Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dominie’s Sikh Friend

Dominie’s Sikh Friend

George van Popta

There is style and there is class. Dominie may not have had much style, as the world considers style, but he had class.

Dominie had accepted a call to another church. At such a time we cover up the pain of separation with laughter. How could we be happy? This was the man whom God had sent to us to speak to us the Word of God every Sunday. We heard the voice of the Great Shepherd through His under-shepherd twice every Lord’s day. Because Dominie’s voice was so familiar, and his sermons somewhat predictable, we thought we knew him. We knew from the cadence of his heavily accented sentences when he was wrapping up the sermon—just the final song yet, and the benediction, and we’d soon be outside chatting, swapping stories, and laughing.

Dominie was not what you would call an especially stylish man. During all the years he preached to us he wore a grey suit. He may have replaced it with a new one once in a while, but we never noticed because the new one was identical to the previous.

Nothing stylish about Dominie. Even when he would drop by because of illness in the family or if someone needed encouragement, he’d wear a grey suit.

We thought we knew him, until his farewell evening.

As I said, when we are sad, we turn to laughter. To cover up our sadness.

The farewell evening had begun and was evolving in a predictable way. There was only one unusual thing that immediately caught everyone’s attention. Near the front of the church sat an old Sikh gentleman and his wife. We could tell he was a Sikh because he was wearing a turban. The turban happened to be pink. Later I was told it was, in fact, lavender.

The chairman of the men’s society, a serious man, ascended the pulpit. He read some scripture, prayed, and invited us to sing a well-known Psalm. On behalf of the men’s society, he spoke some kind words of farewell to Dominie, his wife, and the children, and then presented them with a gift, a beautiful painting of local scenery: “We don’t want you to forget this beautiful part of the country!”

This was followed by several presentations—women’s, young people’s, youth. And on it went, predictably and comfortably. The presentations alternated between funny, sad, and poignant. But mostly we laughed. When the elders and deacons performed a humorous skit about Dominie’s typical way of leading a meeting, we laughed heartily. When one of Dominie’s local colleagues told a story about Dominie at a classis meeting, we laughed so hard we thought our sides were going to burst.

After several hours, when everyone was good and ready for coffee and cake, the chairman of the men’s society ascended the pulpit once again. With gravity, he thanked everyone for coming, bade Dominie farewell once more, and asked if there was anyone whom he had missed, or who had not been on the program but yet wanted to say something. The Sikh gentleman stood up.

Well, this was interesting. Slowly, with age and dignity, he walked to the front of the church. He began to speak. This was very interesting. No one could remember a Sikh speaking in our church. He began to tell a story.

It had been a hot Summer afternoon when he and his wife were walking along the sidewalk. Suddenly overcome by heat, thirst, and exhaustion, he sat on a stone wall in front of a house. That house, as it turned out, was the Manse. Dominie was sitting in the shade reading the newspaper from the old country that had just come in the mail. He noticed the Sikh man sitting at the end of the driveway on the stone wall, and the man’s wife bending over him with a look of concern on her face.

Dominie got up to see if he could help. “My husband is very thirsty,” said the lady. “Could he please have some water?”

Dominie went to the house and came back with a pitcher of water and some glasses. He poured two glasses of water, and then he took a moment to speak about the other water, the living water that Jesus provides.

On that day Dominie and the Sikh became friends. The Sikh gentleman and his wife would drop by more often to talk with Dominie.

We never knew. We thought we knew our Dominie.

We all listened intently to the Sikh as he told us the story about our kind Dominie. He considered it an honour to count him a friend and wanted to give him a parting gift. The Sikh explained that it was their custom to give the turban they are wearing to their departing friend. The turban would be a reminder of their friendship. With that the Sikh removed the turban from his head, reached forward, and placed it on Dominie’s head. Dominie was mostly bald and had a smaller head than his Sikh friend, and so the turban sank down over Dominie’s forehead. It was a sight to behold! Our Dominie clothed in his trademark grey suit, the only way we had ever seen him in all the years he had ministered to us, wearing a lavender-colored turban.

No one laughed, snickered, or tittered. Instead, after a moment during which you could have heard a pin drop, the congregation slowly rose and began to clap. We did not know whether we were clapping for Dominie or the Sikh. Likely, we were clapping for the Lord. We had seen a remarkable thing.

Our immigrant congregation may not have had much style, but on that evening we had class.

Dominie wore the turban for the rest of the evening, during coffee and as we all came by his table to say farewell. He wore it with pride.

Dominie did not have much style, but he had a lot of class. And we thought we knew him.

There is style, and there is class.

*A true story which I experienced as an adolescent boy at the departure of a neighboring minister. This short story was inspired by Style and Class (1982), poems by Sietze Buning.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The New Book of Praise

(As published in the recent issue of Clarion)

The New Book of Praise

George van Popta

At long last, the new Book of Praise is printed and ready for shipment to the churches. Orders are being sent in to the publisher, and soon we will all be singing from the 2014 version. This is the third complete edition, after the 1984 and the 1972 editions, and the hope is that it will serve the churches for many years.
The committee is thankful for the tremendous amount of feedback, encouragement, and cooperation it has received from the churches throughout the past thirteen years, as well as the good guidance and leadership given by the General Synods convened during this time. Above all, praise and gratitude is due to our heavenly Father for providing the churches with a songbook that will be used weekly and daily, in church, school, and home, to praise his most holy Name.

The Book of Praise is rooted in our Reformed past. The first complete Genevan Psalter was published in French in 1562, and since then versions have appeared in many languages used by churches throughout the world.  When our parents and grandparents landed on these shores with the waves of immigration from the Netherlands after the Second World War, and felt obliged by the Lord to establish the Canadian Reformed Churches, they also felt strongly led to produce an English version of the Genevan Psalms. They had been singing them in Dutch all their lives and were not inclined to give them up. Acting in faith, some may say, audaciously, the far-flung federation of a handful of churches set out in the 1950s to produce an English Calvinistic songbook where the Psalms were to be set to the beloved Genevan tunes and which would also include hymns faithful to scripture. We are the heirs of our fathers’ vision.

2001 to 2013
The Standing Committee for the Publication of the Book of Praise of the Canadian Reformed Churches (yes, that is its real name; “SCBP” for short) received from recent synods the mandate to add some more hymns to the 65 of the 1984 Book of Praise, to revise and improve the Psalms, and, recently, to amend all the Biblical text references to the ESV (from the NIV). From the perspective of the SCBP it was an interesting task. It could be said that the whole federation was turned into a huge super-committee as the work progressed over the years from Synod 2001 to Synod 2013.
The most significant part of the work was the revision of the 150 Psalms. About fifty of them required little revision, about fifty needed some revision, and about fifty were completely redone. The SCBP was able to engage Dr. William Helder for this work. Many will know that Dr. Helder has been involved with the Book of Praise for many years. In his work, Dr. Helder did not especially use any one English translation of the Psalms; rather, he used a large number of English, Dutch, German, French, Latin, and other translations. At times ministers on the committee would give him a literal translation of the Hebrew from which he would then work, and the Hebrew scholars at CRTS were always ready and willing to help.
In 2010 Synod Burlington instructed the SCBP to publish an Authorized Provisional Version (APV) which the churches were then to use for three years and submit comments on to the committee. The result of this three year “test-drive,” comments to the committee, the report of the SCBP to Synod 2013, and the decisions of the Synod, is the new edition of our songbook.
APV to 2014 edition
To become more particular, the differences between the APV, 2010, and the new, 2014, edition can be summarized thus:
1.) Changes to the Psalms:
a. In about 20 stanzas in the Psalm section some words, or a couple of lines, have been changed as
compared with the APV.
b. In Psalm 17 significant changes were made to the text of stanza 5.
c. Psalm 25:6 was replaced with entirely new text.
d. Psalm 81:6 was also replaced with entirely new text.
e. In Psalm 90 the first stanza has been changed back to the 1984 version and the second stanza has been deleted. Consequently this Psalm is significantly different from that found in the APV.
2.) Changes to the text of the hymns:
a. In about five stanzas some words, or a couple of lines, have been changed as compared with the APV.
b. The lyrics of Hymns 58 and 77 have received significant and substantial changes.
3.) Changes to the melodies of the hymns:
When the SCBP, in the APV, returned many of the melodies to their original composition, some churches objected to the changes. The Committee, being sensitive to these objections and not wanting the music of the Book of Praise to be a divisive issue, recommended to Synod 2013 that some of the corrections be undone. Synod adopted these recommendations and added others as well. Undoubtedly, the local organists will point these out to their respective congregations.

Once a church has decided to adopt the new edition for use in the worship services it will not be possible for members to continue using the APV. The significant changes to the text of the Psalms and hymns as well as to the melodies of the hymns make it impossible to use the two versions together without creating confusion in the worship service. Using both songbooks at the same time to sing would be unedifying for the worship service because of the difference in some lyrics. Similarly, the changes to music, rests, and fermatas in some of the hymns would also be a cause for unnecessary confusion. Further, due to content and formatting changes in the 2014 Book of Praise, the page numbering in the two editions is no longer the same. The APV and the new edition are not compatible.

Premier Publishing has also produced a digital version (a tagged PDF) which can be bought and downloaded from This version is suitable for tablets and smartphones.
A few churches project the text of the Psalms and hymns in the worship service. While the SCBP had originally expected that the tagged PDF would be suitable for this use, some have indicated that this may not be the case. The SCBP will be discussing this at its Fall meeting and is committed to accommodating the needs of the churches that make use of projectors.

The SCBP is thankful that the Book of Praise continues to be a blessing to the church of Christ. Above all, may our God be “enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3) also through the use of our songbook. To him alone be all glory, now and forever!

Rev. George van Popta has served as chairman of the SCBP since 2001 and is due to retire from the committee in 2016.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sermon on Psalm 91

The sermon I preached this past Sunday on Psalm 91 is available here.

And here is the Sons of Korah song of the Psalm.