A History of Hessel Park Church

[ The 1950s ] [ The 1960s ] [ The 1970s ] [ The 1980s and 1990s ] [ The 21st Century ]

The 1950s

In 1951 Rev. Harold Dekker, the minister of radio evangelism for The Back to God Hour, a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), visited Champaign-Urbana to follow-up on responses from listeners. The collection of people interested in the reformed Christian faith then formed a fledging congregation and began holding worship services in a Seventh Day Adventist facility. Bethany CRC in South Holland, Illinois took on the role of calling church and provided some financial support. In these early days, the "Christian Reformed Church of Champaign" was briefly pastored by Dr. Fred Klooster (March, 1952 to August 1953) and Dr. Lewis Smedes (February- August, 1954), both in transition between doctoral studies and teaching at Calvin College.

Typical Sunday morning worship attendance remained at only 35-40. When Dr. Smedes left, the denomination's Home Missions Board decided it would not continue to provide financial support. However, Bethany CRC did continue significant support until the spring of 1955. By May of '55 several new families and individuals of Reformed background had moved to Champaign, so Home Missions was successfully petitioned to continue the work. At this time an existing church facility on 700 West Kirby Avenue was purchased from Temple Baptist Church .

Also in 1955, Hessel Park Church called Rev. Hugh Koops as its first minister. During this period community outreach was emphasized. Summer Vacation Bible Schools were launched. By 1959 Hessel Park was organized as an official Christian Reformed congregation, taking the name Hessel Park CRC and electing its first elders and deacons. There were 13 charter families, ten singles and 19 children.

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The 1960s

In 1960, after Rev. Koops left for doctoral studies in social ethics, Hessel Park remained without a pastor for two years. During this period membership declined from 16 families to 11. By 1962 half of the charter members had moved away. This highlights the high degree of transience which has always been a reality in the life of Hessel Park Church.

Another feature of Hessel Park was the primarily student-related membership. In light of this, the ministry increasingly focused on the University of Illinois over the next 15 years. It evolved into more of a campus ministry model, significantly funded by the CRC at large. In 1963 a student foundation was formed at UI, originally named Kappa Delta Delta (for kerygma, didache, diakonia). In 1966 it was renamed Calvin Student Foundation. The three ministers who served during this era viewed their role primarily as serving the student population, so they maintained an office and active counseling ministry on campus. In 1965 a proposal was even made to Home Missions to purchase the Unitarian property next to the University of Illinois quadrangle, but this was turned down for lack of funds (Hessel Park Church itself had a $155 deficit inits general fund at the time).

The three pastors during this era were Rev. Leonard Sweetman (1962-64, another who left to teach at Calvin College); Rev. Boelo Boelens (1964-69); and Rev. Marvin Hoogland (1969-74). Rev. Boelens was a forceful preacher who drew greater numbers of students, with 50-100 people worshipping on a Sunday morning. He was also deeply committed to community and social concerns as well as ecumenical relations with other campus ministries.

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The 1970s

When Rev. Boelens accepted a church call in the Netherlands, Hessel Park's future and viability were again in question. Doubts and discouragement among the church leadership were only increased by student unrest and the anti-establishment mood prevailing on campus at the end of the 1960's. Further, when Rev. Hoogland arrived his ministerial credentials were held up by his prior church. Until cleared by the Synod (the national assembly of the CRC) of 1970, he was preoccupied with these concerns. Rev. Hoogland noted that when he arrived three of the four council members were seriously considering resigning and "throwing in the towel" on the church. However a fresh influx of people, including current members Cliff and Priscilla Christians, helped revive the church's spirit.

In November, 1974 Rev. Arlan Menninga arrived. His experience establishing a congregation in Ames, Iowa, which sustained a ministry at Iowa State University, was especially helpful. Under his leadership a shift was made to rebuild a congregational base. This goal was furthered by a Missions Analysis and Projection survey conducted by CRC Home Missions. The resulting recommendation was that an indigenous congregation in Champaign-Urbana be established which could carry on full-scale ministry both on campus and in the community. To accomplish this Hessel Park Church adopted the denomination's Home Missions model for stages of church development. One shift entailed was forming a steering committee with the goal of electing a council again when the church was adequately developed. However, in 1980 Rev. Menninga left and a year of pastoral vacancy followed, during which Rev. Peter Ipema served as interim pastor.

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The 1980s and 1990s

In the fall of 1981 Rev. Jack Reiffer, from Garfield Church in Chicago, accepted Hessel Park's call as our seventh pastor. Under Rev. Reiffer's ministry Hessel Park was again established in 1983 as an "organized" congregation, electing elders and deacons. Around this time the current church facility was designed for the existing site; construction was completed in 1985. In 1991 the final stage under Home Missions was also completed. Currently Hessel Park Church receives some financial support from its classis (Chicago South) and the denominational Fund for Smaller Churches. During the past decade, serving with a steady stream of graduate students, Hessel Park reached a level of about 80-100 in worship attendance. The peak of official families was 30 in 1986; the peak of official members was 113 in 1991.

In the spring of 1996, Rev. Reiffer concluded nearly 15 years of ministry at Hessel Park, and moved to pastor the Washington DC CRC. Four months later Rev. Neil Jasperse arrived after 8 years of new church development in Santa Rosa, California. During his time at Hessel Park, the church went through a period of dialogue in which it negotiated differences in worship style and core values, arriving at a shared understanding of them. The church made explicit a commitment to a blended style of worship that includes aspects of the rich traditions of Christian and particularly Reformed worship as well as aspects of contemporary styles of worship that bring new life and celebration into the worship. The church also committed to a vision of ministry that speaks to the whole person, both heart and mind, and encourages people to live out their faith as a community of citizens of God's Kingdom, announcing His reign and rule in all aspects of their lives.

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Into the 21st Century

In the winter of 2001, Rev. Jasperse accepted a call to West Leonard CRC in Grand Rapids MI. Rev. Willis De Boer, a former Professor of Religion at Calvin College, agreed to be the interim pastor during the spring of 2001. Joyce Borger, a Calvin Seminary student, provided leadership over the summer as an intern pastor. In July, Hessel Park called candidate Timothy Bossenbroek, a recent Calvin Seminary graduate, to be their minister. Before attending Calvin Seminary, Tim and his wife Roxann had spent 2 years in Latin America working with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee. Tim began his ministry in August of 2001 and was ordained on September 31 of that year, in a service that was led by Rev. De Boer and that also commemorated the 50th anniversary of Rev. De Boer's ordination and 50 years of CRC ministry in Champaign-Urbana.

Ten years later, in September of 2011, the congregation celebrated 10 years of Pastor Tim's service to Hessel Park Church, as well as the 25th anniversary of the completion of the church building. It was a time of rededication for both Pastor Tim and the congregation, and celebrated his ministry to this church.

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