflections on his time in Manhattan, one cannot help but think of Ephesians 4:16, “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
We spent three pleasant years in the Manhattan congregation. The entire congregation did everything in their power to make life pleasant for us. Many stopped in as they passed to have a cup of coffee with us. Our holidays were all carefully planned so that we never sat home alone. We made trips in the mountains, to Yellowstone Park, a trip to Glacier National Park, and in the meantime also had many visitors.
We had 100% attendance in the services and in the catechism classes and practically 100% attendance in all the societies. If one did not attend, he or she heard about it. All, even the young people, were very cooperative. The church was the center of activity for them. In fact, the young folks liked nothing better than to come to the church and have a sort of program. Those who could sing made up a quartet or trio. One who could play the piano would play a piece. Someone else would give a speech on an assigned subject. This went off smoothly; no one refused. Then we all would have a bit of lunch before going home. A visitor would think that this had been arranged in advance. I challenge any minister to try this in his congregation. The right community is needed for something like that.
In the summers, both Herm and Fred got a good taste of farming in the west. Herm worked for at least two farmers, the one still quite old fashioned, the other adopting the new machinery.
Herm worked for Menko Flikkema when he was with us during the summers.1 He once got a baling hook in his thigh so deep that he had to go to the doctor, who plugged the hole up with seemingly endless strips of cloth to prevent any infection. Herm also worked for Dave Schipper, who had a barn full of cats.
Fred had his first experience with Heno, who lived on Churchill. Later he worked for Pete Flikkema.2 During the harvest time he was the tractor man, fully responsible for the tractor during that season.
A few summers I also helped Pete Flikkema with the harvesting. I prepared the necessary sermons in advance, and then, when the harvest time came, I went to spend the week from Monday morning to Saturday evening with the harvesters. We always had a very pleasant time because all the workers were from the church. Menko and Pete Flikkema would harvest together. There were three combines and two trucks, with Gerrit Flikkema in charge of the entire crew.
One person who could hardly be forgotten is Henry Ungersma. He lived on Church Hill, a close neighbor. He might well be referred to as a gentleman farmer. He was a dry land farmer, which means that he had his farm in the hills where irrigation was impossible. As a result he left half the land fallow each year, giving the soil time to collect moisture from the rains. He worked the land only 12 weeks of the year. He was, in the real sense of the word, an outdoor man, who enjoyed nothing more than hunting and fishing. He lived close by, so that he often stopped in to take me on one of his activities, either to fish, or to practice shooting, or to sow grain by airplane in the hills, or just to enjoy the scenery. From a distance he could spot a stag, an elk, an antelope, a moose, or a mountain goat. While I sat looking without seeing anything, he would point out to me the animals, nicely protected in their natural habitat. When we went fishing, my fishing line and bait dangled in the water, while he drew out one fish after another.
It would hardly do not to mention that there was also in Manhattan a man who tried to make life a bit unpleasant in the congregation. A I have mentioned before, Rev. Danhof had warned us as students that in each congregation we could expect at least one troublemaker. As was mentioned before, there was such a character in Hull, there was also one in Oak Lawn, and this one filled the bill in Manhattan.
The first time I was to visit this man for family visitation, the elder asked me whether I had ever become furiously angry on a call. I assured him that this had never happened. His response was, “This time it will happen. It has always happened in the past.” Thinking I was well prepared for the worst, we entered the home and proceeded with the visit. It was not long and I lost my temper as a result of his constant needling. Afterward, the elder said, “I told you so.” From that time on, I learned to ignore this man whenever he tried to rouse my temper.
Whenever I preached a sermon on Christian instruction, he would stay away from church for a while, because he felt the school was duty bound to bring a bus to his house to fetch his children. When I went to Bozeman to have catechism with the young people there, he refused to send his children, since I could also come to his house. When the entire congregation came to celebrate communion in the morning, this man refused to come in the morning, but came as a lone partaker in the afternoon. We soon discovered that the best way to treat his antics was to ignore him. If he stayed away from church for a while, the consistory did not bother to visit him. Soon he was back in church, and I would receive a few chickens as a peace offering.
One more character who should not be forgotten. Herm worked for him a while in his machine shop, where he made wagon boxes. He had married a woman who was a member of the “black stocking” group, a branch of the Mennonites. They believed in successors of the apostle Peter, who still received a special gift of the Holy Spirit and could speak in languages they never learned. They also thought that their children could be baptized only when both parents were members of their group.
At the time of their marriage, this man was unconverted, so it made no difference to him that his wife belonged to this sect. Later, he was converted under the preaching of Rev. Kok, and joined our congregation at the time of organization. When their first baby was born, the problem of baptism came up. This man insisted on baptizing the baby, while his wife insisted that he should join her group and baptize the baby with her. He had to take the baby from her forcibly for baptism.
When I came to Manhattan they had had their second baby. No one dared to broach the subject of baptism. So I talked with him, and he suggested that I talk with his wife. This I did, but it proved to be a one-sided conversation. She did not say a word, but when I insisted that the baby had to be baptized, that she could not do it, and that therefore she should leave this to her husband, she left the room and went into their bedroom. This became a question of endurance, who would hold out the longest. After some time she came to look around the corner of the door to see whether I had left. I took this opportunity to tell her that on the next Sunday the baby would be baptized, and she should not interfere, for that would bring trouble.
There was quite the suspense that next Sunday. Would he come? Would he come without a struggle? What a relief to see him come into the church with the baby, even nicely dressed. It was much more of a relief to hear that his wife had offered no resistance. What is interesting to note is that Mom became quite friendly with her, since Mom took sewing lessons from her. That did much to clear the atmosphere and give her a better impression of our churches.
I must tell of a little incident that happened in our home. In that part of the country it was customary that a salesman who happened to stop in around noon would be invited for dinner. One noon we invited a salesman to stay with us. Mother had placed a pan of buttermilk broth (soepen brei) on the table for dessert. The salesman took some potatoes and, thinking the pap was gravy, poured a good dose of it on his spuds. Mother told him that this was dessert, and that she would get him another plate, but he assured her that he liked his potatoes this way. The kids kept stealing glances at him as he ate that sour pap, barely holding back a snicker or two.
In 1947, Prof. Schilder made his second visit to America.3 He had stayed with us a little while in Oak Lawn in 1939, and now he stayed a whole week. Almost from the time he arrived we discussed and disagreed on the covenant and baptism of infants. Later, Mr. and Mrs. Van Spronsen spent a month with us.4 She was much more ready to adjust to our way of living than he was. Again the different views of the covenant were discussed.
Rev. and Mrs. Hoeksema with Lois, Homer and Trude, paid us a visit for a few days.5A group from the church decided to take them and us to Yellowstone Park. They took along roasted chicken, a carton of boiled eggs, and many other delicacies. Lois, Homer and Trude wanted to see snow. Little did they realize that farther into the park they would see more snow than they cared to see. So, when they saw the first small heap of muddy snow, they had a snowball fight, getting themselves pretty well messed up.
We had gone through the entire park without seeing a single bear, even though at that time the bears lumbered along the road side, looking for handouts. People did feed the bears even in spite of the many signs along the way, “Do not feed the bears.” Just as we were to leave the park we did see a bear. Rev. Hoeksema stopped his car and fed the bear a cookie. It so happened that a ranger saw this, came to his car and reprimanded him. This might have passed unnoticed, but the previous Sunday Rev. Hoeksema had preached in our congregation about keeping God’s law and how readily we transgress it. He had used the example of the farm laborers in the Netherlands, who stood along the wall in the church under the sign, “Do not spit tobacco juice on the floor.” Reverend remarked that they stood under the sign and still spat on the floor. When we stopped for lunch no one said anything about the experience with the bear until suddenly one of the men spoke up, “Yes, under the sign and spitting on the floor.” Even Rev. Hoeksema, though a bit embarrassed, joined in the laughter.
In 1947, Rev. Hoeksema was on his way to Montana to preach for me when he had a stroke in Sioux Falls. When he began to recover, his left side was lame and his speech was slurred. To all appearances his preaching and teaching had come to a sudden stop. Yet the Lord gave a slow but remarkable recovery, so that he could be active in the churches yet for a number of years. Some of the resonance of his voiced was lost, but his voice was almost as powerful as before. He walked with a cane and had limited use of his right arm and hand.
Elaine finished the 8th grade in the Manhattan Christian School and received a diploma. Fred also stood ready to enter the 11th grade and would have to go to Michigan to continue his Christian education. In May of 1948, after taking state exams, he had graduated from the 10th grade in the high school. He and the CRC minister’s son were the highest in the class.
But the people in Michigan had no desire to continue bearing the responsibility for our sons. It was at that crucial time that a call came from First Church in Grand Rapids. I dreaded the thought of leaving Manhattan, but also of assuming all the work involved in a congregation of five hundred families, even though they would have three ministers. Nor did it appeal to me to work along with two other ministers in the same congregation.
Two letters reached me. The one was from Rev. De Wolf who informed me that if I decided to come, he would give me his cooperation. Nevertheless he left the impression that he did not want a third minister in First Church. The other was from Rev. Hoeksema. He did not want to influence me, but did want me to realize that another man was needed there, and he would like to see me come. This was almost a challenge.6
So reluctantly, but nevertheless convinced that this was a call of the Lord, I accepted the call to First Church, informing them that I would come at the end of the catechism season in May. This gave them an opportunity to find a house and to prepare it for our coming.
The congregation in Manhattan was very sad, if not a bit angry. De Wolf had left for First Church after a brief stay, and now we were leaving after being there only slightly more than three years. But they bid us farewell with God’s blessing.
When the time came for us to leave, we auctioned off some of the furniture. The consistory of First Church had sent $2000 for moving expenses and left it up to us how we wanted to transport our belongings. So I shipped the books by mail, and some of the furniture by rail. The rest we sold.
Reluctantly we left behind the congregation and environment that we had so greatly enjoyed. Elaine was one girl who was very reluctant to leave and promised her girl friends, “I’ll be back.”
When we left I was deeply concerned about Mom. Even on the trip to Michigan I feared that she would have a heart attack. Each night I checked for an emergency doctor. But she made the trip well, and seemed to be happy to be with her family, whom she had not seen, except for an occasional visit, for nineteen years.
1 Menko Flikkema was the father of the late John Flikkema of South Holland PRC and Gerrit Flikkema of Peace PRC.
2 Pete Flikkema was a brother of Menko Flikkema.
3 Prof. Schilder was a member of the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands. He opposed Abraham Kuyper’s view of the covenant, and was deposed in 1944 by the Synod of Sneek-Utrecht while in hiding from the Nazis. He had been in a concentration camp because he was one of the few who dared to criticize Hitler and the Nazis publicly. The synod deposed him without ever giving him a hearing. He then established the Liberated Churches, called De Gereformeerde Kerken onderhouding Artikel 31 (The Reformed Churches maintaining Art. 31). He led the Liberated Churches until his death. These churches are and were sister churches of the Canadian and American Reformed. Schilder gave us endless grief in introducing into our churches the idea of a conditional covenant, which was the major factor in the Split of 1953.
4 Mr. and Mrs. Van Spronsen were a couple from the Netherlands who toured our churches in the late Forties. They were members of the Liberated Churches.
5 Lois Kregel is a daughter of Rev. Herman Hoeksema, though she was unmarried at the time referred to here. Homer, a son of Rev. Hoeksema, is the late Prof. Homer C. Hoeksema. Trude, or Gertrude Jonker, was Homer’s girlfriend at this time and later became his wife.
6 The letter was written from Bellflower, California on January 28, 1947. It reads as follows: “Dear brother, I just learned that you received the call from Fuller Ave. Congratulations. I am glad of it. And I sincerely hope that the Lord’s way may be for you to accept it. You know that I am not in the habit to advise anyone in matters of this nature. But I want to express my opinion in this particular case, which is that you are just the man for this call, both from the viewpoint of preaching and of cooperation with Rev. De Wolf, which is, of course, rather important. Of course, with me you will find it easy to cooperate. The work is manifold, but now there are two of you, and I can help a little, too, once in a while. And so, brother, you have my opinion. Perhaps it can help you to reach a decision. Regards to your wife and family also from the Mrs. With love in the Lord, H. Hoeksema.”