1978 AACS Niagara Conference
Perspective Report by five Chatham Families
On the morning of Friday, August 4, the campus of Niagara Christian College was a scene of tranquility — large buildings and freshly cut lawns underneath generation-old trees, beside the fast flowing Niagara River. Standing there, one would never imagine that four hours later these grounds would be a bustling community of one thousand people.
At 2:00 p.m. tenters, campers and hitchhikers started to arrive from every direction. By 9:00 p.m. some 800 people had arrived to attend the opening session of the 20th annual AACS Ontario conference. These numbers swelled to one thousand by the next morning. Old friends saw each other again for the first time since last year’s conference. Many new faces were introduced from one end of the campgrounds to the other. Over one hundred people were attending an AACS conference for their first time, while one family was there for the twentieth consecutive time.
The conference was opened by Morris Greidanus, the chairman, who kept us laughing for three days, and Alice Greidanus (Morris’ partner) who began to mould conferees into one mass choir. We learned new songs and shouted out the old favourites, accompanied by Syd Hielema on the piano, Henry Westendorp, Bill Kaptein and Joe Wiersma on the guitars, and Ed de Jong on the drums. By the end of the conference, Alice’s voice was gone and conferees were beginning to whisper because of sore throats.
Saturday morning Dr. George Vandervelde, Senior Member in theology at ICS, set the tone for the conference with his eloquent lecture on “The Pregnant Present and the Pull of the Future: The Contours of Hope.” He outlined why hope among present day Christians seems to be waning. Christians, either discouraged by a future crowded with problems of hunger, overpopulation and threats of war; or lulled to sleep by prosperity; or grown weary of waiting for Christ’s seemingly delayed return; or perhaps intensely involved with urgent kingdom work here and now, seem to have lost the joyful longing and hope of the early Christians for Christ’s return .
For Christians, according to Vandervelde, there is no present without a future, just as there is no future without a present. He emphasized that the Kingdom of Christ is very real and very much present in the world, but that at the same time it is also hidden, opposed and contradicted. The Kingdom is constantly straining to be uncovered, outward in the present, but also onward into the future until the final victory and full revelation of the Kingdom in all its glory, with Christ as Lord. The church then is like the pregnant woman who works and prepares for her coming child, busy at work, yet expectant — living toward the day of Christ’s coming.
While adult conferees discussed and struggled together with the theme of living in the Kingdom, the children and young people were involved in many different activities, games and trips, superbly organized by the St. Catharines, Sarnia and Chatham AACS chapters.
On Saturday, and again on Monday afternoon, our searching continued with the aid of workshop leaders who addressed themselves to various aspects of Christian living.
Dr. Spykman, Professor of Theology at Calvin College, spoke on “The Church’s Marching Orders.” Spykman raised some questions the church must face if it is to prepare God’s people for the present and the future. He emphasized the need of the church to teach future generations the reality that God is restoring all things, and to open up for them the vision of a new heaven and a new earth.
Dr. Steen, director of Christian Educational Services in Pennsylvania, spoke on “Cultures and Counter-Cultures,” concentrating on the book of Revelation. His tremendous enthusiasm and commitment to the cause of Christ and His Kingdom, in spite of his continual struggle with serious illness, was an inspiration and encouragement to all conferees. Steen urged us not to look back to a “golden age” but go look forward to the task God has given us until He returns. He spoke of the task of the state to do justice and warned of popular movements that revolt against the state, against taxation and against industrialization. He challenged us to use and mould modern society in such a way that it prepares for Christ’s return.
Dr. Skillen, Associate Professor of Political Science at Dordt College, spoke on politics. Our hope in politics, he suggested, lies in our striving to obtain justice for all citizens. Our politicians must hear this from us. What can we as individuals do to reach such a lofty goal? Skillen emphasized the need to make politics a priority item first of all by becoming informed through reading and studying. Secondly, we can support the organized political efforts of organizations such as the Committee for Justice and Liberty (Canada) and the Association for Public Justice (U.S.A.). Finally we can let others know about our views and why we hold them by joining neighbourhood associations, and writing letters to newspaper editors and to our elected officials. All these grand schemes are not impossible if we remember for whom we strive.
On Saturday afternoon the conferees were in for a surprise and a treat. Through the hard work of a number of Toronto women, a fellowship festival took place. There were games for every age group and all participated. Toddlers played in small swimming pools, preschoolers made puppets, six to eight year olds worked cleverly with skil-saws, and both children and adults competed in contests and races of every kind. The fellowship festival climaxed with a communal supper served to the one thousand conferees. Hot dogs, chili burgers, salad plates and watermelons were devoured in unbelievable quantities. Cake and cookies offset whatever the health food salad plates did. No one seemed to mind even the half hour wait in the line up. This mammoth project taken on by a few contributed much to the spirit of fellowship which so clearly stood out at this twentieth AACS conference.
Following the festival we were treated to a concert by James Ward and Michael Blanchard. These two young talented musicians sang and played in a new way the praise and glory of God and told the story of newness brought about by the redeeming work of the Saviour. Their style of music challenged the old notions of the generation gap. The efforts of these two talented musicians to be christianly busy in this part of the arts was universally applauded by both young and old.
Conferees, like flowers, never sleep — they just fade away. From eleven o’clock in the evening till two o’clock the next morning conferees sang and kept people awake for miles around. Twelve year olds wished their parents good night and sang for another hour. First-time conferees wondered if they would survive the weekend while six-month old children, camped next to the auditorium, slept like babies. At two a.m. some four hundred people were still singing.
In spite of the late nights the conferees awoke early to attend the Sunday morning worship service. We were joined by people from area churches and by participants attending a seminar at the Institute. Rev. Morris Greidanus preached on the topic “Living Hope” from the book of Revelation.
In the afternoon Dr. Seerveld, Senior Member in Aesthetics at the Institute, spoke to a crowded auditorium on “A Cloud of Witnesses and a New Generation.” In good reformed tradition he began by listing his three points. Those who were privileged to hear Dr. Seerveld will know that his beautiful command of the English language is anything but traditional.
In flowing eloquence Seerveld outlined why the AACS began. He read from Psalm 78 and Malachi 3. Psalm 78 is a folk song of Asaph which recounts the great saving acts of God as He liberated His people. That same kind of trembling wonderment, said Seerveld, was in the air about twenty years ago when board chairman Rev. F. Guillaume spoke of the absolute necessity of bringing together reformed scholars and students in a yearly conference in order to deepen and strengthen their awareness of the necessity for reformed scientific studies. Underlying this need was the vision for an institute where reformed courses would be taught from day to day.
Seerveld explained that the Institute today tries to pass on the insights of the still reforming reformation to younger generations so that young and old can struggle anew with what God’s will is for human life, and so that our children can live more obediently as the Lord prepares to come. Seerveld closed by giving thanks not to men but to our covenant God for the celebration of the 20th AACS conference which brought us all together.
That evening Rev. Greidanus again led us in a worship service of response and thanksgiving. Individuals contributed with music, poetry or just thanking God for His never-ending faithfulness. At 10:30 the chairman announced that there would be no more singing due to the late hour of the night before and to give the leaders and musicians some much needed rest. Sighs of disappointment and plans to picket his sleeping quarters greeted this announcement.
Monday morning Vandervelde gave his final lecture entitled “The Content of Our Hope.” He spoke of the need to see with the eyes of faith, so that we can see blessings and the way the Lord has used the work of His people. He went on to remind us that God’s final judgement will light up the work that we do in faith, and that we must continue to see that only through Christ does our work take on any meaning. We were reminded that only God ushers in the Kingdom. It is not up to us. But we must respond with the talents that He has given us, working faithfully until the very end, knowing that our work here is never lost.
Monday afternoon we once more joined together for the final closing. Prolonged applause showed everyone’s appreciation for the hard work of the conference organizers — especially Kerry and Marcia Hollingsworth (conference coordinators), Alice Greidanus (our never-tiring song leader) , and Morris Greidanus (our capable chairman, never at a loss for the right word at the right time). Finally we thanked God for the opportunity to struggle together, to worship together, and to praise Him together as a small segment of the body of Christ. It was good to have discussed together that God ushers in His Kingdom at His time, and to be reminded that He gives us talents to use so that we may work in anticipation of the final day when all things shall be new.