Speaking at Jim Vanderlaan’s retirement in 2006, a pastor colleague said, "You have served among gifted intellectuals and among those with limited gifts. You understood and lovingly addressed the whole range of God's children. You did it with patience and clarity.” Vanderlaan died Aug. 18 at age 81.
Overcoming the challenges of being blind, Vanderlaan graduated from Calvin College and Seminary and proceeded to obtain an MA and a Ph.D. from Princeton University. Ordained in 1971, he pastored the following congregations: Bigelow (Minn.) Christian Reformed Church, Webster (N.Y.) CRC, and Parchment CRC in Kalamazoo, Mich. In 1992 he served as director of Disability Concerns, the CRC’s ministry equipping churches to serve and embrace the gifts of people of all abilities, until he retired. From 1991 to 2015, he also was part-time chaplain at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services and during retirement volunteered as a mediator for Kent County Courts.
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Vanderlaan was director of Disability Concerns when Synod 1993 adopted a resolution encouraging all churches and ministries of the CRC to work toward full compliance with the act. When staff capacity for Disability Concerns was reduced by half during the 1990s, Vanderlaan made more with less by setting up a network of regional disability advocates to help church leadership learn how best to include those with disabilities in the life and ministry of the congregation.
"Pastor Jim was a man with the ultimate can-do attitude. He always encouraged others to work at overcoming whatever obstacles or boundaries they may have encountered,” said one elder who knew him well.
Predeceased by son David, Vanderlaan is survived by his wife, Eunice; six children and spouses; 25 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.