In Memoriam: Rev. Henry Vander Kam (1917–1996)

In the early afternoon of January 11, I, as a close friend of Henry Vander Kam, received notice that our brother, Henry Vander Kam, had the day before departed this life to be forever with the Lord in glory.



He was born on November 8, 1917, to Cornelius VanderKam and his wife Grace Volkema in the small Gronigen village of Houwerzijl, The Netherlands. Seven years later he, as the youngest in his family, came to Grand Rapids, MI, with his parents, two brothers and one sister. Here, little realizing how often our paths would cross in the years ahead, I met him and his brother at the Grandville Avenue Christian Reformed Church and Christian school. Within a few years his parents purchased a celery farm near Byron Center. Early the desire to prepare for the gospel ministry was awakened in his heart. But the depression of 1929 and the years ensuing made it impossible to continue beyond the eighth grade. Henry too was needed on the farm. But with diligence he pursued at home all the high school courses, received the needed certificate, and then could enroll in Calvin College.

In 1942 Henry graduated from the college and entered Calvin Seminary. During that period he was united in marriage to Elaine Dekker, a marriage blessed in time with three sons and two daughters.

Ordained in 1945 to the ministry in the Christian Reformed Church, he served the Prosper, MI, congregation for five years; thereafter for another five years, the Second Christian Reformed Church in Pella, IA. Then followed ten years (1955–1965) in the Twelfth Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Jenison, MI, a congregation which grew to more than 240 families during that period. His longest pastorate, from 1965 through 1978, was in the Grace Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, MI, where he felt as he often said, “so much at home among my own people.” Only after much soul-searching did he accept the call to the Lake Worth, FL Christian Reformed Church. While blessings were also experienced there, the brief year was marred by much perplexity and pain. The Lord opened the way to accept a call to the Doon, IA Christian Reformed Church which he served faithfully until ill health constrained him to retire in 1982.

It was here he suffered a most severe heart attack. For days he was not expected to survive. And when recuperation set in, by the goodness of the Lord, he returned to active service. After some months, he retired from full-time service in a congregation.

With seven other pastors, he labored to establish Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Orange City, IA in order to promote a renewal of full-fledged Biblical and covenantally oriented proclamation of the Word of God in the churches which he loved and served so well. Here for more than three years he taught courses in Reformed Dogmatics with much profit for and appreciate from his students.

Brother Vander Kam’s influence exceeded the bounds of the pastorate in many ways. Frequently he was delegated to the annual synods of the Christian Reformed Church, serving as clerk, vice-president and once as president. Often he served on the classical and synodical committees in part because of his understanding of the Church Order and its implementation. For several years he was member of the Board of Trustees of Calvin College and Seminary; the last years he served also as its president. For many years he wrote Bible study outlines which were published in The Torch and the Trumpet and The Outlook and later in booklet form. They were widely used.

But the love of brother Vander Kam’s life was preaching the unsearchable riches of God’s sovereign grace in Christ Jesus. By way of pulpit and catechetical classroom, he laid solid foundations for the faith life of his parishioners, young and old. Even after retirement he was privileged to preach and teach in several congregations to his personal joy.

Born into and growing up in the sturdy 1834 Secession tradition, he surprised no one with his deep appreciation for the life and labors of the late Dr. Klaas Schilder. Especially that professor’s view of God’s covenant with promises and obligations won our brother’s wholehearted commitment. After retirement, Rev. Vander Kam spent some years delving into this and preparing a manuscript on Dr. Klaas Schilder: Defender of the Faith. Now in the hands of the publisher, it will appear on the market in the next few months.

For a long period he also was disturbed because of departures from the Holy Scripture and the confessional standards which he saw in the denomination which he had served so long. After moving back to Kalamazoo, his services were enlisted by a group of Reformed believers similarly concerned for themselves, their children and grandchildren. The group that founded the Free Christian Reformed Church of Kalamazoo asked him to serve as minister pro-tem. Despite physical difficulties, he was able to shepherd that growing flock of the good Shepherd until the membership reached over 60 families. His last sermons were preached on the Lord’s day before Christmas.

One of the high points of his life was the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the gospel ministry held last August in the Free CRC with family, friends and many church members. After his heart attack the Lord allotted him almost fourteen and a half years of activity.

During the last months, his strength gradually gave way. After another brief hospitalization, he passed away. Funeral services were conducted by another close friend, the Rev. Edward Knott, in the Free CRC on Monday, January 14. He was laid to rest, his body awaiting the glorious day of resurrection, in the Mount Everest cemetery at Kalamazoo after a brief committal service by the Rev. Sun M. Kim who serves Korean congregations in Minneapolis and Rochester, Minnesota.

Rev. Henry Vander Kam was privileged to serve the Lord’s church for many years. Only eternity will reveal the full fruits. We praise God for that ministry of one who served his generation well. To the widow, family and congregation he loved, we extend our sympathy in the assurance that the Father of all mercies will sustain. How well, in the light also of years of physical distress, the words of Paul apply: “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the course…” And in this, may all the glory be given to the God of our salvation whose we are and whom we are still called to serve in this life.