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Calvin Christian celebrates 125 years

MariDykstrlooks around sanctuary CalvChristian Reformed Church which is celebrating it's 125th anniversary Oak Lawn Illinois Friday October 12 2012.

Marion Dykstra looks around the sanctuary of Calvin Christian Reformed Church which is celebrating it's 125th anniversary in Oak Lawn, Illinois, Friday, October 12, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun Times Media

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Updated: December 3, 2012 6:44AM



Just after the light bulb was invented but before automobiles hit the road, a small group of Dutch immigrants left Chicago’s West Side for a better neighborhood in Englewood and founded a new church.

The Holland Christian Reformed Church was born in 1887 on West 71st Street, between Green and Peoria Streets. Now known as Calvin Christian Reformed Church, it graces the northwest corner of 101st Street and Central Avenue in Oak Lawn, where its members migrated over the years.

“That was a long time ago,” current Pastor Phil Leo said. “That we are still chugging along in 2012 is a blessing.”

As church members recently celebrated Calvin Christian’s 125th anniversary, they also reflected on the church’s rich history and looked to the future.

The first church building was built in 1887 with 50 charter members, but lasted only eight years. During those cold Chicago winters, congregants would huddle around a wood-burning stove to keep warm, said Marion Dykstra, whose family has been members of the church for 121 of its 125 years. Her grandfather was on the building committee when it was time to build a newer church — on the same site — in 1895.

In 1900, a school was started, and by 1915 the church boasted the largest Christian Reformed congregation in the greater Chicago area, as well as the largest nationwide, west of Michigan. By 1929, there were 1,300 members and a need for a larger church. The third church, also built on that same site, was dedicated in 1931 and its name changed to the First Christian Reformed Church of Englewood.

As society changed, the church changed, Dykstra said. After World War II, as many people moved to the suburbs, the church did, too.

“People thought things would get better in the suburbs. School and church was your life then. So it made sense that people would move with the church,” said Dykstra, who was baptized and married in this church and is one of the few remaining original members.

The Oak Lawn church was dedicated in February 1963, and its name was changed to honor Protestant reformer John Calvin.

During the turbulent 1960s, the church was a place of stability, Dykstra said.

“We are still a community church, but the community has changed,” she said. “Our emphasis has changed but not our beliefs. We used to be more inward. Now, we are more outward.”

There also is less emphasis on the Dutch heritage now — an issue that divided the church back in the 1920s, when folks wanted to introduce a service in English. The last Dutch service was in December 1957.

Membership peaked in Englewood at 1,560, and has steadily declined.

As Dykstra noted in her written history of her church, the members are becoming “stronger and more united.”

“It means wearing many hats to keep the church going … and digging deeper into our pockets,” she wrote.

Pastor Leo said they wondered if they should move again — to wherever their members are now.

“But when do you stop moving?” he said. “We decided to stay, retool and become a community church instead of a community church with a Dutch subculture. We have to exist to serve the community.”

Calvin Christian Reformed Church serves the community with its “veggie place,” a garden that supplies the local food pantry. Its church doors are opened every Thursday to offer a PADS shelter for the homeless October through April. There’s an active club for young girls, a coffee break for neighborhood residents, Bible studies and children’s programs.

“This is a church that cares deeply,” said the Rev. Rich DeVries, the church’s pastor of congregational life. “It’s remarkable to think that people have stuck to it for 125 years.”

Dykstra said she stayed because of “commitment.”

“I love the church and its people. This is where the word has been faithfully preached for 125 years,” she said.



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