….and yet in all this -‘EMET’

My Oma Titia Grasdijk-Schuurman was born in the village of Sauwerd, province of Groningen (Netherlands) on May 22, 1882.

I have been reading in the book “For Better For Worse” ‘Stories of the Wives of Early Pastors (Dominees) of the Christian Reformed Church’ by Janet Sjaarda Sheeres published by Wm Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on January 1, 2017.

This book describes the lives (especially the hardships) of wives of pastors and family who immigrated from the Netherlands to the USA in the mid to late 1800s. The purpose of this book, as I read it, is to shine a light on the lives of the pastors’ wives, especially as it was expected for the wives to obey the “headship” marriage principle and honor (follow) their husband in family leadership. Although we have on record mostly historic notes/records about their husbands work in church council events etc., the lives/experiences of their wives are ‘invisible in history’ and not important enough to record. Yet the author succeeds in digging-out through known events and secular historic notes what these wives might have experienced in following their husbands from the Netherlands to the USA; the good-byes to their parents and siblings, then 3 or 4 weeks of travel crossing the ocean and finally arriving at their destination in the USA. Many were their tales of hardships: their older husbands deaths, the early deaths of children, a new language, the strangeness of the environment and the faith-theological-confessional-congregational issues that confronted them again in the life of the Michigan (USA) Reformed congregations of those pioneering days. The lives of the wives in this book illustrate many married older husbands and so some also experienced 2nd marriages and were step-mothers to sons & daughters by a previous marriage: Juffrouw (or Mevrouw more respected) Dieuwerke Schuringa Hulst-Gelock; Gerdina ten Brummelaar vanderWerpLokker being just two persons mentioned in the book.

The break-away faith conflict (1834-Secession) issues (does it ever stop!) in the Netherlands with the Dutch Hervormde (State) church mostly prompted their immigration starting in the 1840s under the leadership of two notable pastors – (Ds. Albertus C. Van Raalte to Holland, Michigan-1846 and Ds. Hendrik Pieter Scholte with 900 followers to Pella, Iowa, USA-1846) and the re-interaction/engagement of again church concerns in the USA between the immigrants and the Reformed Church (est. 1628- New Amsterdam) eventually forming breakaway groups. The establishment of the Christian Reformed Church (1857) forms the background and involvement of the wives and families mentioned in the book ‘For Better For Worse’. Some of these pastors had served congregations mostly in the province of Groningen and this made me remember my Oma Titia Grasdijk and the village of Sauwerd. Some of these immigrated pastors mentioned in the book had served in Wetsinge-Sauwerd: Ds Willem Hendrik Frieling; Ds Freerk (Frederick) Hulst and towards the end of the 1800s (although not mentioned) a Ds Jan Teves (1885 – 1908)

Into this church conflict times, the Grasdijk family settled in the village of Sauwerd. Pieter (1853 -1901) -son of Jacob Klaassens Grasdijk and Ietje Harms van Stedum), a tailor by occupation, married, on May 6, 1880 Antje Hempenius (1858-1927) (daughter of Dirk Sikkens Hempenius and Tietje Sybrens Hoekstra). Antje was born in the village of Engelum, Friesland and Pieter was born in Sauwerd. The marriage took place in Engelum, in the region Gemaldeveen (Friesland). They settled in Sauwerd, Groningen and their family would have 5 children, a still-born male child; two sisters, Trijntje born 1896 died at 9 months, Anna died in 1889 – one year old, a brother Jacob (1886) died later at 27 years in 1913. Titia was born in 1882 and a brother Dirk in 1889.

The church of the Wetsinge-Sauwerd Christelijke Afgescheidene was small and had a couple of starts as early as 1838 (worshipped in a barn for a while). There were ups and downs over the 1840s but by 1857 when Dominee (Ds) Keizer who had served the Hervormde church for 52 years, left the area, a small break-away group in Wetsinge-Sauwerd (region Adorp) was formed under leadership of Ds W. H. Frieling from Adorp) as the Christelijke Afgescheiden Gemeente (they wanted to have ‘Gereformeerd’ in their church name but the authorities would not allow it). In the background we must note: Already by the 1840s in the province of Groningen small cells of people (huis-gemeentes) were meeting (these were illegal gatherings) who agreed with Ds. H de Cock (1801-1842) had left the Hervormde Kerk (state-church) and were meeting in various regions of the province. This leaving by Ds H. de Cock was over dissatisfaction with the spiritual direction and state church policy. There had been a flaming-out loss of the spiritual accents of the Gospel that had been encouraged by the outcome of the Synod of Dord (1618-1619) together with arbitrary ambitious government (state) control over the church policy and its affairs. Ds de Cock’s spiritual conscience and pastoral objections found him in conflict with the state church and local authorities (1834-Secession and after) and so with his Church congregation and council at the village of Ulrum was constrained and persecuted. People however, came from far and near to hear him preach; it is said that the small church building at Ulrum could not accommodate the worshipers and many listened in at the church windows as he conducted Sunday services. This was a rocky time for the believers and conflicts grew within many congregations/groups breaking away from the Hervormde church during that area. Some of those Seceders groups called themselves Christelijke Afgescheidenen. These were the ‘quiet’ people, experiential Reformed religious folk; sometimes called the ‘kleine luijden’, deeply serious about their salvation and their spiritual well-being.

Wetsinge-Sauwerd by 1861 was a small congregation and called its first pastor Ds Syke Brand Sevensma, who served from 1861 to 1863 and with his family immigrated to the USA. In 1863 Ds M. Stadig came and served till 1865. Then in 1865 Dominee (pastor) Freek (Frederick) Hulst accepted a call. Freerk Hulst had married Diewerke Schuringa in 1858. He had already served in five congregations after his ordination in 1855, before coming to Wetsinge-Sauwerd. Mentored for the ministry by Ds Willem Hendrik Hendrik Frieling (married to Geertje Bennink – 1843 his 2nd marriage) who with his family immigrated in 1866 to Vriesland CRC (organized in 1857), Michigan church. Ds Frederick Hulst stayed in Wetsinge-Sauwerd till 1868 and then also immigrated to Holland, Michigan and later also served a church in Chicago, Illinois. He was small of stature and had a difficult disposition (the author of the book describes it as ‘strident outbursts’) which would get him in difficulties now and then. Later a pastor, Dominee Jan Teve served in Wetsinge-Sauwerd also immigrated to Michigan in 1908. When a pastor would immigrate often some families immigrated together with their pastor. As many as 750 persons immigrated from Groningen province to the USA in 1866 alone. The last decades of the 1800s was a time of hardships for many. There had been the potato blight misery (1845-47) with long consequences – economic depression, heightened by social unrest, so many faced poverty and people started moving to the cities for work.

For the wives of immigrated pastors, pioneering was a real personal sacrifice in many cases. Many immigrants did not all speak the same Dutch dialect and housing environments could be primitive and sparse. The pastors families experienced, besides physical, (many families experienced the early death of children; small pox, diphtheria, consumption etc.) also economic hardships in that their promised salaries were not always paid as agreed. Some lived in Michigan forested areas not experienced by many who had come from the flat and wide fields of the Netherlands. The dry conditions in the Fall of 1871 which caused the Great Fires, not only destroyed a large part of Chicago but also effected the people in Holland, Michigan (October 8, 1971) The town suffered great destruction and losses included the burning of their Third Reformed church building.

Reading the events of the Wetsinge-Sauwerd church during these times (1850 -1900), showed me how my Oma’s parents and family lived with not only community, family, and economic but also constant church conflict (faith) struggles.

In the 1886 events surrounding the Doleantie, another large break occurred in the Hervormde church with Dr. Abraham Kuiper (1837-1920) as leader were tumultuous also in Wetsinge-Sauwerd. I am sure that in many families on Sundays after church, there were heavy discussions about theology and doctrine. In 1892 this break away group (Dolerenden) merged with the Christelijke Afgescheiden church into the Gereformeerde Kerk in Nederland. During the time Ds Jan Teves was pastor 1885 – 1896 there was much going back and forth (conflicts) between Hervormde and Afgesheiden together with the Dolerende forming the congregations of Kerk A and Kerk B (1992) The records show that Ds. Teve left Wetsinge-Sauwerd congregation in 1897 to Beekbergen (Overijsel) where he was let go on ‘suspicion of sin against the 7th commandment’ in 1902. In 1908 he immigrated to the USA and died in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1913. In 1898 a new church building was erected in Sauwerd and the stone bricks of the old church taken down and used to harden a road in town.

`My Oma Titia Grasdijk was born in 1882 (1969) and believed to be the oldest of 5 children. She attended the local school probably until she was 12 years old (Grade 6) and then helped in the household and probably soon after got a job as a ‘dienstmeid’ a popular job for a young teenage girl. Sometimes teenage daughters were able to obtain a position with a well-to-do family which greatly enhanced their status in the community. It is apparent that Oma in her twenties, sometime in the early 1900s, after the deaths of her sisters (1889 & 1897) and her dad Pieter Grasdijk in 1904, left for the city of Groningen and in those years met my Opa Jan probably as they attended church in the city. It is told that Opa Jan Schuurman (1881-1956) who was born in the village of Haren, close to the city Groningen had not yet done profession of his faith and so they attended study sessions at the church together. Apparently Opa Jan (or family?) had some issues and the local pastor would not confirm him as being eligible for saying his profession. My Oma small but an outspoken (feisty) young lady is said to have opinioned to the pastor: ‘Dan krijg je mij ook niet!’ (‘Then you won’t get me either!’). So some of the Schuurman-Grasdijk children were not baptized until they were older, my Dad was 5 years old. Here is a picture of the family when my Oma Titia & Opa Jan married in 1910 on September 1.

My Opa was a baker and so he pursued his occupation by starting his own business in the Barestraat, a new sub-division on the south side of the city. Two months after the wedding her brother Dirk Grasdijk having got a girl in ‘trouble’ as was been told, left on the S.S. Rijndam to New York on to Chicago on November 23, 1910. There were many Groningers in Chicago at that time who were very active in the Waste Management business. No doubt the fleeing young man (21 years old) had some connections. He later settled in Decatur, Michigan and married Nellie Haak. My Oma never corresponded with him after that and for a reason not known, refused to even mention his name. A close relative I knew, as Tante Bouwkje (I believe was a cousin) kept contact with him till his death on April 3, 1964.**

Very quickly in 1911 on October 14 their first children were born, twins named Antje (2008) – daughter, and a son named Derk Pieter. The son contracted, probably small pox and died after 10 months on August 3, 1912. On January 27 of 1913 my Oma’s brother Jacob died. My Dad was born on July 30, 1913 (1991) and named Derk, as was the custom to name children after their grand-parents and if one would die young, the next child was named by the same name so that that family name was maintained and honored. A son Pieter followed in March 28, 1916 (1972) and another son named Gerrit on March 23, 1919 (1999). As you can see, even as a wife my Oma had her share of sad events in first the decade years of her marriage. This together with a quickening of the first World War (1914-18) created large uncertainties in their walk together. Her mother Antje Hempenius died in 1927, followed by the ‘Depression’ of the late twenties and early thirties. This together with the social and political rhetoric (Nazis) in Europe culminating in the second World War added to their life difficulties. Another church split in 1944 and then the marriages of their children in the 1930s and 40s. In the 1950s they attended the Parklaan church which was an Article 31 (Vrijgemaakte) congregation. Some of these events and others including the heavy burden letting go of their oldest son Derk and family to Canada, have already been told in the history/remembrances of my parents Derk & Trientje in story of ‘In the Shadow of the Martini’.

** NOTE: My parents once they had settled in Canada visited him in Decatur, Michigan. The first direct family members to do so. In 1963 after his wife Nellie Haak’s death (they had no children), he drove up to Canada and attended my parents 25th wedding anniversary. (on above picture, he is the man beside the tree) (Jacob who died is the man beside the 3 women on the left)

EMET‘ (Hebrew) = truth/faithfulness/reliability/firmness/assurance/trustworthiness/steadiness…….

For this article I searched: gereformeerdkerken.nl & dominees.nl & genealogieonline.nl & newnetherlandinstitute.org & others.

JS January 14, 2022

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Opa JanS

Retired; Octogenarian; Opa and husband; interested in celebrating/contributing to the blessings we have as Christians in Canada's fair land.

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