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American Reformed celebrates 100 years

The American Reformed Church in Worthington is celebrating its centennial year with events planned for this weekend. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- It's been 100 years since several families of Dutch heritage formed a congregation in Bigelow that eventually became Worthington's American Reformed Church, but that Hollander heritage is still very evident among the congregation members.

Take, for instance, the church's pastor, the Rev. Irwin Van Leeuwen, or the chairwoman of its centennial committee, Beth Van Hove. The "van" in their surnames immediately identifies Dutch heritage, as do other common prefixes and suffixes.

However, it's not a shared cultural background the congregation will celebrate this weekend, but a shared heritage of faith. "Rooted in Faith, Honoring the Past, Growing into the Future," is the slogan for American Reformed's centennial celebration, and the theme verse is Psalm 100:5: "For the Lord is good, and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations."

The articles of incorporation for the Reformed Church of Bigelow are dated June 2, 1913.

"But the church was actually started before organizing," noted Van Leeuwen. "The Theodore Dykema family moved up here from northwest Iowa and settled in Bigelow. His desire was to have a church to go to."

By the time the church was officially organized, there were 18 adult members and 35 baptized members. In the summer of 1913, they started work on the church building, and it was completed in February 1914 at a cost of $700 for land and materials; all the labor was donated.

"The church was (in Bigelow) until 1945, when they moved that church to Worthington," Van Leeuwen continued, citing a church history compiled for the 75th anniversary. "The membership was getting so few in Bigelow, and if they wanted to grow, they needed a bigger populace."

The structure was hauled along the back roads up from Bigelow and placed on a piece of property on the northwest corner at Grand Avenue and Clary Street. That building served the congregation for the next 25 years.

The first stage of the current church -- a fellowship hall and education center that was also used as a sanctuary -- was constructed in 1970 and dedicated in 1971.

"People tell us all the time about how they started the service in the old church, picked up their hymn book and Bible and walked from Grand over to the new church and finished the service here," related Van Hove.

The sanctuary was constructed in 1975-'76 and dedicated in 1977. In 1998, a large multipurpose hall was added, and it has been used not only by the congregation, but by the community at large as a site for banquets, receptions, retreats and club events.

"It was one of the mission points of the church, and the congregation bought into it," said Van Leeuwen, "that we are a mission to the community."

Today the church's mission efforts continue on both the global and local levels. In addition to supporting missionaries abroad, American Reformed has helped the immigrant population start up several ministry efforts by offering them a place to worship. There is also an active youth ministry led for the last 12 years by Maggie Gaudian.

Planning for the church's 100-year festivities began in March 2012, and a strategic effort was made to involve all the members of the congregation -- 373 (176 households) at last tally -- in some capacity. In addition to the main committee, 11 subcommittees were formed to oversee various components of the celebration.

"Once we had the leads for those -- there are two leads for every committee -- then we assigned every family in the church to a sub-committee," Van Hove said.

"It's really the people of the church putting on this thing," Van Leeuwen added.

The logo for the celebration was developed by member Matt Gaudian, and the design was translated into a banner by another member, Linda Vanden Berg. The image of a tree with the church building will be carried throughout the festivities.

The celebration gets under way on Friday with a public celebration --a gospel concert at 7 p.m. in Chautauqua Park. In addition to church's own Gospelaires men's quartet, the concert will feature the nationally known Sweetwater Revival, a female gospel quartet that has been featured on Gospel Music Television and nominated for Female Group of the Year. One of the group's members, Kayla Erickson Krizek, has a local connection -- her grandparents are Don and Carol Rutzen of Brewster and Don and Joan Erickson (both now deceased) of Worthington. Following the concert, a time of fellowship with refreshments will be in the park shelter.

A catered banquet (advance reservations required) is set for 6 p.m. Saturday at the church. Entertainment is also planned at this event.

The celebration will culminate in the 9:30 a.m. worship service on Sunday. Two of the three living former pastors as well as several sons and daughters of the congregation who have gone into ministry are expected to participate. A fellowship meal will follow.

For more information on the centennial celebration, contact the church, 376-6517.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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