Editor’s Notes—The PRC first had contact with Rev. George Hutton and the Bible Presbyterian Church in Larne in 1983. This church rather suddenly broke off relations with the PRC in 1987, and joined the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Some of the members of Rev. Hutton’s group refused to join the Free Presbyterians, believing that those churches were not doctrinally pure. Our churches continued to work with this group, and sent Rev. Ron Hanko to be their missionary. It was during Rev. Ron Hanko’s tenure that Rev. C. Hanko went to visit Northern Ireland. These Northern Ireland saints suffered another setback when some dissatisfied members disbanded the church in 2002. Again, God preserved a remnant. Since then, the group has reorganized as the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland, and has established sister church relations with us. Rev. Angus Stewart currently serves as their pastor.
In March of 1993, Ron, Nancy and family moved to Ireland to take up mission work amongst the Covenant Reformed Fellowship there. On the 19th of May, Herm, Wilm, Allie and I left on a trip to visit Ron. We drove to Detroit airport where we left our car. British Airways took us by way of Montreal to London, where we changed planes. From London we went to Belfast, where Ron was waiting to meet us.
For the first time in our lives Allie and I were on the soil of Northern Ireland. The cities, the small towns, the houses, the verdant fields with their stone walls covered with vegetation and their flocks of sheep on the hillsides, all appealed to us.
Soon, we were at the gate that marks the entrance to the manse or parsonage. The manse was large with four bedrooms, a study, two bathrooms, a large kitchen and dining area, as well as a large living room. This house is set on a large lot bordered by beautiful rhododendrons, azaleas and other flowers, and surrounded by shrubbery and trees.
It was a pleasure to meet the family once again. When Ron was minister in Wyckoff, New Jersey, I had the privilege of visiting there from time to time, but after they moved to Houston I had not been to their home.
We made up quite a family with four extra guests. There were fourteen of us at meal times. It was a pleasant time as we were all gathered around the table. Jessica usually sat next to me. At the end of the meal we ended our devotions with singing from the Scottish Psalter they used in their worship services.
The day after our arrival we went for supper to the Reids.1 While we were there, Mrs. Reid, Nancy and Allie took a walk to a nearby church. Later we joined them taking a walk through the cemetery and along the stream and bridge on the side of the church.
On May 22 we took a ride to the Belfast Lough. Here we walked around the tower that was built as a memorial for the soldiers who died in the war for freedom from Catholic control. These men were led by William of Orange of the Netherlands. It was a raw, windy day, so we did not stay long.
At home we settled in the living room. It should be added that the three older girls took a great delight in teasing their grandpa and getting him to jostle with them. Without fail they got the worst of the deal, but always came back for more. In our more quiet sessions, the girls joined me in working crossword puzzles.
On Saturday, May 23, we rode along the Irish Sea. Particularly Allie and I had to get accustomed once more to riding on the left side of the road. We stopped at a rest area to allow the kids to expend some of their energy by climbing over huge boulders. At noon we went to a park near the beach just outside of a small town of Carnlough to have our lunch. A number of boats were docked in the harbor on the other side of the road.
On Sunday, we went to church in Ballymena. The meetings were held in a second floor hall. To get there we went through a gateway and an alley to a back door. We ascended a flight of narrow stairs and thus entered the hall. Nancy, Allie and I sat on chairs. The others sat on benches. Mr. Callendar was a very capable precentor or foresinger, who led us in singing from the Scottish Psalter.2 Herm preached both in the morning and in the evening.
On Monday, May 24, we went to Carrickfergus Castle by the sea. On the way we stopped at the home where Herm and Wilm stayed on their previous visit. Carrickfergus Castle is large, having numerous rooms and lined with fortifications. It was given to William of Orange as a gift for gaining the victory over the Catholics at the Battle of the Boyne. It has a large harbor open to the sea. While the rest of our party explored the castle, Wilm and I sat in the coffee shop and entertained ourselves there. The kids had a good time climbing around on the lookouts and viewing the many rooms.
The next day we went to Giant’s Causeway. As we traveled the countryside, we saw the fields of yellow flowers, more sheep and cattle, and everything that makes the countryside interesting. We did stop at a foot suspension bridge at Carrick-a-Rede and spent a little time there. The sway of such a bridge always gives a bit of a thrill to those who venture across. As you can imagine, I did not try it.
Arriving at the Causeway, a number of our party started down to the sea on foot. A few of us took the bus. The bus driver was extremely accommodating, putting my wheel chair in the back of the bus. As soon as we reached our destination, Neal was out on the rocks, climbing as high as he could. Soon the others followed, that is, as many as were interested in clambering over the rocks like mountain goats. Giant’s Causeway extends under the sea all the way to Scotland. The scenery is very interesting, so that we spent some time walking around there.
Since two of Ron’s children, Rose and Herman, had to go to school that day, they missed out on the ride, but we did pick them up on the way home. It was cute, seeing them in their neat uniforms, book pack in hand, coming out of the school and ready to go. Occasionally, Herm and I would ride along with Ron in the morning to bring them to school, or in the afternoon to fetch them home.
On May 27, we went to John and Marlene Clarke for supper. They have six children, two boys and four girls. Upon our return to the manse, we gathered in Ron’s dining room to celebrate Herm and Wilm’s 40th wedding anniversary with some delicious refreshments.
Taking full advantage of our short stay, on May 28 we went to the Antrim seacoast. On a rather long, winding narrow road we came to Murdock Cove, a most scenic spot and a nice place just to enjoy the broad expanse of the sea.
That evening we were invited by the Fellowship to come to the college in Ballymena, where the cafeteria was reserved by John Clarke for our use for the evening. The purpose of this get together was to celebrate Herm and Wilm’s 40th anniversary. Tables were set up for groups of four to eight. Everyone enjoyed the delicious food that was so lavishly spread out before us. Then came the cake cutting. Margaret McAuley had made the cake. Of particular interest was the fact that Neal had set himself right next to Herm, eyeing the cake with extreme interest. Suddenly his finger shot out to take a lick of the frosting, but as suddenly, Ron, who was on the watch said, “Neal.” As quickly as that, the finger drew back. Afterward, a beautiful vase with the inscription, “40th anniversary” was presented and Herm made a thank-you speech that was quite fitting for the occasion. When the celebration had come to an end, the women had the responsibility of cleaning up the place. Men helped move the tables about, but for some time the women were engaged in washing dishes in the kitchen.
We also spent a day in Belfast. Let it be known that, although Belfast has a reputation for riots, Chicago is said to be ten times more dangerous than Belfast. The women went shopping and Ron, Herm and I visited some bookstores. One dealer had his business in his home. In one room on the first floor he had some very valuable books. Other parts of the first floor were also used for books, but the main display was on the second floor. This man formerly had a warehouse, but it was burned by the IRA.3 Now he has his business in his home and seems to do very well.
Sunday, May 30, we went to church twice in Ballymena. I had the privilege of preaching for them in the morning on Isaiah 43:1-4, some of which reads, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when though walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” Herm preached in the evening to a very attentive audience. Allie took some pictures of the various families present.
On May 31, we went to the sea, going through Belfast. At noon we stopped at a park to eat our lunch. It was very cold with a cold wind sweeping in from the sea. I wore two jackets. But we enjoyed the lunch and the kids enjoyed running around. Ryan caught a crab that he carried around to show us. Later we took a ferry at Portaferry and enjoyed the ride.
On the evening of June 1, we went for dinner to Brian and Edna Crossett.4 They have two children, David and Cherith. Brian played the flute for us. Edna had a brother there who spent a bit of time with us discussing various doctrinal problems that seemed to bother him. We had quite an interesting and friendly discussion.
On June 2, since it was our last day with Ron’s family, we stayed home and enjoyed the warm sunshine.
In the evening we went to the Bible class, as we had done the week before. Again we met and had fellowship with the group, but this was for the last time. After the meeting we all went to the Salvation Army Hall and looked around it, because the Fellowship was hoping to buy it. All too soon the time came that we must bid them good-bye. We had enjoyed being with them, but now we parted ways.
Back at Ron’s house, we sat together for awhile. There was an atmosphere of sadness in the room, for the time had come to bid each other farewell. We gathered in the dining room, had a lunch and sang from their book of Psalms.
In the morning of June 3, Ron took us to the Belfast airport, where we made our final farewell. We took the plane to London; there we transferred to another part of the airport and got the plane there that took us by way of Montreal back to Detroit. We arrived in Detroit about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and arrived home about 7:30 at night, thankful for a safe and pleasant trip.
In the fall of 1994 my eyes began to fail me. The right eye never was very good, but now fluid was collecting in the cornea of the left eye. It became increasingly difficult to read, since everything was blurred. I had a number of preaching appointments scheduled yet for the end of the year, but decided to cancel them. When the time came to renew the insurance on my car I decided also to give up driving, even though it was very handy for Allie and me to drive in the vicinity of our home.
In May of 1995 I had undergone surgery for cornea transplant. Three weeks later I still could see very little with that eye, since it was still officially blind. But my sight gradually improved. Reading ordinary print was still difficult, but for awhile, I had sufficient sight in that eye to be able to read the church papers and other writings with the aid of a magnifying glass.
In June of 1995, Allie and I accompanied Rich and Elaine to Loveland for grandson Bob’s wedding. We had opportunity to go out for a day with Gise and Clara Van Baren to Rocky Mountain National Park, where I spent a few enjoyable hours at Bear Lake while the others hiked.
It was a real pleasure to attend church in Loveland, to hear our former minister once again and to meet the many people we knew from earlier contacts. Way back in the 50s, Rev. Lubbers and I had paid a visit to Loveland to talk to folk who had heard about us and were unhappy with the situation in their church. At that time they belonged to the German Reformed Church, a small group that hired a Lutheran preacher. This minister preached for the Lutherans in the morning and for this German Reformed group in the afternoon. Occasionally he got his lines mixed and introduced the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation. Clara Sur complained of this to the consistory.5 This resulted in their seeking contact with us, since they had heard of us through Rev. Mensch.6
We were there with them for five days. In fact, I stayed over Sunday and preached for them. The result was that the group that requested us to come were banished from the church and requested the mission committee to have Rev. Lubbers labor there. Later a church was organized. Today, this is a healthy, growing congregation.
Later in July, Herm and Wilm took us to South Holland, Illinois to witness the marriage of granddaughter Karen to Philip Van Baren. At the reception I again met former friends from that congregation. Both trips were enjoyable, not only being present at the weddings, but also the trips themselves.
Even these trips were becoming overwhelming for me. And so our life became quite routine. Occasionally, I was still able to preach, though I had to do so from a stool, because my bad leg did not allow me to stand for long. I preached a bit for the group that is now Grace Church, but soon, due to failing eyesight, had to give that up.
And so, I am about to write finis. Years ago, the Dutch men’s society of First Church held an annual banquet. On that auspicious occasion there were three essays of great length read by members of the society. Coffee, lunch and cigars were served between the essays. When an essayist finished his lengthy discussion, he would sometimes remark, “ I could have said much more.” I could say the same of these memoirs.
I have always considered Rev. Hoeksema to be my spiritual father, since he taught me from the time that I was fourteen years of age. His favorite Psalm and mine was Psalm 89:17-18, “For thou art the glory of their strength: and in thy favor our horn shall be exalted. For the Lord is our defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our king.”
Here I raise my EBENEZER with the inscription: “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”
1Ivan and Lily Reid have been with the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland since its earliest history. Ivan currently serves as deacon there.
2 Desmond and Mabel Callendar are charter members of CPRC in Northern Ireland.
3 The IRA refers to the Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary group, which sought to unite the Republic of Ireland in the south and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.
4 Brian and Edna Crossett have been with CPRC through all of its history. Brian now serves as elder in CPRC.
5 Clara Sur was one of the members of Loveland PRC at its founding.
6 Rev. Mensch was minister for a while in the Reformed Church of the US. He later resigned from the ministry and joined Hope Church of Walker, MI.