Rev. Paula Vander Hoven
Interim Pastor, North Kent Presbyterian Church
My grandmother, Cornelia Feringa, was born in Grand Rapids of brand new immigrant parents in 1894. Very early on her family moved north to a small community south of Cadillac and her father cleared land for a farm. She received some basic education in the local schools, but her most treasured education came from the church, where she learned songs and Psalms that she would sing and quote for the rest of her life.
When she was about sixteen years old, she felt a call to be a nurse and took a nursing course by correspondence. In 1911 she became one of the very first nurses at “The Association for Mentally Ill and Nervous People,” much later to become Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services” in Cutlerville. It was a new concept in the care of mentally ill patients patterned after hospitals in the Netherlands. Rather than using chains, strait jackets, isolation or beatings to control unruly patients in the days before modern mediations, Cornelia talked with them calmly and read scripture and sang to them. She taught them to knit baby blankets and brought in guest musicians. One of the guest musicians was a young Dutch immigrant named John Vanderhoven and when he left for Northern Russia in the First World War she prayed for him and sent packages of warm hand-knit socks and sweaters.
When he returned she married him. She prayed for him and their family when they tried their hand at farming in the poor soil of Northern Michigan and through the Great Depression. When there was very little work for Dutch musicians her sons had paper routes and she bought houses needing repairs. Her husband and sons repaired them and she sold them again – the first woman I know to “flip” houses. She prayed her family through serious illness and when one of her sons became a pastor in faraway places and one of her daughters went off with her missionary husband to what was then Ceylon, she prayed for them, too.
In her later years Cornelia and John went around to nursing homes. He played the piano for hymn singing and she gave “messages” (which she never called “preaching.” ) Through it all, she recited the Psalms she loved, and sang the hymns she loved, and welcomed guests with ham buns and cherry Jello salad in her very simple home.
In the mid 1970s, a year or so before her death, I made a special trip from wherever I was living at the time to visit Grandma in the nursing home and to tell her that I felt called to be a pastor. She loved me dearly and hugged me tenderly, but she wasn’t so sure that women should be pastors – something about what St. Paul had said.