Through 47 years of wedded bliss, we’ve belonged to some amazing church congregations. The first was a Reformed church in Sioux City. It was the one dating back the farthest, yet I remember the pastor’s name. Something I can’t seem to retrieve of very many preachers after him. Perhaps because Shannon was instrumental into getting our name well known to the rest of the congregation. She was a little stinker who loved attention, and was not shy how she got it.
|You can just see the mischief in her beautiful little mug. Shannon, 1973…|
His name was Rev. Wallinga. He had an unusual voice and red hair. I remember very clearly the Sunday morning when our precocious 2 year old Shannon did not return from the children’s sermon. We fretted in our seats as Rev. Wallinga prepared us for a spiritual experience, only to have him bend over, reach under his pulpit and come up holding our toddler. Embarrassed beyond words, I shoved Hubs in the general direction to claim her. A couple weeks later, she would bypass her hiding place under the pulpit, instead stopping at the piano and plunked out a few bars. This time it was me who had to go get her. She was having a good time because folks were laughing at her shenanigans. Everybody but mommy and daddy.
|Ready for church with Shannon, 1973…|
A few years later, we were part of a fantastic church in Spencer, Iowa. We had some great friends and connections, and were sorry when we had to move to eastern Iowa. Again. Finding a church in a new city was not easy. And this move was very different for us. Not a town like Spencer with 10,000 people, but a humongous, bustling city of Davenport with 100,000 folks. The search was on. I’m surprised we even tried this church the first time.
|Hope Reformed in Spencer, Iowa…|
It was a seed church. Helped or sponsored by the Reformed Church of America. Started in 1978, we missed being charter members by a few years. We started attending in 1982 or ’83. Right off the bat, it was established by the small congregation that John & Denise were an oddity in Christ’s Family Church. Why? Because we were still married. To each other. With 3 children who all claimed both of us as parents. And we were just starting our 14th year together. Most of the members were singles or divorced. Wow, this was a huge change from small town Reformed churches we were used to. Welcome to a big city congregation.
|Joshua 9, Shannon 14, Bix & Adam 5, 1985…|
Christ’s Family didn’t have a building yet. Every Sunday morning we met in the conference room of the Holiday Inn in Bettendorf, just a couple miles from where we lived. Although the location was unusual to the young couple from Rock Valley, who had always worshipped in very traditional sanctuaries, we adapted. I honestly can’t remember what they did for Sunday school. We only used one big conference room that I recall. The floor was covered with very loud carpet of browns and oranges. No pews of course, but black straight chairs set up in rows.
Christ’s Family Church had purchased land out in the boonies. The sign announcing the building site could be seen from the interstate. But it was out in the middle of nowhere. We broke ground and a new church facility was under way. As it got closer to completion, there were concerns about how to furnish the insides with all the necessary furniture because we were very short on funds.
|We attended through most of their early days…|
My Dad actually came to the rescue. I mentioned to my folks we had nothing for the sanctuary. Dad remembered hearing about a church remodel going on in Orange City, about 30 miles from Rock Valley. (Another very Dutch community). He did the leg work, found the church which indeed was getting new pulpit furniture. I don’t know if there’s a term for this stuff or not, so it’s just pulpit furniture to me. He looked at the pieces and called me back. They were all in decent shape, but old, and needed some work. The best part. They were free. John and I talked to our minister. I believe his name was Al, asking if he was interested? To sweeten the deal, Hubs and I offered to drive across Iowa, pick up the pieces, and drag them back to Davenport. Then refinish them. What were we thinking? We might have been a little crazy back then. The answer from Al was a resounding “yes, can you have them back here, completely redone in time for the building dedication?” “Umm, sure we can,” we managed weakly. Gulp.
|Christ’s Family with large addition on right…|
This is about our trip from hell for the heavenly furniture. We were a family of 5, going back home as usual for Christmas. John had a brand new 1984 Chevy S-10 pickup to carry the furniture. But the 5 of us did not fit in his single cab. My set of wheels at the time were dicey at best. John’s best friend Ron, owned a Japanese Mitsubishi Sapporo which had a blown engine. Hubs, being very handy, bought the car for a few bucks and installed a different engine. By himself. Which didn’t quite fit. But it got me and the kids to all the activities they needed to be driven to and fro around Davenport. This trip we needed to have both vehicles. Our drive to northwest Iowa would prove to be a game changer in our marriage. The weather was absolutely horrible. Frigid temps, snow, howling winds and white outs. And this was BC. Before cellphones. John had Joshua, 9 with him in the truck in the lead. I was lagging behind with Shannon 14 and Adam 5. The Sapporo’s defroster was on full blast trying to keep the windshield clear. The wind gusts were nearly successful in blowing us in the ditch on the 2 lane road. My knuckles were white, and I was shaking like a leaf. I kept reminding God we were doing this for Him and the church. It really was a terrible mistake to endanger our family driving in this kind of weather. I prayed most of the way home that we would arrive safe and sound. Instead of the usual 55 mph, we were putzing along about 40. The trip seemed to take forever. It was Christmas Eve Day.
|Just like our ’78 Sapporo. It had some issues…|
God saw fit to keep the Van Berkum family, the dicey car and spiffy new truck safe that day. The closer we got to Rock Valley, the easier it was to breathe. We pulled into Jim and Mag’s driveway with time to spare. (My parents didn’t really celebrate Christmas since Larry died, though I did buy them a small artificial tree that Mom put up for several years since our kids were small. Ever since I was a teen dating John, it was always his family who had the big celebration on Christmas Eve). Relaxed while the kids snooped through the presents, shaking this one or guessing what was in that one. Devouring some of grandma Mag’s Christmas goodies as they waited impatiently for all their cousins to arrive. Didn’t happen. One of the brothers called saying the roads were too bad to drive 35 miles. This is a joke, right? We drove through hell for 350 miles, but 35 miles were just too much. I was angry and hurt. We never seemed to be worth the effort sometimes. I looked at Hubs. He looked at me, and in that instant we both knew this was the last year we would be driving home for Christmas. No more trips over ice covered roads. A change was in store. We needed to start our own tradition. When the kids were grown, it was unlikely both sets of grands would still be around. We needed to start our own quirky way of doing Christmas. This was all decided with one phone call, and a look between a husband and wife after 16 years.
The weather was perfect as we headed to Orange City to pick up Christ’s Family’s new, old pulpit furniture. The church’s new furniture had been installed, and their cast offs were waiting for us, neatly stored by the door. We were dumbfounded. By the old and the new. The new stuff was awful. What were they thinking? Sharp curves, ultra modern. It honestly looked like laminate glued to particle board. Didn’t fit or look very good in their very traditional sanctuary. The old furniture was a surprise too. Wow. Solid oak, full of curlicues appliqués. Stunning. Whispered to John we’d better get the good stuff out before they came to their senses and changed their minds. Loaded it up, covered it with tarps and we headed back to eastern Iowa.
It would be a few months before our church was dedicated, but by the looks of things, this was gonna take us awhile. John and I had refinished many antiques by this time. But it’s always different doing a piece that’s NOT going in your own home. Let’s say a lot less motivational than when I’d find a bargain at a garage sale, then drive Hubs insane until we got it refinished. We had our own method. He’s always been the stripper (don’t go there). His hands never seem to be bothered by that caustic crap. He’s also the repair guru, and the stain guy. But wait. I do have a little part in this assembly line of refinishing antiques. I’m the varnish, tung oil, polyurethane gal. Patience is a virtue during this procedure. John goes too fast and ends up with runs. He just wants to be done.
We start on the furniture. No one has seen it but us. I know patina is sacred in the world of antiques, never to be messed with, but that’s never been the way we roll. I’m not bothered if the value is a bit less because it’s been stripped. I want to see the grain POP. And the pulpit furniture had no POP left. Too dark and foreboding. We stripped it and discovered the beautiful oak grain again. Holy Hanna. Just a quick swipe of walnut stain for 3 seconds, then wipe it off and let it dry. Then my job of giving 2 or 3 coats of preservative. The biggest obstacle? Well there were really 2. First the exquisite Communion table. Inscribed on the front, This Do In Remembrance Of Me. About a half an inch deep in the wood. Which needed to be painted in red. Hubs must have bought 5 different reds. Couldn’t find the right color he wanted. I believe he ended up mixing several shades himself to find the perfect oxblood shade. Which was painstakingly applied with a tiny paintbrush. By John with his big hands. He refused to let me help with the painting part. The other problem was were the 2 pulpit chairs, which needed to be recovered. The leather was worn and cracked. And we didn’t know how to reupholster furniture. We asked around and a member of the church said she could do it when we were done refinishing the wood.
|The pulpit that we refinished in 1985…|
The congregation was amazed at how beautiful the furniture looked on the stage (is it called a stage in church situations? Maybe holy stage). But from the get-go of this little project, the consensus of the whole congregation was this old furniture would only be used until funds were saved and new furniture could be bought. Fine by us. What’s a couple months work for the Lord anyway?
|The pulpit chairs, 2016…|
We just returned home from a trip to Iowa. John had his class reunion and we had lots of relatives to visit. Trying to fit everything in, scheduling before hand was part of the planning. Since I started blogging, this reminiscing thing has hit me hard and often. I think about something in my past, and write a story about it. Sometimes it’s easily forgotten, sometimes I dwell on certain stories. I told Hubs I wanted to take a little nostalgic trip on the way to northwest Iowa. We were stopping in Davenport anyway because I stop and play double deck euchre with my good friends.
|Basilica St. Francis Xavier, Dyersville, Iowa…|
I wanted to stop in Dyersville where Joshua was born, and check out the movie set from Field of Dreams, and go through the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier again. A magnificent Catholic Church. Trot to New Vienna where we were the only non Catholics living in the whole town. On to Worthington, the rental house where all the floors were a bit askew. And then one of my favorite stories called The Farm, outside of Cascade. We could not locate the farm house which was a disappointment. The house in Worthington was almost unrecognizable, but we definitely still saw a slight slant. The hospital where Josh came into the world was very new in 1975. Now it’s had about 3 additions. The little yellow ranch in New Vienna now has a brick front, and we only knew it was the right house, by the home that sits behind it.
|How did I not trip on those bell bottoms? The Cascade farm, 1976…|
Both of us wanted to drive past Christ’s Family Church. Which is now smack dab in the middle of part residential, part retail area. No longer out in the sticks. The church too has had a big addition. It was early evening, and there were a few cars in the parking lot. A young man got out of his car, so we parked and followed him to the front doors. Which were locked. He was trying to find the gym to play basketball, so we walked along to the side door which was also locked, but there were lights on and activity inside. We knocked. A lady came to the door somewhat warily and asked what we wanted. The ball player was given directions to the other side of the building. We politely ask if we might look inside the sanctuary for a minute. She said, “wait here,” and closed the door. A minute later a guy about our age let us in. We said we had attended in the early days before and while they were building the church. The fond memories we had worshipping with the congregation. And our small part in landing the free pulpit furniture to be used on a temporary basis. He asked where we lived now while he led us up a couple stairways. Walked through the back door of the sanctuary, and flipped on the lights. Holy smoke, this is gonna sound biblical. Not gonna lie, I just stood there and wept. Our beautiful pulpit furniture. Looking exactly like the day we helped haul each piece into the new building, over 30 years ago. I just can’t remember when something like that has affected me so. Maybe the chairs have been reupholstered again, but the pulpit and the Communion Table have not been touched. I ran my hand over all the gorgeous curlicues. John touched the oxblood paint in the lettering. I was literally overcome with emotion. About furniture. Silly. We had often wondered what would have become of the furniture when they were finished with it, and had hoped another seed church would have been the lucky recipient for a spell. We decided those precious pieces couldn’t or shouldn’t ever be cast aside. “This Do In Remebrance Of Me” should always have a church home and never be retired…
|It was this piece which brought all the tears, 2016…|