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Summary Article: Reformed Church in America
from Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices

The Reformed Church in America is the primary bearer of the Dutch Reformed Christian tradition in the United States. The church traces its origin to the establishment of a colony on the eastern coast of North America at the beginning of the 17th century on Manhattan Island, today the heart of New York City. The first congregation was established in 1628 by Reverend Jonas Michaelius (1577-ca. 1633). Through the next century, the church spread through the Hudson River valley and then into the colony of New Jersey. Its growth was somewhat blunted by the British takeover of New Amsterdam (New York) in 1664, but Dutch migration to the colonies continued. As church members moved westward, the church established congregations in different parts of the country, though the strength remained in the East. Queens College (now Rutgers University) was established to provide college and theological training.

As the colonies’ break with England became a possibility, in 1770 John Livingston (1746-1825), who had been in Holland completing his education, arrived back in New York with a plan of union for the scattered Reformed congregations. It was not until 1792 that a constitution was adopted. In 1819 the church incorporated under the name Reformed Protestant Dutch Church. It followed the beliefs and practices of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (now the Protestant Church in the Netherlands).

The church had a spurt of growth in the middle of the 19th century, when a new wave of immigration from Holland brought many Dutch settlers to Michigan, Iowa, and neighboring states as far west as South Dakota. A few congregations were founded in Canada. As it Americanized, the church adopted its present name in 1867. Through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the church developed an extensive missionary program. It continues to sponsor work in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Venezuela, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and India. The church sponsored the Arabic Mission, founded in the 1880s by Samuel Zwemer (1867-1952), which was dedicated to spreading Christianity in the Muslim lands of the Middle East. The church continues to support the small congregations and social institutions the mission initiated in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman.

The church’s headquarters are located in New York, in a building that also houses the offices of the National Council of Churches in the U.S.A. and a variety of organizations representing the various concerns of the more ecumenically minded churches in the United States. It is organized presbyterially. In 1999 it reported 299,000 members in the United States and 6,500 members in Canada. The highest legislative body is the annual general assembly. Its decisions are implemented by a 62-member executive committee. The church is divided into eight regional synods and further divided into two classes, or presbyteries. The church supports three colleges and two seminaries. The first women were admitted to the ordained ministry in the church in 1981. It is a member of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the World Council of Churches.

Reformed Churches in America 247 Riverside Dr. New York, NY 10015

See also:

Protestant Church in the Netherlands; World Alliance of Reformed Churches; World Council of Churches; Zwemer, Samuel Marinus.

  • Hart, D. G. , and Mark Noll. Dictionary of the Presbyterian and Reformed Tradition in America. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.
  • Hood, F. J. Reformed America. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1980.
  • Van Beek, Huibert. A Handbook of the Churches and Councils: Profiles of Ecumenical Relationships. Geneva: World Council of Churches, 2006.
  • Van Hoeven, J. W. , ed. Piety and Patriotism: Bicentennial Studies of the Reformed Church in America. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976.
  • Melton, J. Gordon
    Copyright 2010 by ABC-CLIO, LLC

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