The First Reformed Church in Southern Holland celebrates 175 years of history, which includes members who run a station on the Underground Railroad and inspire a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
The church’s parishioners gathered at 15924 South Park Ave. On Saturday for a barbecue in celebration of this important event.
It began as the Real Dutch Reformed Church when the South Holland was still known as Low Prairie, which was home to Dutch and American settlers. The first incarnation was dissolved but the same congregation of 16 families reorganized as the First Reformed Christian Church.
Rev. H. Vander Werbe preached the first sermon when they met for services at The Onion Depot. The church built a small building on a plot of land at 162nd Street and moved to its current location in 1896.
The First Reformed Chuch is now located in the fourth building, which was built in 1951 after the previous building transformed so much after it was built on a dry creek bed. The church has been affiliated with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for two years, and has striven to continue serving the community.
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“There was a lot of interesting history,” said Rev. James Ord. “It started as a church of Dutch farmers and immigrants who formed a small community in what is now the southern suburbs. We serve the southern suburbs and the South Side of Chicago and change with the community. It was founded by people who recently graduated.” They were immigrants who left the area when coyotes were still living in the area. . They lived in harmony with so much they could do while a group of families decided to start a church.”
Church members Jean and Eagle Tone participated in the Underground Railroad, using a false bottom wagon and boat to smuggle runaway slaves up the Calumet River to help them on their journey to freedom.
“They could have said, ‘It’s not my country, it’s not my problem,'” he said. “There was so much they had up their sleeves. But their farm was a stop where the seekers of freedom could stay. It was a safe place to spend the night. The church was so tight-knit that they had to be aware of that and support them. They believed in them.” Compassion root. They were in a new country helping formerly enslaved people who were seeking freedom. As the pastor looks at our history, I think this is in the DNA of this congregation. Chicago continued to grow and swallow up farmland until this became part of the Chicago creep “We want to bring that same sympathy to the changes that are happening around this church.”
A memorial was erected on the church’s campus in 2011 by a Boy Scout to honor its role in the Underground Railroad. Walkers often stop there to reflect.
“It’s a place where people come to meditate. They sit on a bench and meditate,” he said. “We’ve made it more accessible to our community. It’s an engaging landmark. People may not know the full story behind it. It’s really a great connection to our community.”
People also often run around campus or stop to take pictures, especially when the foliage turns red in the fall.
“It’s a beautifully maintained building,” he said. “It has very beautiful stained glass that was designed and installed by two craftsmen, Giannini and Hilgart, who worked on Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses. It’s a classic church reminiscent of a European church from the old days. One of the things I like about it” The sanctuary is that it’s not big and imposing Like many churches. It has wood tones and is very light and very welcoming. It is a classic traditional church in a way we can be very proud of. It is a kind of landmark for our society. “
In 1924, the church was featured in Edna Ferber’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Too Big, which is considered her masterpiece. The film is about Selina Beck-Dejoong, who comes to the south of the Netherlands to be a teacher and ends up running a family farm.
“It’s a very interesting character and it’s a retelling of what the South Holland was like when it was mostly a Dutch community. It changes the details but captures the feeling and how it can feel to move from the outside into a loving community that can be hard to break”… Our church was known Always friendly and welcoming. She welcomes strangers. It’s a very interesting book that we just had a discussion about in book club. When it came out in 1924, it caused a sensation in the southern Netherlands.
The First Reformed Church celebrated its centenary in 1948. The congregation marked the occasion with four candles celebrating its values, such as its dedication to missionary work, adherence to the truth of God’s word, and the story of the gospels of God’s good creation that man has harmed. Ord said: “The sin but was recovered by the grace of God.”
Ord said the early Reformed Church maintained a faithful congregation that shared the core religious values of seeing the gospel preached and celebrating God’s word.
“They also have a deep attachment to the place, to this region and these neighborhoods,” he added. “It’s part of our religious and spiritual values. It’s part of a 175-year heritage of caring for grace and community. We have a deep commitment to the region.”
The church has a long history of involvement in local government, with village board members among its ranks over the years.
“We got involved with the village in ways big and small,” he said. “We’ve been involved through our service ministries. We’re partnering closely with Chicagoland Prison Outreach. We have a deep interest in this place, and in the neighborhood community. There’s real care.”
Ord said that the group previously exceeded 1,000 members and is no longer that large, but it is a cohesive and friendly community that welcomes new faces. It meets for worship at 9:30 a.m. every Sunday and offers Bible studies and sometimes midweek services.
Her ministries include a wardrobe that she opens to the community twice a month, a food pantry, and a day care.
“It is full of life, with 80 or 90 children singing, laughing and learning,” he said. “We have a variety of Bible studies and a group called The Oasis for children in grades six through 12 from local churches in the neighborhood where they can learn and study the Bible and also socialize and participate in fellowship.”
South Holland has always been a community of churches. More than 30 churches are active in the village.
“Most pastors are part of the ministerial assembly that meets once a month to have fellowship and work on projects together,” he said. “The village government sends representatives. In the south of Holland there are water towers with the motto ‘Future of the Faith Family’. The churches here have a great history and legacy of sharing with the local community.”
The First Reformed Church worked to stay relevant by having a multi-generational and multi-ethnic congregation. It has a mixed style of worship where a traditional hymn may be played on an antique pipe organ followed by a song from the black church tradition and then a contemporary song with a praise group with guitars.
“Our church’s heritage is compassion, compassion, and concern for people who are not like us,” he said. “We have good soil to grow here. We’ve been around for about 175 years, and with God’s blessing we’ll be around for another 175 years.”