60 years John Calvin School in Albany

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Earlier this month the Albany John Calvin School’s 60th anniversary was celebrated by our brothers and sisters in Albany. There was certainly much reason for this. The LORD, our covenant God, had richly blessed the feeble beginnings to establish a reformed school in faithfulness to Him! The LORD’s blessings remain a witness of God’s goodness towards His people throughout the six decades of the school. And the commitment He worked in the Free Reformed pioneers is worth remembering.

Why was it that our forebears in Albany sacrificed so much at a time when they were struggling to establish themselves in this new country? Most had arrived almost penniless, had growing families, encountered employment difficulties, struggled to pay for such necessities as food and clothing and shelter. They had called and received a minister and were paying his stipend and manse. And yet, on top of all this, they committed themselves to establishing a school.

I asked Br Jan Eikelboom about this. He was in the Albany’s School Board at the time and recalls how the Board members had talked about and collected money for months but just didn’t seem to have enough. Finally, one board member threatened to walk out unless each board member set the example and agreed to pay one pound per week for the school. That was in the late 1950s, a time when the basic wage was about ten pounds per week and some church members struggled to find employment. Ten percent of their wages, just for the school!

At that time Rev Piet van Gurp was the minister in Albany and a couple of years ago he published his autobiography in which he includes those early events relating to the school.[i] He said it was so great to see the commitment for the school by the church community. And it was a great event, he added, when land was eventually purchased on North Road and two classrooms were built—rooms which could also be combined to allow for church services.

Early school life. Photo courtesy JCS Albany website.

Until teachers could be found, the rooms were used for Saturday school.  While the children were attending the state school, they would come together again on Saturday and Rev van Gurp and a couple of other church members would teach the children Biblical History, Dutch language and Church History. The children, says Rev van Gurp, attended with pleasure and felt at HOME! After some time, two teachers were obtained from the Netherlands—Br Geert Spyker and Sr Corrie Douw. And so it was that the official opening finally took place 8th February, 1962.

All this effort, commitment and dedication was because the people realised that this is what the LORD required of them. And He required it not just of the parents but the whole church community. Rev van Gurp writes:

“The future of the church stands or falls with the nurturing of the youth. Hence, from the very beginning there was a school association. It was self-evident that not only were the parents expected to be members but all the church members. Yes, also the young confessing members. It would require much money to begin an own reformed school and then it was definitely important that the entire church congregation should get used to the fact that every week anew much money would need to be put aside for this”.

There were Australians who were concerned about the church and school becoming a Dutch enclave. The church members were at pains to make clear that this wasn’t a Dutch school which sought to remain isolated merely to hold onto Dutch traditions, but an Australian school in the same way as Roman Catholics were Australians but had their own schools. Hence the school association invited Australian dignitaries to the opening ceremony where Rev van Gurp explained the real purpose for establishing our own school.

Rev van Gurp’s address at the opening of the Albany John Calvin School in 1962

Your worship Mr. Mayor, Hon. Mr Thompson and Mr. Hall, Mr Chapple, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Brothers and Sisters.

Mr. Chairman, I gladly accept your invitation to move a vote of thanks to His Worship the Mayor for the function performed by him this afternoon by opening our school.

It is a great honour indeed to us that the head of the local government has accepted the invitation to open the school. And we do appreciate your readiness to open this school.

There are two reasons why it is important that the Mayor opened our school – and why we are grateful for his willingness to do so.

First: it means that we have the opportunity to express our warm and sincere loyalty to the lawful government. As members of the church we are being taught by the Word of God that we should honour the authorities as they are ordained by God. And the school is closely connected with the Church. So the education in the school aims at bringing the children to accept the authority given by God. They are taught to fear God and honour the King, as the Bible says, or in other words, they are being brought up as true Australians, in loyalty to H.M. the Queen and the Government. And we are very glad indeed that by your presence here we have the opportunity to show that a good Christian is a good citizen and that a School with the Bible works in the real national interest. There is one more reason why we are glad that Your Worship performed this ceremony. This school is called the School with the Bible. As such it is closely connected with the Church. The education in this school has a special purpose. Its aim is that the children accept their calling as Christians. It also instructs them in order that they may be able to live as Christians and take their part in building up this our nation.

Perhaps people may think that in being sent to their own school, our children are segregated from the rest of the people. And in a certain sense they are right. For we confess that the children are separated from the children of the world.

But it does not imply that they should not become real Australian citizens, that they should not take their part in building this our nation.

On the contrary, we believe that the best service we can render our country, is to teach our children to live like Christian citizens.

We do not claim that the children of this school are better than other children. Far from that. But what we do claim is that this instruction is what the nation needs in order to survive. We claim that the education, the whole education, should be centred around the Bible – and we are sure that in that way only we contribute to the real welfare of our country.

And again, Mr Mayor, your presence here this afternoon, together with the parliamentary representatives of our district and the representative of the Department of Education, and especially your readiness to open our school, emphasizes our ideal that in bringing up the children as Christians we take part in building this our nation.

So again we want to thank you heartily for what you have done for us.

Mr Chairman, I would like to add a few words on behalf of the Church Council.

Early school life. Photo from JCS Albany website.

You know that the Education Association can be called the daughter of the Church. So on this day when the daughter is presented to the world and is ready to go her own way, we are very happy that she has grown to what we see here. Going her own way – of course – does not mean that the strong ties between Church and school are broken now. We are very glad indeed that we can be sure that the children of the church are being taught to live like Christians. Not only on Sundays or in a Sunday school, but in full life.

I am sure that many people don’t agree with me when I emphasize the need for Christian schools as opposed to the neutral government school. I do not think this is the time and the place to go further into this controversy, we all know that especially the question of state aid to private schools is a tricky one. I will confine myself to a few remarks on the character of this school.

Education – so the laws of the country tell us – is “free, compulsory and secular”.

Free – every parent can send his child to the school provided by the government without having to pay school fees.

Compulsory – the parent is obliged to send his child to school until school leaving age.

Secular – according to the Oxford Concise dictionary, as related to education: “sceptical of religious truth or opposed to religious education”. Free – compulsory – secular.

It would make quite an interesting study to arrange these three basic qualities of the education laws in pairs: free – compulsory – secular, and to consider their implications and apparent contradictions. Take for instance the word secular: sceptical of or even opposed to religious truths. Of course, the law adds that this secular instruction “should include general religious teaching as distinct from dogmatical or polemical theology” – but the fact remains that free education at the same time is compulsory; and that it is secular is for the Christian parent and teacher, to say the least, a matter of serious reflection.

What should Christian instruction contain? We believe that it is far different than secular instruction plus a few Bible lessons and prayers. The whole education should be God-centred.

What is the purpose of the education? God-centred, or man-centred?

We believe that the child should be prepared for a life with Christ. That all the subjects, being taught at school, should aim at such a life with Christ. That the whole program, as regards its purpose, its content and method, should take its inspiration and guidance from God’s Word. A school with the Bible! How can we expect our children, when grown up, to shine as stars in the darkness of this age, as the apostle Paul says, if we do not give them the light of the gospel to carry in their hearts? And we wonder why the members of nearly all protestant denominations send their children to secular institutions.

It is very interesting to know the history of Australian education. It shows among other things that in the first years of Australian history all the schools were Christian and church controlled. In those days these denominational schools were assisted by state funds. It did not take long before the States built up a general system of education. And one after the other the denominational schools vanished.

I think that it was caused by the liberal belief, fed by rationalistic thinking, that religion is a private affair, without political significance, and that the state is the instrument to redeem mankind from misery.

We maintain that there is no part in our life, in politics, in our work, in family life, in science and wherever you may go – no part which is not under the dominion of Jesus Christ.

May this our school then be faithful to its purpose and calling.

May God bless this our school.

The parents have entrusted the teachers with the care for their children. The teachers will be able to perform their duties – the school will reach its aim – the school will prosper and be a blessing to our nation.

On this one condition only – and may God grant both the committee and the teachers and the parents the faith to fulfill this condition – on this one condition: that we take our children as children of God we know them to be – and that we keep hold of the cross of Jesus Christ – and if we hold fast both the children and the cross we will prosper and God will keep us.

Celebrations

Following Rev van Gurp’s speech, and speeches by various local and state dignitaries and others, there were festivities, including sports activities and, of course, treats to eat. It was a wonderful party wherein the entire congregation celebrated in thankfulness to the LORD.

A more recent photo of the late Rev Piet van Gurp (born 16 Sept. 1921, passed into glory 26 Nov. 2021).

Rev van Gurp recalls how right from the beginning the church members saw how important it was for the children of the church to be nurtured in a responsible, Scriptural way. That was, according to the Church Order, even the Church Council’s task — not for it to establish the school itself, but for it to stimulate the church members to do so. And, adds Rev van Gurp, that meant that also the minister had the task to do this in his sermons. (I know from personal experience that Rev Bruning and Rev van Rongen also did this – JN.)

It was indeed a wonder of God’s grace that these immigrants, who still had to establish themselves in their new environment, were each prepared to offer financial sacrifices. The struggles in finding employment; in providing for a minister and a manse; and in obtaining food, clothing and shelter for their growing families, did not stop the whole congregation from pitching in to provide reformed education, including salaries for two full-time teachers. They saw it as a privilege and necessity, and trusted that the LORD would provide because it was for the sake of the glory of His name and the furtherance of His kingdom.

Yes, the institution was a wonderful blessing from the LORD, our God! And a great blessing from Him it continues to be today!

 

[i] Piet van Gurp, Levensboek, Dalfsen, The Netherlands, 2020 (about the school see especially pages 159-164, 192-194; Rev van Gurp’s address, in English, is on pp. 162-163).