Wednesday 10 January 2024

In Memoriam: Wietse Posthumus

by Robert Sweetman

Wietse Posthumus (1938-2023) meant a great deal to a great many people and to the organizations they built and tended, not least the Institute for Christian Studies. The spiritual antennae he inherited and made his own shine forth in one respect: they picked up and transmitted deep into the bones the conviction that change for the good demanded organization so as to achieve effective corporate action. In a complex society, that meant the formation of institutions that could collect and store the gathered wisdom of those called to and involved in our world’s different occupations and sectors, institutions that could harness and deploy the human energy and know-how such wisdom let loose in the world. 

    But institutions needed to be built right, he had been taught, and in response to the right Spirit and its promptings. What was needed was discernment and that demanded knowledge as well as spiritual feelers. For him that meant law school, which gave him a deep understanding of the internal structures of institutions and the processes whereby they exist and act publicly. It was in and through this acquired expertise that he would serve the Reformed churches of his allegiance as well as ICS.

    When Wietse began adult life, that Kingdom seemed very close. It was the 1960s: a wonderfully optimistic age in which anything seemed possible. The just society and world peace were surely just around the corner. Something of that optimism drove people like Wietse. The Kingdom in our generation could easily have been their motto. This optimism was helped by the certainty that the norms which enabled human flourishing were simple and unchangingly available. Churches were to look like “x,” lovers like “y,” marriages like “z,” And this had been so, it was said, since the very dawn of Creation.

    The parents of the post-WWII immigrant generation of Dutch Calvinists had set up churches and schools across Canada. Wietse and his generational cohort, the children of that immigrant generation, busied themselves with the next level of Christian institution-building: a labour union, businessmen’s associations, political action groups, a farmer’s federation, an art gallery, a publishing venture, Christian day schools, as well as a university-level institution like ICS. 

    There was something Marian to Wietse’s service. He stored up experiences in his heart and contemplated their implications in life-transforming ways. When ICS Senior Members started discussing sexual orientation and biblical faithfulness in the 1980s, Wietse was a board member at ICS and he was worried about the damage this would do. It seemed a bridge too far, to muddy clear water, potentially fatal, and he was not going to let that pass unopposed. Nevertheless, he continued to follow the discussion and when Hendrik Hart published his Morning Star book explaining how he worked with Scripture and came to the readings he did, Wietse read it with great care, and it changed his mind. He became friends with Henk and learned to cherish what Henk had to give. 

    Ever generous with his thought and his emotional engagement, he was also generous with his time and wealth. For example, he and Kathryn hosted celebrations of ICS volunteers that became legendary at ICS both at his home and at the Madison just down the street, in which it rained food and drink as a partying hobbit would have it and the decibel level of the merrymaking was nothing short of prodigious. When ICS contracted with Morris Greidanus to serve as interim president while ICS searched for a new candidate, Wietse and Kathryn opened their home to Morris and Alice who stayed in a semi-independent space on the third floor.

    Wietse’s presence at First Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, where I too am a member, was also felt strongly. He wrote the church bylaws and would often offer words both thoughtful and pyrotechnic whenever it was needed by the congregation. Over the last two decades he became an occasional commentator after services when a message or prayer had touched him in some way, and a sage voice when the congregation was faced with difficulties.

    So I conclude with one last vignette of Wietse the churchgoer. I will never forget the Easter he spent in the hospital as part of his difficult recovery from surgery. I was the elder of service, so I brought the elements to Wietse and the liturgy for the Lord’s Supper we had used to celebrate the sacrament at the congregational Easter Service. We were out of the bread we had used but someone had brought hot crossed buns for the coffee and there was still one left, so we took it along with wine. His wife Kathryn, at least one of the children, my wife Rosanne, and I gathered around his bed and we went through the liturgy. He couldn’t eat the bread but he took a piece anyway to dip in the wine and sucked the liquid out with relish. Then he looked up with a glint in his eye and confessed, “I think I deserve another.” He proceeded to dip the bread again. That iconoclastic act had it all: his both-feet-in dynamism, his stubborn faith even in extremis, and a moment of pure mischief—it felt like holy ground. I find it easy to imagine Our Lord saying to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and ushering him into his blessed reward.

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    Wietse developed deep relationships with ICS faculty members and staff throughout his life. He served on the AACS Board of Trustees from 1972-73, again from 1984-87, and also served on the ICS Board of Trustees from 1993-99. At the request of the family, donations may be made in Wietse's memory to the Institute for Christian Studies at or by phone at 416-979-2331 ext. 223.