Early Church History

         Early Church Memberships (-1852)

         Early Church Marriages (1847-1859)

         Early Church Baptisms: (1869 - 1904)

         Zeelands First Immigrants

         Zeeland Monument

         Ottawa County Map (1892-3?)

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 When the congregation was organized, Jannes Vande Luyster and Johannes Hoogesteger were elected elders: Jan Steketee and Adrian Glerum, deacons. Rev. Vander Meulen was asked to accompany them as their pastor and spiritual advisor.

 Four hundred and fifty-seven persons left the Netherlands in 1847 with America as their destination. The company was divided into three groups with the understanding that whichever group reached New York first should have the choice of definite location. The group in charge of Jannes Vande Luyster arrived first and, after considering Iowa and Michigan as the two possibilities, chose Michigan because of the material resources so necessary to pioneers. The Vande Luyster party arrived in Holland, Michigan, on June 27, 1847. Here they remained in temporary shelters until a few homes could be constructed on a permanent site. Six miles east of the village of Holland, Vande Luyster founded what is now known as Zeeland.

                 THE PIONEER DAYS-------1847 - 1872

      Log houses were built as quickly as possible. The home of Jan Steketee was used the third Sunday in August for the first services together as a reunited congregation. On many sabbaths they worshipped God in the open: inclement weather found them in the home of Jan Wabeke, who presumably owned the largest house in the village. The block church was dedicated in May,1848. By the end of the first year so many immigrants had arrived that it became necessary to build a new church. This one was forty-five by sixty feet and was constructed on the site of the present building. In 1849 the congregation was make up of 175 families. Three years later this number was reduced to 146 families. This was due to the fact that many of the original inhabitants left the community to take advantage of larger opportunities in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. Some who had settled on poor land moved into the outlying area. From 1853, however, the church membership had increased rapidly because of continued migration to the settlement. Occasionally we find a decrease in membership during a pastorate vacancy or quarrels which resulted from a difference of opinion.
      The two men who had the most influence in the pioneer church and community appear to be Rev. Cornelius Vander Meulen and Jannes Vande Luyster. Vande Luyster was the only man of means, and had it not been for his financial support, many of the congregation would not have been able to make the trip to America, nor survive after having arrived. He was regarded as the civic leader. More important was the influence of the spiritual leader, Rev. Vander Meulen. His courageous outlook on Life and his perseverance held the congregation together during the struggles against nature. "He was a speaker of force and eloquence, of a strong personality, and was generally admired for his many gifts and good qualities." His leadership lasted until 1859, when he accepted a call to the First Church, Chicago, Illinois.
      The second minister to serve this congregation was Rev. H. Stobbelaar, whose pastorate seems to have been a very unsettled one. He was installed in September, 1860. The church records show that there were many disagreements concerning his preaching; the number of families dropped to 147. These families organized what they, called the "True Church" in 1862. The troubles seemingly increased until Rev. Stobbelaar accepted a call to Holland, Wisconsin, in January, 1865.
      The church was not long without a minister. In May, 1865, Rev. Seine Bolks was installed. In 1866 the present church building was erected on the original location. This building, eighty feet long, fifty feet wide, and twenty eight feet high, has been remodeled several times, but in general it retains the same floor plans.  In April, 1867, the consistory authorized the collection of funds for an organ, members of the congregation subscribing any amount they desired.  By December 2, 1869, all but fifty dollars had been promised.  The consistory decided to ask for another small contribution, starting with twelve dollars and fifty cents collected at their meeting.  The necessary amount was raised;  a reed organ was purchased and placed in the balcony.  "The preaching of Rev. Bolks was markedly evangelical, and large blessings attended his labors.  He was intimately acquainted with every member of his flock.  He was a man of prayer, of strong faith, and of commanding presence.  Rev. Bolks accepted a call to Orange City, Iowa in January, 1872.

                           THE LANGUAGE CHANGE-------1918

      Although the constituency had been essentially Holland in language, the American influences were being felt to such an extent that during the vacancy after Rev. Cheff's departure the consistory deemed it wise to settle the language question before another pastor arrived.  After due deliberation the question was submitted to the congregation with the result that the use of the English language  in the regular afternoon service was introduced.  The change was affected without loss in membership.  The afternoon services were conducted in the English language from March, 1918, until April, 1922.
      In March and April, 1918, four congregational meetings were called before a successful ballot was obtained on the trios named.  On April 2, Rev. Henry Harmeling was asked to serve the congregation.  The call included two services each Sunday, with the exception of three services on one Sunday each month, Rev. Harmeling accepted the invitation and was installed on May 23, 1918.  This pastorate was one of the more difficult ones in the history of the church, for both church and state suffered from the effects of the World War.
      A new heating system, installed in 1918, was a great improvement over the former one.  In November, 1919, permission was granted to place a telephone in the pulpit, in order that invalids might be able to hear the sermons over private lines.  The system was then improved, giving all shut-ins the benefit of the device;  still later several pews were wired for the hard of hearing.  The microphones now in use is the original one made by the late Johannes Pyl.  In February, 1921, the consistory first sat in the auditorium instead of in the side pews which they were accustomed to occupy.  Later in the spring, Rev. Harmeling accepted the call tendered him by the First Reformed Church of Roseland.

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