The Houston Christian Reformed Church is celebrating their 75th anniversary this year.
The church started with two families from Holland meeting in the Jaarsma home at Barrett Station in 1938.
As more families moved to the area, the church grew and moved to homes closer to town. Families from as far as Barrett Station would walk up to four miles along the train tracks to meet together on Sundays.
For most of 1939, the Dutch Christians met at Norman Groot’s home by the Morice River Road.
Lucy Lieuwen, a charter member of the church, says the Groot family would empty their home of furniture and make pews inside with two logs of firewood and a board across the top.
Lieuwen says she remembers a mirror on the wall in the Groot home, and one Sunday her brother Ralph and sister Jenny caught eyes in the mirror and started making faces. They fooled around that service, but Lieuwen says from that Sunday on, the mirror was turned around on the wall.
Every Sunday, the group held two church services, enjoying packed lunches and visiting together between services.
They sang songs led by the pump organ, and instead of ministers, men in the church took turns reading published sermons. About four times a year a pastor would visit from another area and give a message.
Dedicated to learning English, the church asked visiting pastors who knew English to do one service in Dutch and the second in English. By 1958, less then 20 years after the church started, they were holding only one service a month in Dutch and the rest in English.
The first Christian Reformed Church was built in March 1940 by the Morice River Road.
Charter members Evelyn Jaarsma and Lucy Lieuwen said building the church was the top priority for the families that first came to this area from Holland.
“Their faith was very important to them,” Jaarsma said.
“We wanted a place to worship God,” she said.
That first church stood for seven years, but burned down in November 1947, causing them to move services to the Houston Community Hall.
Ann Karsten, another charter member, says she remembers watching mice scurry around the community hall during Sunday services at that time.
Every Sunday after church, the children and youth met for Sunday School and Catechism in the Anglican Church, which is now part of the museum in Steelhead Park but used to stand beside the Community Hall.
In 1948, the church families built a new church on Highway 16 where the Houston Christian School playground is now.
They also built a parsonage, which was occupied a year later by the first minister, Reverend H.S. Koning.
Transportation was different back in those days.
Lieuwen remembers J.C. Brienen used to load his wife and three sons onto a tractor for the drive to church.
Many of the families who lived in Houston crowded onto Norman Vriend’s flat deck truck for the ride to church.
Jaarsma remembers an earthquake shaking up one Sunday service in 1964.
A song board hanging on the wall started swaying back and forth and pews vibrated.
Frances Lieuwen stood up and shouted “It’s an earth-cake!”
Jaarsma says everyone stayed sitting and things settled down fairly quickly, as the quake only lasted a few seconds.
At that time Houston was very small, with three stores, a hotel, garage, post office and school.
The church wasn’t the only thing that these early Dutch families built.
Jaarsma says many members of the Christian Reformed Church volunteered their time and were involved in committees in the community.
“They had a vision: they wanted to organize a Christian Reformed Church and they wanted to be part of the community and help build the town,” Jaarsma said.
Church members were part of 4-H, the Auxiliary Police, Farmers Institute, Women’s Institute, Library, Legion, Citizens on Patrol, the Morice Mountain Ski Trails and the Salvation Army Thrift Store.
They played significant roles in expanding the town and opening the Credit Union, Co-op, Fire Department, Ambulance and Health Centre, RCMP and more.
Now church members are still highly involved in a variety of organizations in the community, including Search and Rescue, Cattlemen’s, Love by the Bowl, the Community Garden, and the Retirement Housing Society.
The Christian Reformed Church that now stands proudly on the hill up Goold Road, was built in 1990.
Looking back over the 75 years, Lieuwen says it’s amazing.
“God has really blessed us during these years. If we think of how we started, and how things are now – families are so well-to-do and we have a beautiful church building – we’ve been very blessed all these years,” she said.
Jaarsma agrees, adding that some families have five generations who have grown up in Houston and been part of the Houston CRC.
“It really shows God’s faithfulness through all these years,” she said.
With files from “Marks on the Forest Floor,” 1971