Grace Valley Christian Reformed Church
Celebrating 150 Years of God's Unwavering Grace
(1866 – 1966)
The beginnings of the Grace Valley Christian Reformed Church are rooted in the emigration of people from Ostfriesland, a province that bordered Holland and Germany, a movement which dates back to 1847. The first pioneers are reported to have settled south of German Valley. Relatives and friends were attracted with glowing reports, and they followed, so that by the turn of the century, in some areas they far outnumbered all other peoples, and were spread over an area between Stillman Valley, Polo, Freeport, Ridott, and Winnebago. It is said that an adventurous spirit and a desire to share in what a productive new country could give them, was the motive for making the long, hard, and dangerous migration. Being a people in whom spiritual life was as a deep current, the desire to worship together, and the need of a faith that was often severely tried, led them to gather together for worship, and as their number increased, churches, that is, organized congregations came into being through the area. During the course of this development some lifted up their eyes to further horizons, and moved to Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota. Similar churches of Reformed persuasion, using the German language and following Ostfriesland customs, were organized in these areas.
Grace Valley had its official birth on Wednesday, Aug. 22 1866, when a group of interested people met for worship, with the Rev. D. J. Vander Werp preaching the Word. This busy man was a minister in Graafschap, Mich., and was the real pioneer professor of Calvin Seminary, training several early preachers in our denomination. After the services, the organization took place, with 27 members subscribing. W. D. Ammerman and M.F. Denekas were chosen as elders and E. D. Ammerman and H. Bode as deacons. This event is recorded in beautiful handwriting by W. D. Ammerman in the Holland language, in the Consistory minutes and the Church Membership book, both of which were started at that time. These are still safely kept and are readable. All Consistory Minutes from this beginning to the present date have been kept.
In 1893 all services and Christian education classes were in the German language. They continued until the English language was introduced in the services. A gradual transition from German to English ensued until English became the primary language used until the present time.
At one of the early Consistory meetings, Oct. 22, 1866, it was “decided that we need a piece of ground for a church, a parsonage, and a cemetery.” In Aug. 1869 a new church was dedicated. It served until Feb. 1895, when it was destroyed by fire. In six months a new building replaced it, with a dedication service held on Aug. 28, 1895.
The developing changes of time are reflected in the change of the name of our church. It was organized as Ware Hollandsche Gereformerde Kerk, the Dutch for “True Holland Reformed Church."This was the official name of our denomination in these early stages. In 1869 the “Ware” or “True” was dropped from the name. In 1880 it was changed to Hollandsche Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk, “Holland Christian Reformed Church.” A decade later, in 1890, the “Holland” was dropped, and it became the Christian Reformed Church, which was changed again five years later to Ridott Christian Reformed Church.
(1966 - 1991)
We had five pastors who ministered to our spiritual needs through their faithful preaching of the Word and their pastoral care among the congregation during this twenty-five year time frame. Cornelius & Lee Abbas as noted above, Jerry & Sharon Buwalda who initiated a young couples group and family retreats. They also were in Grace Valley during the baby boom era which had a positive impact on worship attendance. As a talented organist, Sharon assisted her husband in providing a meaningful worship experience. Following the Bulwada’s Ken & Anita Boonstra led our church for a few years instituting the new practice of organizing delicious noon potluck after which an afternoon worship service was conducted. Tim and Mary Kikkert was our next pastor and his wife. After a short tenure they moved to Texas where Tim became an army chaplain.
The religious education of our children remained a matter of great concern, so Sunday School programs continued as well as classes in the Catechism. Many children were baptized and many others professed their faith in Christ to become full members of the church. Grace Valley continued to grow, and God added to our numbers people who moved into the area providing us with much needed additional help for our ministry.
In 1973, due to the deteriorated condition of the bell tower, the church decided to remove it and to do some needed remodeling of the church building. On September 21, 1973 the congregation met together to dedicate to the glory of God a new entrance and remodeled sanctuary. New furnishings were also added to the sanctuary. In 1980 a new Rodgers organ was purchased and dedicated, which added to the church’s ability to praise God through a ministry of music.
At the annual congregational meeting of December 10, 1986, the congregation voted to change the name of the church from the Ridott Christian Reformed Church of German Valley to the German Valley Christian Reformed Church. The name changed was stimulated by a conversation that transpired between the consistory and a guest pastor from outside the area who arrived very late for a worship service. The cause - he has spent a great deal of time wandering around the Ridott area looking for the church. He assumed that a church named Ridott CRC would be in Ridott, IL.
Throughout the history of our church, we have been faithful in supporting missionaries. Our traditional Mission Fest which was held each year was a highlight and a
Like any church, the last 25 years for Grace Valley Christian Reformed Church was a time of great change. Our great and glorious triune God does not change however and that is where our jumping off point for the last 25 years begins as Grace Valley transitioned from the ‘greatest generation’ to the baby boomer generation.
The time from 1991 through 2016 can be clearly divided into two parts. From 1991 through 1999 Rev. P. De Jong (Pastor Pete) was our shepherd. There were some booming times under his leadership. Several families joined our fellowship, all with many children. This helped fill our Sunday school classes, both adult and youth, and fostered a very positive outlook for our church. Strong conservative preaching and the ever present big God worldview described our church.
Fellowship with deep bonds between the emerging leadership and the new generation developed and endured. During this time however a great many of our patriarchs and matriarchs passed on to the arms of their loving Savior and Creator. Pastor Pete found himself passing the baton from one generation to the next as he conducted some 30 funerals of some of our most beloved saints; people who had run the good race and kept the faith.
What perhaps closed this chapter of life and time of Grace Valley was when Rev. De Jong accepted a call to another church in 1999. Pastor Pete had poured himself into Grace Valley completely, never wavering in his faith or his determination to advance the kingdom. He had thoroughly endeared himself to the Grace Valley family with his huge heart and skill in providing pastoral care, especially to those whose lives on this earth were nearing an end. He seemed to be able to bring comfort to those who needed it the most. He was missed, and left for a season, but returned to Grace Valley after he and Carol retired. His wife, Carol, skillfully added to our organist staff. It was during this time that she initiated the Christmas musicals that had as many as 40 kids participating. It seems she could play any song without ever looking at the music.
The search was now on for a new pastor. The Lord raised up a man of many careers to seek the ministry. His name is Jake Ritzema. He was hired in the fall of 2000 on an interim basis to serve the church during its pastoral vacancy. During the next many months through mentoring, self-study and Masters of Theological Studies classes through Wheaton Graduate School he passed into the role of a pastor. He and Priscilla have been with us ever since.
No one could have predicted the major change and growth that was at our footsteps through God’s next wave of grace. Some changes were controversial; church going to only one Sunday service, a change of worship style to more contemporary, and even doing what a few years prior would have seemed only a remote possibility; that of building a new worship center.
Nothing was done without prayer, thought, visioning, planning and hoping that this is all going to work out somehow. Fifteen years later the evidence is in. God had not given up on us. To the contrary he has blessed us mightily.
In addition, in the summer of 2010, Grace Valley hired a young seminary graduate, Adam Stout, to fill in while Pastor Jake and Priscilla were on a sabbatical. We spent the summer in the Psalms with Adam. A seed was planted at that time. That seed sprouted the spring of 2013 as we hired Adam and his new bride Erin, also a recent Calvin seminary grad. They were ordained in our new sanctuary and became part-time associates to help with a burgeoning workload of our worshipers, more visiting and the need for more education. They stayed in the parsonage which welcomed two new additional arrivals. God blessed the Stouts with two healthy daughters in spite of at-risk pregnancies. The Stouts and their little ones were loved by all and are missed. In January 2016 they accepted a call to full time ministry to a church in the Minneapolis, MN area.
Most recently, in August of 2016, Eric Schlukebir, along with his wife Jana and their five children have moved to German Valley from Houston Texas where he was most recently a Church Planter. He serves alongside of Pastor Jake as Associate Pastor.
It is hard to argue with the contention that in one twenty five year span Grace Valley has seen so much change. God’s hand has been on us all along. Grace Valley Christian Reformed Church has celebrated 150 years of existence because God has never left us or forsaken us.
As Grace Valley faces these new, perplexing issues it is our hope and prayer that we can step out of the boat and, with faith, fix our eyes and hearts on Jesus as we anticipate God’s next wave of grace to wash in, over and through us as we hold tightly on to His hand. To Him Alone Belongs All the Glory.