A Historic Congregation

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.” (Psalm 16:6)

The life and work of Third Church are best summarized by the motto: 

To Know Christ and To Make Christ Known. Such was the inspiration behind the history and architecture of Third Church in the past and is the influence undergirding the worship, service, and outreach that continues to characterize Third Church in the present.

The Third Reformed Church was organized on September 9, 1867, under the leadership of Dr. Albertus C. VanRaalte, founder of the city of Holland, Michigan, and pastor of the First Reformed Church. Considering it necessary to have a Reformed Church in the western part of the city, he gave four lots as a site for a new church, and members of the First Reformed Church who lived west of Market Street (Central Avenue) became the nucleus of the new congregation. Although this new church was Holland’s second Dutch immigrant congregation affiliated with the Reformed Church, it was called “Third” Reformed Church because Hope Reformed Church, a non-immigrant English-speaking congregation, had been founded in 1862.

The first sanctuary of the congregation was burned in the fire which destroyed two-thirds of the city of Holland on October 9, 1871. While a second structure was in the process of erection, its framework was demolished in a high wind on January 2, 1873. With the financial help of many donors in the East and the Middle West, the present structure was completed in November of 1874. The building under went extensive restoration as part of the centennial celebration of 1967 and 1968.

Certain characteristic sand attitudes have prevailed in the life and work of Third Church through the years. The congregation has developed an avid interest in both the foreign and the home mission endeavors of the Reformed Church in America. It has shared generously in a great number of benevolent programs, and, in particular, has faithfully supported the local educational institutions of Hope College and Western Theological Seminary. Many members of the church have, as part of their Christian witness, assumed responsibilities in the political, educational, and business life of the city. Isaac Cappon, who served on the first consistory, was the first mayor of Holland in 1867 and the first president of the school board in 1874.

The congregation is rooted in the Reformed tradition, tracing our roots back to the theology of John Calvin. In recent decades it has lived with an ecumenical ethos, working extensively with faith-based and community partners. Reformed and continuously reforming, Third Church is always adopting new procedures and methods in church life and witness. This congregation, for example, was the first Dutch immigrant church in the city to use English exclusively in its worship services and is now seeking to serve its neighborhood with services in English and in Spanish. Having solid roots yet continually reforming is a key element in our DNA.

The Third Church building is a handsome and aesthetically pleasing variant of the nineteenth-century Gothic known as carpenters’ Gothic. The liturgical furniture is not original to the construction of 1874 but was placed there in 1952. The furniture comes from St. Nicholas Collegiate Church in New York City. The pulpit was commissioned by Mrs. Robert Todd Lincoln, daughter-in-law of President Abraham Lincoln. The Robert Sipe organ, installed in the balcony in 1982, is the third organ in use by the church. It is a vital component of the service of worship at Third Church.