A complex man of deep conviction, Leonard Sweetman, Jr., was gifted with a “rage” for justice for the vulnerable and the marginalized and a desire for social transformation. He believed that striving for justice and working for peace are at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. He consistently walked the talk, participating in small but real ways in the civil rights and antiwar movements in the 1960s and in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement in the 1970s and 1980s. He encouraged women in their struggle to become leaders in the Christian Reformed Church. Sweetman died on July 31, 2016, in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Sweetman’s life was forged in the crucible of the Depression and World War II. His acquaintance with a CRC military chaplain encouraged him to attend Calvin College and Seminary. He was ordained in the CRC in 1951 and subsequently received his doctoraal degree (Drs.) from the Free University in Amsterdam in 1962.
Sweetman’s ministry included pastoring Conrad (Mont.) CRC and Hessel Park CRC in Champagne, Ill. He served as a missionary in Japan and as the CRC campus chaplain at the University of Illinois.
In 1964, he was appointed to the Religion and Theology Department of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he served until his retirement in 1989. At Calvin, Sweetman demonstrated a heart and hospitality for the many students he met who were struggling to find new ways to be people of faith. He was always recognizable by the beret he wore—a mark of his studies in Europe.
Among those left to mourn his loss are Sweetman’s three children: Angelique and Clarence Dottery, Robert Sweetman and Rosanne Lopers, and Nora and Steve Cooper, as well as seven grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.
Sweetman was predeceased in 2014 by Clara, his wife of 67 years, and in 2015 by his granddaughter Hillary (Cooper) Jones.
Enjoyed this article?
Don’t miss this week’s must-read articles:
- Thinking Historically About Church Conflicts
- Book Review: Afterlife
- Ministries to Seafarers Connect Crews to Clinics, Support