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Beginning a New Sesquicentennial

On June 9, appropriately enough the Feast of Pentecost, Grace’s year-long 150th Anniversary Celebration is officially over.  As a newcomer to Grace (I joined the staff as Assistant Priest on September 1, 2018), I’ve enjoyed hearing and reading stories of Grace’s past, and they’ve taught me a few commendable things about the parish.  But now, we’re beginning a new chapter, and I think it’s safe to say that after completing our first sesquicentennial, Grace has launched its second. What follows will make it clear why I’m bold enough to make that prediction.

 

I arrived last summer not knowing much about Grace, apart from having a budding friendship with Jen Adams, who has just completed 25 years here!  But very quickly, impressions about Grace, itself, began to form, and my initial impressions have only grown stronger. Unlike many churches where I’ve had connections, it’s easy to identify several very distinctive qualities of Grace.

 

Almost immediately, I discovered a culture of abundance.  The funds necessary for replacing the roof were being raised when I arrived, and they materialized almost immediately.  More impressive, this challenge came shortly after the completion of major capital improvements included numerous enhancements to the physical plant, including a new organ, new office space, and a greatly enlarged parking lot to accommodate a growing community.  Not once did I hear anyone complain that it’s too soon to be asking us for money, again.

 

Soon after, I encountered another vital quality: a readiness to tackle tough challenges.  When it appeared that by offering a Latino priest a position to head the renewed diocesan Latino ministry we wanted to create, we might have the opportunity to keep him from being deported, I expected the Vestry to worry that raising the necessary funds would be too daunting a challenge to even consider.  Instead, I heard leaders say that protecting a vulnerable immigrant was so much in keeping with our values, we would find a way. This turned out not to be an option, but the willingness was there. And seeking justice for the vulnerable is yet another quality I’ve observed in numerous ways at Grace.

 

I want to mention yet another quality I’ve found here from the beginning.  It’s so pervasive that one encounters it every day at Grace. Perhaps it should be at the top of this list.  The study of leadership is one of my passions, and something present in every vital church is a culture of gratitude.  This emanates from the head – I’m amazed at how often Jen Adams acknowledges people’s contributions and says, “Thank you” – and at Grace this way of being permeates the community.  

 

I could say much more, but I especially want to mention how, now that the capital project is behind us, our leaders are already looking to the future.  There is great excitement among us when we discuss what lies ahead: opportunities to expand Grace’s faithfulness by developing a strategy for growth, by strengthening our ministry to children, youth, and families, by evaluating our communications at every level, and by developing a robust Hispanic/Latino Ministry.  This is all about openness to God’s Spirit, as it directs and empowers us to move into the future.  And it is that quality, perhaps above all else, that makes me proud to be part of the community so aptly named Grace.

 

Submitted by: Jim Steen

One Hundred Fifty-One

If I’ve learned one thing about Grace and our Sesquicentennial celebration over the past 12 months, it’s that our community – like every one of us – can’t be summed up in a few sentences, a few events, or a few months. We have more stories to tell than we have storytellers. And the love, courage, heartache, faith, kindness, doubt, and joy that’s alive in our pews and programs are too deep and complex for words … maybe even for music, though our music comes close sometimes.

 

I suspect that’s always been true.

 

We’ve had goofy fun this past year. We’ve talked and drummed and sung and laughed. We’ve blessed, baptized, and buried. We’ve welcomed newcomers and sent beloved family and friends off to new adventures. We’ve fought injustice, we’ve lost and mourned. We’ve lit candles to celebrate those who are living and those who’ve died.

 

It’s a jumble, and it’s beautiful. And it’s too much to fully take in, even with twelve months.

 

Thank you for 151 years, Grace Church. For sheltering, celebrating, and sustaining us. For challenging us to continue as Grace. And being Grace for us, always.

 

Submitted by: Holly Anderson

 

Reflections on the Grace Blog

This year I had the privilege of serving on the Grace 150th Planning Committee, ably led by Holly Anderson and Dave Masselink. It was a wonderful year of activities, lectures, music, worship, and even parade marching. The part of this that was most fulfilling to me personally, however, was working with Renee Krueger to edit the Stories of Grace blog. Hearing the various stories of our parishioners, past and present, has given me a deeper appreciation for how special Grace Church is.

 

As a historian, I enjoyed reading how our writers approached the histories of Grace. Paul Trapp, who has researched our history extensively through archival documents, shared the the adventures of Henry Clay Matrau, who fought in some of the most bloody battles of the Civil War and then became one of the most prominent lay leaders of the parish in the late 19th century. I also enjoyed reading the personal histories of parishioners like Jeff Erickson, Judy Linn, and Laurie Van Ark. They have been involved in Grace for decades and have had generations of their families involved in the Church. They show us the deep roots Grace has in our community.

 

The people of our parish also have a special talent for building community, both within the parish and beyond. Through stories about the Women’s Guilds, Pints and Perspectives, Octoberfest, the Fellowship Commission, and Youth Pilgrimage, I learned about the various ways we come together as Grace outside of worship. The “beyond Grace” stories inspired me. I learned from Robbie Schorle about how our commitment to Feeding America has grown over the years, and I learned from Amber Marie Cowles how our connection with Out on the Lakeshore helped her find a connection to a church, a “small miracle,” in her telling.

 

The blog posts have also helped me see the multiple ways Grace provides opportunities for prayer and reflection. Choir director Steve Jenkins reflects on the long and complex tradition of music in the Episcopal tradition, and teaches us that “our bodies and voices are the essential instruments of praise in our worship.” Linda and Bob Elder shared how meaningful silence and meditation has been to their prayer life. Paul De Coninck taught me that his job as an acolyte is to help people pray.

 

These stories have allowed me to see the beautiful layers of our community. Thank you for telling us your stories, Grace. I know there are many others. Let us continue to create and share new stories as we enter our next 150 years.

 

Submitted by: Jeanne Petit

We marched!

On May 11, Grace Church had the opportunity to march in the Tulip Time Muziekparade (Music Parade) in honor of our 150th Anniversary. Reverend Jen and about 25 parishioners proudly wore Grace’s 150th tee shirts, while Paul DeConinck and Matt Schmidt wore their Verger robes… Matt even wore wooden shoes! It was wonderful to have people cheering for us on the parade route, and we even heard “we’re glad you are in our community.” We’re glad too!  

 

 

 

Tulip Time over the Years

Grace Episcopal Church has been actively involved in Tulip Time for several decades. I became involved starting in 1986.

 

In the past, we were serving meals to the bus loads right at the church. Grace could seat 150 in the Under croft. Tulip Time scheduled buses for both lunch and dinner for 4 days. Each bus group would make selections from a limited menu ahead of time and each morning and each afternoon we would prepare the meals and serve each customer for that day. Vivian Cook was in charge when I started. Each recipe was written in her beautiful handwriting on large poster boards. A schedule was set up each day for preparing each recipe and a great time was had by all in the kitchen!

 

When other churches began serving meals with significantly more seating capacity, it became difficult for the Tulip Time office to schedule buses for us. Our next adventure was to work at the information booth at Centennial Park. Meeting the visitors during Tulip Time was great fun. Many of us had more appreciation for what is good about Holland and Tulip Time!

 

Our next adventure in serving at Tulip Time was Marketplatz. For the months leading up to Tulip Time, we would help make desserts, pigs in the blanket, leek soup, meatballs and pea soup at First Methodist. For many years we then served this food and many other items in the hallway of the Civic Center for 5 days. The last two years we moved to Evergreen Commons during the renovation at the Civic Center. Rules have changed and we no longer can serve our meals in the Civic Center. So now we enter into a new activity!

 

In 2019 when another church was no longer going to be Grandstand Greeters, we accepted the invitation. Our location is the bleachers at Kollen Park. There, we manage the tickets and help our visitors to their bleacher seats before each of the 3 parades. More to come on this adventure.

 

Thanks to all who have served and serve now for Tulip Time!

 

Submitted by: Pam Brown 

Meditation

I was first exposed to meditation during the first semester of graduate school in 1965. A Professor, also an Episcopal priest who had spent 3 years in a Buddhist monastery, was teaching contemplative religions of South Asia. He exposed us to a non-dualistic way of looking at our world. I could not believe that until then I had missed the obvious… that we are inextricably connected to the rest of what is: from the plants which provide us with oxygen to the energy fields of which we are a part. Everything Jesus taught and, yes,  asked of us, made sense. When he went away into the wilderness challenged by demons, tempted, and when he wandered off alone to pray and told his disciples, “Come and See.” When he asked us to “consider the lilies of the field” he was pointing us to a different way of seeing. St. Paul got it. Neither this nor that, but all are one in Christ. I began to read and meditate at this point. Alan Watts, another Episcopal priest, was helpful at this point as were Ram Das and many others. But…. soon I began teaching, husbanding, and parenting. It was not until I had climbed whatever ladders we climb, vocational and others, and began to reassess my life that I returned to the insights in earnest.

 

Did the church help? As a community, Grace was tolerant and affirming. And for me, the communions, week by week, help me to remember that in eternity, which is outside time, and, here and now, there are none of the judgements, pay grades, or dualities (gender wise, ideological, or otherwise) that limit our understanding of Jesus’ message.

 

Around 20 years ago, in our late 50’s, Linda and I began to attend a series of week long silent retreats. The results for us both were to begin to see the world around us in ways that we had not experienced previously. Experiences of Thoreau’s Walden experience begin to explain the sensations I felt.

 

In the period since, we have been part of meditation groups (both interfaith and Episcopal) in both Holland, and Venice, FL. We both have a daily practice of silence, listening to what is, rather than saying how we think things need to be or are. One thing I have noticed (for myself and others) is that it seems hard for folks to sustain a practice. Old life habits die hard. But as we reconnect portions of our brains to a more unitive view of the way things are, and the old dualistic flight or fight part of the brain diminishes in strength, life as a whole becomes more easily lived and appreciated.

 

Now just a few words of encouragement and caution. When I first started meditating, ten minutes seemed like a long time. Now, years later, more than an hour is easy. Twenty minutes is a good length because it takes that long for your “monkey mind” to begin to calm down. There is never a good or bad result. You are not trying to accomplish anything. Like the Nike ad says “Just do it.” Stuff may come up. It inevitably it does. Tears are to be expected, fine. You will need a group to sustain your practice. Remember everyone in the group needs you too. “Whenever two or three are gathered…”? There are healing forms of meditation as well as mindfulness or contemplative prayer approaches. Find what suits you. Believe me, a regular practice softens your edges. Be kind to yourself. More kindness to the rest of creation will inevitably follow.

 

Submitted by: Bob Elder

Why do I choose to meditate or practice contemplative prayer?

The Celtic tradition calls it yearning for God or leaving space for listening and being receptive to the voice within, giving attention to each breath with is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, wrote “God uses everything that happens as a means to lead me into solitude. Here I will find God in everything and all things will bring me joy.” So, I seek moments of solitude each day as an opportunity to listen, to focus on my breath, to notice the passing thoughts go by, but not hold on to them or let them distract me. I return to the breath or presence of the Holy Spirit with openness and receptivity. The Christian mystic poet Kabir said, “God is the breath inside the breath.”

In contemplative prayer, I will often use a word or phrase to help me stay focused. Thomas Keating suggests “Resting in God.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese monk, says, “I am going HOME.” I also say, “Come, Holy Spirit.” In silence we participate in honoring the great mystery with all other human beings. While we may not be able to explain of prove the mystery of God’s presence with us, we can choose to accept it. Sitting in silence gives us time to let it shape and mold our hearts. It can soften our judgements of ourselves and others and lead to thoughtful, compassionate action in our world.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfulness in Medicine and Heath Care at the University of Massachusetts Medical School suggests 20 minutes twice each day for beginners. In the meditation groups that we participate in, we sit for one hour with a brief break after 30 minutes. Sometimes we do walking meditation for 10 minutes in between sittings. For beginners, Zinn directs us to “use your breath as an anchor to tether your attention to the present moment.” The posture the body should embody wakefulness. He calls it taking your seat, sitting with dignity, honoring and helind place and placement of body, time, and posture in awareness. This reminds me of Jesus’ words to “Stay Awake!” Zinn tells us that this is a work of a lifetime. It’s not a quick fix! The calming of the body and mind in silence without judgement is a peaceful way of being in this world. After all, we are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS!

The practice may bring changes in your life. It may influence your use of time, money, your choice of books to read and films to watch. It has prompted me to try to simplify my life, set priorities and appreciate the people and events in my daily life more fully. The practice of present moment awareness fits my Christian desire to pray continually.

It is my hope that the Christian church, now in the 21st century will begin to offer more opportunities for contemplative prayer. It was a practice among the early Christians, carried on over centuries in monasteries and convents and is associated with many saints, mystics, and monastics. It is a form of apophatic prayer, listening rather that talking to God. We do well at verbal prayers of thanksgiving, confession, petition, and praise of God in church, but seldom do we sit for even 5 minutes to calm ourselves and be receptive to God’s message for us as individuals or as members of the loving, caring community that we are. It is my hope that we can become more comfortable with longer periods of silence in church. Of course, we can always create a quiet, desert space in our home where we can enter the solitude of our heart, experience the presence of God within us, and “Be still and know that I AM.” (Psalm 46:10) or “Pause a while and know that I am God.”

Submitted by: Linda Elder

Family History

Many Grace parishioners have a family history with the Episcopal Church, and I guess I’m no different. My father’s side of the family are long-time Episcopalians.

My paternal grandmother’s ancestors were members of the Church of Ireland, which, along with the Episcopal Church, is a member of the Anglican Communion. They attended Mullavilly Parish and St. Mark’s Church (shown below), both located in the Diocese of Armagh in Northern Ireland.

   

My grandmother’s parents immigrated to the United States in the late 1880s, and attended Christ Chapel Episcopal Church in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York. When my grandmother married, she and my Swedish grandfather joined St. John’s Episcopal Church in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. The church is nicknamed “The Church of the Generals” due to the many military officers from the nearby Fort Hamilton army garrison that have attended services there, including Robert E. Lee, who was on the vestry in the 1840s , and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, who was baptized there, also in the 1840s. My dad’s sisters were married at St. John’s, and all my cousins, as well as my brother Brad, were baptized there, using the same font that Stonewall Jackson was baptized in. Below are pictures of my children, Nicole and Mike, at St. John’s.

You are probably wondering how the Erickson family matriculated from Brooklyn, NY to Holland, MI. It all stems from a fateful decision my father, Ken, made as a 10 year old. Ken had befriended a boy at his grade school who invited him to sing in the choir at Grace Episcopal Church across town in Brooklyn Heights. My dad didn’t want to go, but his mother finally convinced to just try it once. It must have gone well because he joined the choir as a boy soprano and stayed in the choir through his high school years, traveling on his own by subway every Sunday morning. While at Grace, he met Bill Finlaw, who would become his best childhood friend. Bill had an older sister who, due to the advice of a high school guidance counselor, decided to attend Hope College in Holland, MI. Later, upon high school graduation, Bill followed his sister to Hope, and my dad followed Bill. Two years later, my dad’s cousin, John Corry, followed my dad to Hope. He would later become a prominent columnist at The New York Times. Below are pictures of Grace Episcopal Church in Brooklyn Heights.

So my dad arrived in Holland in 1947 to attend Hope College, and started attending Grace Church and singing in the church choir. At that time, Grace was located on Ninth Street and the rector was Father William Warner, whose 25-year ministry had begun just a few years earlier after arriving from another Grace Church in Traverse City. My dad sang in the choir for several years and got to know the Warner family well.

After graduating from Hope College in 1952, Ken served two years in the army in Korea, and returned to Holland in 1954, when he started dating my mother. They married in 1956 and moved to Livonia (Detroit suburb), where my dad started a teaching job. They started attending the recently closed St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, where our family would worship for many years.

Rosemary and I married in 1987, and we moved to Holland from Kalamazoo in 1989 and started worshiping at Grace. With my Episcopal background and Rosemary’s Catholic upbringing, the Episcopal Church was a natural fit. Our children, Mike and Nicole, were both baptized at Grace and attended Sunday school while growing up, and Rosemary and I have been active in various ways, such as Alter Guild and the Fellowship Commission.

My parents moved back to Holland from Livonia in 2004 to be closer to family, and started attending Grace as well. One day, my dad was helping our Director of Music, Steve Jenkins, sort through files of old sheet music. They discovered a sheet of music with my dad’s name on it. It had been sitting in the church files for over 60 years! For us, it was a remarkable reminder of our family’s extended history at Grace and the Episcopal church.

 

Submitted by Jeff Erickson

Pints & Perspectives

This is the story of a new Grace Fellowship Event and how it came to be. I  was elected to the Vestry in 2018 and had the pleasure of working with the Fellowship Commission. This team organizes and manages annual Grace Fellowship Events.

We had not completed a Congregational Evaluation of the current events in terms of participation and satisfaction rates recently and wanted to do so to make sure we were meeting congregational needs for fellowship opportunities.

At the end of April we conducted a survey to collect information, including ideas for new events to help us connect with each other outside of meetings, church and service opportunities.

We had 100 survey responses which was a good number of responses for a survey of this type. Both the early and the late service attendees contributed responses.  The response rate was high enough for the team to be confident we received answers which were common denominators across the congregation. More importantly, we could make program decisions based on the data we received.

One of the survey questions asked for new event ideas to increase people-to-people connections in new ways.  Of the ideas we received from the survey, we decided to try Pints & Perspectives. P&P is an opportunity to connect with the people of Grace in a casual setting, in the evening, with beer, wine and other beverages and/or food, and in small groups.

Our first session was the first Monday in October 2018.  So far we have had 5 P&Ps with 8-16 people participating each time. We are connecting and learning new and interesting things about fellow parishioners and laughing a lot!

Here’s how it works:

–We meet on the first Monday of every month from 5:30-7:00 p.m. at Big Lake Brewing.

–Four people sit at each table.  We’ve found this is a good number for conversation.

–There are hosts to greet everyone and to make sure people rotate who they sit with from session to session.  Hosts also select the conversation starter questions.

–People decide what they would like to eat and/or drink.  Everyone pays their own tab and tip.

–While the wait staff places the orders, and the orders are made, we take turns answering the question.

–Here are some question examples:  

        What do you do to de-stress?  

        What was your first job?  

        What is something that is popular now that annoys you?  

        What is most meaningful to you about worship at Grace?  

        Who had the biggest impact on the person you have become?

        What’s something you’ve tried that you’ll never try again?     

–When the drinks/food come, we continue taking turns answering questions and enjoying conversation usually until 7 p.m. though the wrap-up is sometimes earlier or later and we’re flexible!

This is a great event to connect members of Grace at a meaningful level in a casual environment with interesting and enjoyable conversation. We invite you to join us for Pints & Perspectives at one of the Monday night sessions soon.  If you come to one it’s likely we’ll see you again!

Submitted by: Connie Remenschneider

Easter Memories at Grace

Grace Episcopal Church has been a part of our family life for over forty years. During these years, Grace played a large part in supporting Michele and me as we raised our family. Our two children, Katherine and Prescott E., were very active at church. They were acolytes, they attended Sunday school, sang in the youth choir, and they were also members of the youth group. Rev. Jen Adams took both of them on their Vision Quest which has given them a special bond with her. When Michele and I talk about Grace with our family, the glory of the Easter Sunrise Service seems to always become the topic of conversation.

The Sunrise service was very special. For many years our family took on the responsibility of planning and implementing the brunch that preceded the service. Both of our children worked hard to make decorations, set the tables, and to help in the kitchen. There were many Grace hands to help us cook and serve the food. The day before Easter, we would decorate the undercroft and made sure that no one saw what we were doing because Easter morning needed to be a surprise. All the tables were decorated with Easter candy, flower arrangements, and the bright yellow, pink and greens of Easter.

Easter morning came early for our family. It was dark because it was six o’clock in the morning. With sleepy eyes and a quick look at what the Easter Bunny brought, all of us put on our Easter clothes and loaded up in the van and off we would go to church. When we arrived, people were given little white candles with drip holders for the start off the service. The Sanctuary was dark and mysterious with just the sounds of peoples shoes clicking as they were finding their seat. It was a somber feeling. The service began with many prayers while people were gingerly holding their candle. Then, as if you were surprised at a birthday party, the lights went on, people started to ring bells, and acolytes paraded up and down the Sanctuary aisles wearing white gloves holding banners with bells chiming. The mysterious odor of incense filled the air. The organ bellowed out with joyful music announcing that the Lord has risen. The altar would be adorned with flowers and two banners displaying colorful butterflies seemed to fly up the wall on their own even though we knew someone was making this happen. There were many Easter mornings when the sun would shine through the stain glass windows with perfect timing. It was magical! After the service, everyone went to the undercroft to once again be uplifted by a beautiful Easter brunch. All the children loved the Easter candy and especially the French toast sticks. The undercroft was filled with the spirit of Easter.

Years have passed and times have changed. Easter at Grace is celebrated in a different manner now with an evening service with wonderful desserts enjoyed by all after the service. The past is the past, but the memories of our young children’s faces Easter morning will always be a very special moment in our lives at Grace.

Submitted by: Prescott Slee

Grace Church Endowment Fund

I was asked to help set up Grace’s Endowment Fund many years ago when a generous parishioner left us a gift in her estate and requested that it go into a permanent endowment. She wanted it to be used for future church needs. We didn’t have an endowment at the time, so we got one set up with that donation.

Since that time, several other generous parishioners have named Grace’s Endowment Fund as beneficiaries in their estate and that has allowed the Fund to grow.

Today, the parish take an annual draw from the Fund to help support the mission of the parish, especially helping towards Outreach and extraordinary capital expenses. After that initial gift, the Stewardship Committee realized that we needed a formal policy for our endowment and so a small committee was pulled together to write that policy. The Fund has an Endowment Board that meets to oversee the fund and to keep an eye on how the money is invested. It is invested with the Episcopal Church Foundation in a diversified portfolio of stocks funds and bond funds.

As a financial adviser, I have seen through the years how a healthy endowment can help support the mission of an organization and provide funds for projects or needs that may be beyond the normal budget.

At Grace, we actually have two ways to leave a legacy:

  1. The Endowment Fund, which is a permanent fund where income is distributed and the principal is invested in perpetuity.
  2. The Benefactor’s Trust Fund, which supports specific purposes and may be used completely. It is invested until disbursed for a particular purpose.

It is easy to give to either of these funds:

  1. Name the fund as a beneficiary on your IRA, 401K, annuity contract, or life insurance policy. All you need to do is request a Change of Beneficiary Form from your investment provider.
  2. List the fund as a beneficiary in your will or trust. This may require the help of an attorney to make this change.
  3. Donate cash or securities directly to the fund while you are alive, possibly is honor of or in memory of someone.

Gifts of any size are welcome.

The church benefits greatly from these long-term gifts as they give stability to our finances and allow us to tackle projects that we might only have dreamed of doing! The church’s financial secretary, the Endowment Board, or the stewardship chair can answer questions on how to contribute to our Grace Church Endowment.

Submitted by: Barbara Griffin

Grace Episcopal Church and the Van Arks

 This is by no means a comprehensive telling, but a gathering of various memories.

My Great, Great Grandfather, Graadus Van Ark came to Holland in 1866, with his wife Aaltje and three of their eventual nine children. Graadus was a builder and among other structures, built the current Third Reformed Church (before all its additions) and Isaac Cappon’s house (the current Museum house).  He was an Elder at Third Reformed, as was his son Herman, my Great Grandfather, also the father of nine children, including my Grandfather Jurry.

Jurry met my Grandmother Velma Ogden while working in Chicago, and brought her back to Holland. She had moved there from Pennsylvania to find work. They married and had three children, my father William, Dorothy and Robert. Grandma eventually divorced Grandpa, and raised her three kids, working as a waitress and cook, and eventually bought the Owl Tavern from her boss. Not actions appreciated by her very conservative in-laws at Third!

According to my brother Charles, Grandma wanted Uncle Bob baptized before he went off to the Army and since the Episcopal Church was very similar to Grandma’s German Lutheran background, and was right up the street (she lived at 9th& Pine back then), that’s where they went.  And the whole family started going to Grace. Charles says the best part was going to Grandma’s after church for brunch!

My five oldest siblings, Bill, Charles, Jim, Dawn and Velma (born 1945 to 1950) were all needing to be baptized, but the new church was being built, so it was decided to wait until the congregation had moved to perform the baptism. They were baptized on March 28, 1954.  So this makes Dawn one of the longest, continuous members of Grace around today!

Dawn and Charles remember potluck suppers on Thursdays during Lent at Grace, and how Grandma was made a fuss over because she had the most grandkids there, the eight in our family (add Bob, me and Sally to the above list), and the eventual seven Matchinskys (Aunt Dorothy’s kids).  Dawn also remembers that Kids choir got to about 30 kids in it, the 5 older Van Arks, the Matchinskys and the McWilliams making up a large segment. See the pictures, from 1958 , 1962 and 1963 (all est.). I remember hearing the stories of the director Larry Clark and his wife Maxine the organist – I wish I had known them!

I loved going to church as a child. I sat in front pews with my Dad (where I sit with Mom now, but now it’s the back!). Mom and older siblings were in the choirs at the front of the church. My Dad always had anise candy in his pocket for us little kids. I loved singing the hymns. I remember Fr. Warner, and the cool hat and cape he would don to go outside to greet parishioners as they left the church. Unfortunately my parents quit going to church about 1963 or so, when I was in about 2ndgrade, I think, but my older siblings kept going, at least in part because of being in the choir with Larry Clark.

Fast forward to 1970 – that’s when I started back at Grace.  I almost went to the Methodist Church because a good friend went there, but she encouraged me to return to my roots. My sister Velma was helping with the Junior Choir at that point and asked me to come help them with a song, and that got me in the door.  Bill O’Brien was Rector, and what a marvelous Priest he was for a teenager with an attitude. (Me with an attitude? I know it shocks you!) It seemed that every week his sermon had been written for me.

We were relying on Hope College Music Department to supply us with choir directors at that time, and finally ended up landing Al Fedak. What a wonderful director he was. I think we had him for 2 or 3 years.  It was terrific having him return for the first Joy Huttar Memorial Concert this past fall.

While Dawn has been consistent at Grace from 9thSt (1952? 1953?) to the present, I left town after college for 15 years, but was back for holidays and vacations, returning permanently in 1994.

Grace provided a wonderful opportunity for the Van Arks to do more with music. In 1986 Ann Nethery had a recital series. Dawn’s string quartet was asked to perform, but didn’t feel they had enough repertoire for a full concert. So the four Van Ark sisters (current three choir members Dawn, Laurie and Sally, plus Velma), brother Charles, and Velma’s brother-in-law and Laurie’s good friend Steven Neau formed a choral group for the 2ndhalf of the concert. And thus was born “Van Arks and Friends”. We performed annual concerts at Grace from 1987 to 1992, involving all eight siblings (our “Ark-Tet”), Mom and HER siblings Jane Wiersma, Celesta Root and Adrian Van Houten, a number of Van Houten cousins, and some friends, including the year David Mayer joined us.  The concerts were always half sacred, half secular, and were a lot of fun. (We like to think they were also pretty good!) Thank goodness we have recordings of all those concerts, a true blessing.

Choir and the music have always been a focal point for me at Grace.  I’ve always been grateful that the church values music so much. We have had some wonderful directors over the years. Al Fedak, Rachel Huttar briefly, Ann Nethery, Karen North, David Mayer, Jim Morrow from Hope faculty, Jennifer Wolfe and now Stephen Jenkins all come to mind. Of course, even I had a couple stints as director of Grace Choir. But let’s face it, I need to be singing! I hope to be doing so for many more years.

Grace Church Choir circa 1958

 

 

Grace Church Choirs circa 1964

 

Submitted by: Laurie Van Ark