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January 18, 2011 - 

1918 – 2006

Rev. Harold Dekker, the last surviving World War II chaplain in the Christian Reformed Church, died March 16 from heart failure.

Dekker grew up in Chicago, where he attended Chicago Christian High School. He studied at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, graduating from the latter in 1942. He married Frances Sytsma in 1940.

The young theologian--he had then just reached the age of 24--showed a great deal of interest in the spiritual needs of American servicemen, and so the denomination appointed him its first “Service Pastor.” Within a year, however, he entered the U.S. Navy as a chaplain and saw action in the South Pacific. Following his discharge in 1946, he joined the faculty of Calvin College. In 1947 he agreed to become the pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Englewood, N.J., where he served till 1950. That year he joined Rev. Peter Eldersveld as a radio preacher for the Back to God Hour. He returned to Calvin College in 1954 to be its dean of students. In 1956 the faculty of Calvin Seminary appointed Dekker to the chair of missions and later also to be its academic dean. He taught one year at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria (TCNN). He retired in 1987.

Woven into this busy career were the many civic duties Dekker accepted. During much of the 1970s and ’80s he was a member of the Grand Rapids City Commission (Third Ward). In 1975 he ran--unsuccessfully--for the office of mayor of Grand Rapids. He was a founding member of the Area Agency on Aging, and served for some years on the Human Relations Commission of Michigan.

Harold Dekker assumed a leading place among young postwar CRC pastors, many of whom had served abroad, and brought a fresh perspective to the ministry. They had witnessed the power of the gospel in a bewildering variety of settings and sought to encourage the CRC churches to bring God’s Word to their surrounding communities. Dekker was an outgoing, widely connected theologian and leader whose influence was felt well beyond the CRC.

Rev. Dekker is survived by his wife, Frances, and their sons David (and his wife, Pearl) and Daniel.

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