February 20, 2013

By God’s grace and for His glory:
A brief history of Oakdale Park Church

Oakdale Park Church (Oakdale Park Christian Reformed Church) began more than one hundred twenty years ago in 1890, as a ministry then on the southern boundary of settled Grand Rapids whose purpose was to draw Reformed folks from the farms scattered in the open land to the south of the city. Named “Oakdale Park” after its neighborhood, “Oak-dale” lies on lower land to the south and east of higher ground on Eastern at Hall, where “Oak-hill” cemetery remains today.

Oakdale Park Church grew steadily through the 1900s, largely through immigration from the Netherlands, and Reformed background families moving into new neighborhoods south and east of the church. Oakdale had more than a thousand members by mid-century and continued the church’s founding impulse for outreach and evangelizing by helping start new ministries nearby, Madison Square and Fuller Avenue CRC churches. Already then and now as well, Oakdale is characterized by strong love for all God’s children in our neighborhood, and a will to meet our neighbors spiritual and material needs.

By the mid-1960s, Oakdale began to suffer member loss through urban flight from the Grand Rapids core city to the suburbs. Many congregants left the Oakdale Park neighborhood and church; more persons of color moved in as old racist barriers dictating where people could live came down.

After being led by a series of well known, larger-church CRC pastors, Oakdale called Pastor Bill VandenBosch,  with his wife Lyn and their family in 1979, with serious, prayerful intent to become a church that held its God-given place in the neighborhood and grow through sharing the gospel with its neighbors of all cultures. This commitment, though very challenging to Oakdale’s pastor, his family, and the members, stayed strong and Oakdale grew in numbers and diversity through worship and ministry programs that highlighted and practiced Christ’s love and caring.  

In the early days of 1999, Oakdale’s sanctuary came down, condemned after being damaged by high winds and heavy snow. After extraordinary prayer, recommitment, and fundraising, the Nehemiah project – Oakdale’s new sanctuary – was dedicated in the fall of 2002 and became a growing hub of community and congregational ministry. By 2010, membership growth, especially in the numbers of younger families and young children, stimulated building a new two-story Ministry House.

In 2009, when Pastor Bill and Lyn VandenBosch announced their intent to retire from Oakdale’s ministry, Oakdale launched Timothy, a time of extensive congregational prayer, soul-searching and recommitment to minister where God had placed us. More than a hundred elder team-led prayerful conversations with members established solid commitments and clear intent to serve Oakdale’s neighbors, to grow in love for each other and God, and to grow as a multi-cultural family. The congregation has about 400 persons in worship, and more than 500 persons within the ministry scope of the church.

In 2011 God led the church, after more than a year’s prayer and searching, to call Pastor Emmett and Emily Harrison and their family to come be part of and lead Oakdale’s ministry, and in January 2012, the Harrisons moved from Cleveland to Grand Rapids and became part of the Oakdale family, joining the congregation to love God, and love others right here.  

Give God praise!


Oakdale’s 125th Anniversary three-week HIStory celebration began Sunday, May 3, 2015.  Throughout the celebration special displays, speakers, and videos celebrating where we have been in the past, enjoying where God has placed us in the present, and looking ahead to the future of Oakdale’s ministry were celebrated.  The three weeks were capped off with a celebration dinner after the service on Sunday, May 17, 2015. 

View pictures of the services on Flickr.

Watch a video of Pastor Emmett Harrison being interviewed on WZZM TV 13 explaining the HIStory of Oakdale Park Church.
Sunday, May 3, 2015                 125th Anniversary Celebration Podcast – Part 1        1st video shown during the service.
                                                Pastor Bill VandenBosch                                        2nd video shown during the service.
                                                Philippians 3:7-14

                                                “Counting History the Grace Way”

Sunday, May 10, 2015                125th Anniversary Celebration Podcast – Part 2       
                                                Mark Charles
                                                Acts 2:1-12

                                                “Embracing the Discomfort of Diversity”

Sunday, May 17, 2015                125th Anniversary Celebration Podcast– Part 3        Video shown during the service.
                                                Pastor Emmett Harrison           
                                                II Corinthians 5:14-18

                                                “Back to the Future”