Several weeks ago I attended a conference at Calvin College that focused on the Christian Reformed Church’s 150th birthday.
As part of the conference, an Improv night was offered. I had a pretty good suspicion of what this humor was going to look like. And I wasn’t wrong. For 30 minutes we were entertained by Dutch jokes and West Michigan lingo. One of the actors even came out wearing wooden shoes.
Our entertainers made comments about the rivalry between Calvin College (in Grand Rapids, Mich.) and Hope College (in Holland, Mich.), joked that everyone in the CRC knows one another, spoke of how all Christian Reformed events take place in the church basement, and laughed at how all church functions are accompanied by soup and buns.
I’m Dutch. I was raised in the CRC and could fully relate to many of those jokes. I also understand how, for many people, such jokes bring back a wave of fond memories, reminding them of the richness and depth of their communities.
But such jokes also do something else. They build walls, excluding many. Quite frankly, they are inhospitable to anyone who is not Dutch, not raised in the CRC, and not from West Michigan.
As I understand it, the goal of the CRC is to become a diverse body of believers who can worship and serve God together. We have been blessed by hardworking Dutch Calvinists who set us on a firm foundation of theology and vision. But that doesn’t mean we do not have work ahead of us. If we wish to expand and flourish in the next 150 years, our jokes and language need to change. The jokes I heard that night are no longer applicable or hospitable to the diverse population of current and potential CRC members.
I don’t know about you, but I want my congregation, my denomination, to accurately reflect the family of God. On the CRC’s 200th birthday, God willing, I want to stand among a cloud of witnesses who represent a far greater variety of cultures, ethnicity, and denominational backgrounds than the CRC has right now. I want the Dutch and those who have been raised in the CRC to be outnumbered.
We can say we agree with this vision, but if we don’t change our language, it won’t happen. People need to know that they are valued and included for who they are and what they bring to the church.
Let’s not forget our roots, but let’s expand our understanding of what it means to be CRC by including the stories of everyone in our family.