Stepping Back in Time

Entering Aylmer, Ontario, is like going back in time. This rural town, built around tobacco farming, has just three stoplights, and the grocery stores provide hitching posts where Amish shoppers can tie their horses.

Near the center of town is the Aylmer Christian Reformed Church. With a membership around 700 people, it’s equivalent to just over 10 percent of the town’s population. Entering the church is also like stepping back in time, back to the strengths of historical CRC congregations.

The teenagers gather for catechism classes on Tuesday nights, and many return on Wednesday for youth group. Sunday night services, with around 200 in attendance, include prayers for crops and harvest.

Aylmer’s large church council includes 28 men. The elders do home visits, visiting each family in their districts. At the annual visit, which usually includes coffee and cake, elders ask families about their spiritual lives and encourage them in their involvement with the church.

Aylmer CRC is rich in loyalty. A number of families have four generations in attendance. Leaders strive to meet the needs of young and old.

Next to the church is the Christian school started by members of Aylmer CRC and still supported by them. On the other side of the building, down the block, is a retirement home. Three-quarters of the residents are members of Aylmer CRC, and the church has set up a direct video link so they can participate in worship services. When the congregation celebrates the Lord’s Supper, two elders walk over to the home and serve communion.

Aylmer CRC builds bridges between generations. Each girl in GEMS is paired with a senior, called a Forget-Me-Not. They exchange cards and gifts throughout the year. Each young person who goes on a SERVE project is given an adult prayer partner, who sends along an encouraging note and treat for each day.

The church has two care teams, one for young families and one for elderly shut-ins. Needs are met quietly, with gestures such as a pot of homemade pea soup, free babysitting, or regular visits. “You can feel the communion of the saints,” one member says.

Since most of its members have Dutch roots, the church has kept traditions that celebrate this heritage. Tensions sometimes arise between old and new, challenging the leaders to maintain a balance.

“We do have that stigma of being a Dutch church,” says longtime elder and council chairman Charlie Dyxhoorn. “But we’re proud of our traditions.”

While keeping elements of its heritage, the church also includes new practices that enrich the church. For example, many older members have learned to love contemporary worship songs.

Wendy Bachner, who does not come from a Dutch background, has found a home at Aylmer CRC. She says, “I have never felt uncomfortable one bit.” She loves to hear the congregation sing “Ere Zij God” with all their hearts every Christmas. “I don’t care that they’re Dutch,” she says. “I just care that I was accepted.”

In Aylmer, the historical thrives in the present.

About the Author

Kristin Niehof is a graduate student at Regent College, Vancouver.
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