Sunday 10 June 2018

In Memoriam: Morris Greidanus

by Robert Sweetman

Morris Greidanus’s adult life and the ICS were inextricably interlinked. It began in the heady heyday of the Groen Club at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, the philosophy club that ran for many years under the mentorship of H. Evan Runner and sent so many eager young souls to the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam for intellectual formation within the Reformational tradition in philosophy. Morris roomed with Hendrik Hart and James H. Olthuis, the former a fervent Groen clubber, the latter still playing hard to get. That association would stick and so create conditions that would tie his subsequent career as pastor and theological mind to the work of the ICS once it opened its doors in 1967.

Morris went on to postgraduate study as did his former roommates but he himself gravitated toward theology and ordination into the ministry of the Christian Reformed Church in North America in 1964. His relationship to ICS grew very close indeed when he took a call to found a campus ministry at the University of Toronto in 1968. His “Hart House Ministry” was a very exciting enterprise that attracted ICS Junior and Senior Members as well as University of Toronto students. Indeed, well attended Sunday services in one of the large meeting rooms of Hart House on the St. George Campus of the University of Toronto meant that Morris had become in effect the pastor of his former roommates and chaplain of the ICS as well as the U of T. It was a pastorate of great spiritual energy and effect that lasted from 1968 to 1974.

In the way of ecclesiastical careers Morris took other calls to serve other communities of Christians and to serve his denomination in its highest synodical offices and yet his connection to ICS endured. He served on its board; he was a perennial MC of its Ontario Family Conference over many years, one half of a formidable tag team with spouse Alice who was an important leader in the all-important music ministry of the conference. Morris the ICS MC displayed Morris’ characteristic gifts. Above all, his wry humour, summoned with lightening swiftness and exquisite comic timing, rescued captive audiences from crushing ennui during the seemingly endless announcements that could not but accompany a conference with so many people, subprograms and volunteers. He managed to make announcement time a sparkling comedy routine filled with gentle humour and heartfelt laughter, not once or twice but time and again over the course of an entire long weekend, year in and year out.

That humour marked the man in so very important ways. It allowed him to maintain connections with people on all sides of the issues that came to divide the several communities within the Reformed world that he made his own. It was not that he didn’t have a place within communal debates; it is that he saw no reason why differences of opinion couldn’t coexist with a warm recognition of one’s interlocutor too as a child of God. This allowed him to be an effective voice in the controversies that seemed to cling around the ICS from its earliest days, patiently explaining what ICS was trying to do to those who did not understand and/or found they could not approve. This was a role he never laid down even in periods when he was less close to the heart of things at ICS. Of course, his theological collaboration with brother-in-law and long-time ICS Senior Member in Theology George Vandervelde—culminating in the appearance of “Our World Belongs to God,” the CRCNA’s contemporary testimony—did not hurt when it came to maintaining warm connections. “Our World Belongs to God” remains to this day a jewel of theology in service of the witness of the people of God.

I wonder if it wasn’t the retirement of Jim Olthuis and George Vandervelde that reintroduced Morris to the living heart of ICS, for he MC-ed both their retirement dinners to great success. At any rate, Morris became a mover and shaker in ICS’s Friends of ICS board in the U.S. and then acting president when Harry Fernhout moved to The King’s University in Edmonton and ICS had to wait an extra year for the advent of Harry’s successor John Suk. Throughout the academic year 2005-2006, he would be on campus spreading his personal serenity to the Senior Members, staff, and Junior Members of ICS in what was an anxious time. I like to think that some of that virtue has remained even in the more anxious times that followed.

Certainly, Morris remained an enthusiastic member and later chair of the FICS board. Just days before his passing, when new President Ron Kuipers was in Grand Rapids to attend the CRCNA’s annual synod, he called Morris hoping to meet with him. By then Morris was in hospital with pneumonia. Alice took the call, gave Ron the low down, and then invited him to come to Morris’ hospital bed to carry on his intended conversation, provided he did not have a cold. That is dedication. Yes, Morris’s adult life and ICS’ has been a mutual dance where both partners have taken turns with the lead to mutual benefit. We know that Morris Greidanus is irreplaceable. His passing is a loss to be sure. But his perseverance and talent and winsome love have ever been and so will remain a great blessing now baked into all that is best of what ICS has been able to do and be.

Requiescat in pacem. Thanks be to God.