In Memoriam: Rev. Peter Borgdorff (1939-2018)

In Memoriam: Rev. Peter Borgdorff (1939-2018)
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Peter Borgdorff loved the Lord, his family, the Christian Reformed Church, and the church worldwide. Although diagnosed with brain cancer in April, Borgdorff died sooner than anyone expected—on the 21st of May. He was 78. The fitting text for his memorial service came from Romans 14:7-9. “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.” Referring to the challenging denominational positions Borgdorff held over the years, pastor Joel Boot reflected, “I came to know that he did not so much choose that life as recognize he was chosen for it. It was hard and often painful. But he did it enthusiastically because he lived ‘to the Lord.’”

In 1951 Borgdorff’s family immigrated from the Netherlands to Hamilton, Ont., where he lived until he attended Calvin College. He graduated from Calvin Seminary in 1969 and obtained a D.Min. from Western Theological Seminary in 1990. He served the CRCNA for more than 38 years in a variety of positions under various titles from congregational ministry to administration, including as executive director, until 2006.

William Koopmans, who worked frequently with Borgdorff over the last 12 years, described his heart for ecumenism. “Peter’s contributions and insightful leadership were widely appreciated in Reformed ecumenical circles. He was instrumental in the merger of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council to form the World Communion of Reformed Churches. Recognizing that to be a successful ambassador for ecumenism requires more than passing relationships with others, Peter developed and maintained an amazing breadth of global friendships among church leaders.  His passing is grieved by countless ecumenical contacts around the world.”

Similar tribute was paid by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary emeritus of the Reformed Church in America (RCA). He spoke of his relationship with Borgdorff during Synod 2018, the CRC’s annual leadership meeting. Their work together led eventually to the Pella Accord of 2014. That year, both denominations pledged to “act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel [us] to act separately.” This year, the synods of both denominations met together, holding several joint sessions.

As director of synodical services for the CRC, Dee Recker had what she describes as “the privilege” of working closely with Borgdorff since 2000. “He had an incredible work ethic, a ‘roll up your sleeves’ kind of guy. The task was not always easy but he never gave up or gave in. Peter put others before himself—he would drop what he was doing to help out or take time to listen—he valued relationships. He was an inspirational leader, tremendous mentor, and teacher.”

“He was a good leader who had integrity and was always ready to serve the denomination he loved,” said Bill Veenstra, who first met Borgdorff in the early 1970s and later served with him as director of Canadian ministries from 2001 to 2004.

Borgdorff also found time to do local church work—to mentor seminarians, to serve on the personnel committee, to be a church visitor at classis (regional assembly of churches), to be involved in refugee and immigrant resettlement. He was a fierce advocate of justice. “And all of this was outside the parameters of his potentially all-consuming denominational position,” Boot explained. “How he found the time, how he called up the energy, how he summoned the patience, I always wondered, until I remembered he viewed it as his calling to ‘live to the Lord.’”

“He was all those things people noted,” said Janet, his wife of 55 years. “However, he was also the ordinary guy in our lives who we will miss every day.” He loved golf, happy hour, traveling, and spending time with those he loved. He was preceded in death by their oldest son, Leonard, in 2012. He will be lovingly remembered by Janet, their four children and spouses, and 16 grandchildren.

About the Author

A former nurse and chaplain, Janet Greidanus is a freelance news correspondent and long-time writer of the In Memoriam column for The Banner.