of Our Church

The last 25 years of Bethany's 100-year history have somewhat matched its beginnings in that the church adjusted to changes in society around it. Just as the founding fathers of the church knew that in order to be a church in Muskegon in 1903 they had to change the language from Dutch to English, so the leaders of Bethany in the past 25 years knew they had to make changes, some difficult, in order to remain Christ's church in downtown Muskegon. And just as social and cultural changes in the past 25 years seemed to be moving at an accelerated rate, so the changes in Bethany seemed to happen quickly, especially when compared to the first 75 years. You were almost assured that the church of the first 75 years was somewhat the same year after year; but in the last 25 years of Bethany's 100-year history changes abound.

At the beginning of the last quarter century, Rev. Marvin Beelen was the pastor. During his term as the leader, the council was reorganized by having a lay member as the president instead of the pastor. An administrative committee was established, and the consistory room became a place for activities other than consistory meetings. Rev. Beelen's preaching challenged the entire congregation to "preach good news to the poor," and this led to the development of various ministries in the neighborhood. Coffee break Bible study, the food pantry, and a summer respite program were all begun as an answer to that challenge. When Rev. Louis Roossien was called to Bethany in 1981, he continued this emphasis on neighborhood involvement.

Because of the growing need for space for the new programs in the church, a wonderful addition of a kitchen, fellowship hall, choir room, classrooms, nursery and offices was added with support by a generous bequest from Dr. Paul and Bertha Medema. Construction of this facility in 1985 necessitated tearing down the "red house" on Peck Street, the "gray house" on Terrace Street and moving the parsonage to its present location on Peck Street.

A co-pastor, Rev. Douglas Van Essen, moved into the relocated parsonage in 1985 and took on the duties of congregational pastor while Rev. Roossien became the outreach pastor. Bethany continued to minister to the neighborhood, expanding its benevolence to those in need and beginning Bethany Housing Ministry. In 1990, a third staff, Marlene Koster, was hired as Minister of Music and Church School. As the twentieth century came to a close, Bethany had a growing ministry to children in the neighborhood with a Wednesday program and various neighborhood programs during the summer months. The facilities were also opened to community meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

But there were also other changes happening. Gender barriers were being broken when Bethany had its first women deacons and later its first women elders. In a step toward inclusiveness, young children were allowed to become professing members and partake of communion. Young children were also participating in their own worship services as the Children in Worship program was developed. Ethnic and racial barriers continued to be broken at Bethany with new members joining from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds so that the church was no longer a Dutch enclave, but a diverse group of God's people gathering together to worship and minister in Christ's name. A new Psalter Hymnal was introduced which exposed the congregation to various traditions of hymnody. Interracial services were shared with several African-American churches in the community of Muskegon and Muskegon Heights, opening Bethany to varied styles of music and worship. Also adding to diversity in worship styles was the participation of many members in the De Colores movement. Bethany was host to several week-ends of DeColores activities. Intarracial worship was also shared with the choir of Pullman Christian Reformed Church from Chicago where choir members and the congregation experienced the excitement of Black gospel music in worship. Communion services, which were always four times a year, were changed to two times a month. Even the plan for preaching was changed from following the fifty-two weeks of the Heidelberg Catechism to the ecumenical Lectionary which introduced the seasons of the Church Year. Throughout all of these changes, members continued to meet in small groups, studying the Word in various programs and educating their children in a strong Church School program.

With such a whirlwind of changes, Bethany continues into the new millennium to be a ministering, caring and loving congregation. And now at the end of 100 years as Christ's church at Hartford and Terrace, the church faces new challenges of continuing in downtown Muskegon. In 2003,Rev. Roossien and Rev. Van Essen moved to new ministries, and Bethany in 2004 called Rev. Dave Sieplinga to be our pastor. Rev. Sieplinga retired in 2015. It's an exciting time to see who God will, send to lead this church into our second century and what God will require of us as we strive to "act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God."

All praise and glory be to God who has shown His faithfulness to us through the ages.

history compiled by Marlene Koster