The Free Reformed Church of Launceston @ 70 Years

15 February 2023 by Wes Bredenhof

On February 15, 1953, the Free Reformed Church of Launceston was instituted.  Together with Albany and Armadale in Western Australia, Launceston is one of the legacy FRCA congregations.  Up until 1981, these three churches made up the entire bond of the FRCA. 

Like the other legacy churches, Launceston began through post-war Dutch immigration.  After World War II and the German occupation, the Netherlands was in a desperate state.  The economy was going to take a long while to recover, housing was in short supply, and infrastructure was in shambles.  The Netherlands encouraged its citizens to migrate overseas.  Countries such as Canada and Australia were eager to receive them. 

But why Launceston?  Many Dutch immigrants to Australia got off the boat at Fremantle and were quite content to just remain in WA.  So why did some keep going to far off Tasmania? 

Interestingly, it largely had to do with a professor at a university in Rotterdam.  Dr. Boerman was a professor of economic geography and he was quite interested in the hydroelectric developments in Tasmania.  One of his students was a certain Jacobus (Jack) VanderRos.  He caught the enthusiasm of his professor and so, when he was looking to migrate, he fixed his attention on our fair isle.  He convinced a few others that Tasmania would be a great place for Dutch migrants to settle.  It would be easy to find work, the climate was rather civilized, and the cost of living was reasonable.  Some of the first families to arrive in the early 1950s were the Numans, the Hamelinks, Klaas Salomons, Jack and Janny VandeRos, and Jan and Hennie Kroeze.  The last two couples were married soon after their arrival in Tasmania.

Before leaving the Netherlands, their church leaders had urged these first migrants to search for an existing true church of Christ where they could become members.  They did, but they reportedly had no success.  Thus they said they were left with no other option than to institute a new Reformed church in the city of Launceston.  That happened on February 15, 1953. 

The new church met at first in a room at the Queen Victoria Art Gallery on Wellington Street.  Some years later, after further growth, worship services were held at the Windmill Hill Memorial Hall on High Street, next to the Aquatic Centre.  When the John Calvin School opened in 1963 on Howick Street, the church began to hold its worship services there.  This lasted until 1975, when the church moved into its current building.

Including the incumbent, the church has been served by seven pastors.  The first – and longest serving – was Rev. G. VanRongen (1955-1973).  He can be rightly said to have been instrumental in God’s hands in getting the church on its feet.  He was followed by Rev. A.H. Dekker (1975-1980) and Rev. K. Jonker (1981-1991).  Unfortunately, the next two pastorates were tumultuous.  During the ministry of Rev. F. VanHulst (1994-1999) there was a sad departure of a significant number of members, including Rev. VanHulst.  Rev. Zuiddam (2000-2002) had but a short tenure before departing as well.  More stability finally came to the congregation with the arrival of Rev. Richard Eikelboom in 2005.  He served Launceston until 2012.  The undersigned began his ministry here in 2015.

Though it is a legacy church in the FRCA, Launceston has often led the way.  Una Sancta is considered to be the unofficial magazine of the FRCA.  The magazine was born here in Launceston at the initiative of Klaas Salomons, with the help of G. Numan and Jack VanderRos.  It first appeared in September of 1953.  Una Sancta eventually moved to the West in 1962.

Today our membership stands at nearly 280 total members, consisting of 112 addresses.  The average age is 30 – making us quite youthful for 70 years old!  While the church was begun by Dutch immigrants, today it reflects far more the diversity of our city.  I often describe it as the most Australian of the Free Reformed Churches.

One of the temptations in writing history is to gloss over the dark spots.  We ought to be honest.  There have been many difficult times in our church’s 70 year history.  Immigration was unimaginably challenging and compounded by the traumas experienced by many in the Second World War.  There were times when situations were not handled correctly.  There was heartbreak, hurt, and tragedy, sometimes due to circumstances beyond our control.  Our history includes much human sinfulness and weakness.  However, at the end the church is still here.  This is not owing to our efforts, but to the grace and mercy of Christ, the one who gathers, defends, and preserves his church.            

What does the future hold for FRC Launceston?  Will the church still be here in another 70 years?  God has given us no assurances of that.  What he has given us is the call to continue to hold forth the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only hope for sinners.  Today almost all the first generation of church members is gone.  The mantle of promoting the gospel for the glory of God falls now to their children and especially their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  The mantle also falls on those many members who have been engrafted into our church from elsewhere.  Together may we all continue to make much of the great God of our salvation.  For 70 years we say:   Soli Deo Gloria – to God alone be the glory.