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End of Era as Denominational Building Closes

July 3, 2024
Zach King speaks to guests during a celebration service to mark the closing of the CRCNA offices on the corner of 28th street and Kalamazoo Ave. in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Zach King speaks to guests during a celebration service to mark the closing of the CRCNA offices on the corner of 28th street and Kalamazoo Ave. in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Some 100 people took the opportunity on Thursday, June 27, to take a final tour of the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s denominational building in Grand Rapids, Mich. 

Concluding the tour was a special worship service marking the sale and end of activity at the structure, which had opened in 1956. Over the years several additions were made to the original building.

“It really is the end of an era,” said Harvey Kiekover, who served for many years as a missionary in Nigeria for Christian Reformed World Missions, now part of Resonate Global Mission.

“The church is going in a new direction,” Kiekover added after visiting an area of the building in which he once worked. “We don’t need this space anymore. The work is done.”

At 130,000 square feet, the headquarters for the CRCNA in the U.S. had become too large over the past several years as the number of employees working in the building dropped from more than 200 to about 70 today, said Jonathan Bradford, a consultant who helped denominational leaders through the process of putting the structure up for sale. 

“This building has served the denomination phenomenally for so many years,” said Bradford, a member of Church of Servant CRC in Grand Rapids. “But the needs for that much space have changed for a host of reasons.”

The move of programs, offices, and ministries to other locations and the dissolution of the church’s publication and literature distribution ministries have played key roles in the need to find a smaller and more economical location in which to continue the CRCNA’s ministry work in the United States.

According to a CRC News announcement in April, Meijer Inc., a local grocery and department store chain, has filed plans with the city of Grand Rapids to convert the CRCNA property into a gas station and convenience store.

The new location for the CRC’s U.S. headquarters, said Bradford, will be in a 25,000 square-foot office building on East Beltline NE that housed classrooms and offices for Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids. Until that space is renovated, employees will be working from a Reformed Church in America space in Grand Rapids.

“I’m looking forward to working in the new office,” said Chris Schoon, who serves as the U.S. director of Thrive. “We won’t all be so scattered in different areas. We will be more integrated and more able to collaborate. I think we’ll see a better use of our resources.”

As the tour of the denominational building started, Bob and Cindy Dozema checked out a table in the atrium on which a number of historic photos were displayed. Before they arrived, Cindy Dozema said, she was certain she had never been to the building.

But then she saw a large photo, taken many years ago, of a class of fifth-grade students from Zeeland Christian School who had come to Grand Rapids to visit the facility. Looking at the photo, Cindy found herself in one of the rows of her classmates. “There I am!” she told her husband.

The couple, who attend Oakland CRC in Holland, Mich., came to the final tour, in part, as a way to honor the denomination that has meant so much to them over the years. Among other things, they are longtime volunteers with World Renew’s Disaster Response Services.

“It’s bittersweet to be here and to think of the times when things were a lot bigger,” said Bob Dozema, a retired truck driver. “At the same time, you realize all of the things that can be accomplished when people join together in ministry.”

Cindy Dozema, who worked in the health-care industry, added: “I’m so thankful to think of all that our church has been able to do for people all over the world. Hopefully that will still happen through the new location.”

Dean Heetderks, codirector of the CRC’s Ministry Support Services, offered a history of the denominational building during the worship service that day. 

“It took a lot of time for us to get here,” he said, adding that the CRC Synod of 1945 made the decision to find a location on which to build a new denominational headquarters.

Subsequent synods kept the goal alive until Synod 1953 decided to purchase the site at Kalamazoo Avenue SE and 28th Street SE, then a fairly undeveloped area on the edge of the growing city of Grand Rapids.

“By the good hand of God,” said Heetderks, “the building was completed in 1956, and new space was already added on the south of the building in 1967.”

At one time, said Heetderks, hundreds of employees used the building as the mainstay of their ministries, ranging from the publications of books and other materials to mission work in North America and beyond as well as internationally focused radio and Internet ministries.

“So much has changed, including work habits, over the years,” Heetderks said. “But through it all our calling to serve the church has remained.”

Zachary King, general secretary of the CRCNA, helped to conclude the service with a reflection and prayer. “It is good to get together to remember all of the good people who have worked and passed through here,” he said.

He then read from Psalm 126, a song of ascent and joy, which reads, in part, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’”

This psalm, King said, recounts the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. For them, it was a challenging journey, in some ways like the difficulties we face today.

“It was an up-and-down journey,” said King. “They had to cross hills and mountains, but when they arrived, they were able to celebrate and lament and pray” and to express gratitude for the Lord’s blessings.

The CRCNA has also been on an up-and-down journey. “We have not followed a straight path. There have been cul de sacs and breakdowns,” said King. “But we thank God for all of the good work that has been done here for nearly 70 years, as well as the good work that is to be done in the new place where we are going.”