Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

Rev. Lawrence W. Bilkes 25 Years in the Ministry

Written by Rev. C. Pronk
On June 18 of this month Rev. L.W. Bilkes celebrates his 25th anniversary as a minister of the Gospel. On behalf of my colleagues in the ministry and all our churches we wish to extend our hearty congratulations to our brother on this memorable occasion. We do so with thankfulness to the Lord for what He has given the Free Reformed Churches in the person of Rev. Bilkes and pray that he may be given many more years of active service in our denomination.

Rev. Bilkes was born on December 2, 1943 in Zwolle, the Netherlands and came to Canada with his parents in 1961 when his father, the late Rev. G. Bilkes, accepted a call to the St. Thomas FRC. Early in his life Lawrence felt drawn to the ministry, partly due to the example of his father whom he greatly admired and sought to emulate. In 1964 he was accepted as a student for the ministry and moved to Grand Rapids where he attended Calvin College and Seminary, graduating in 1971.

While still a student he married Jane Westerveld, a member of the Mitchell FRC, with whom he was to have three children, all boys. Following the Synodical exam in June of 1971, he was presented to the churches as a candidate. From several calls that were extended to him he was led to accept the one from St. Thomas, his home church. The ordination service took place on June 18, 1971 with his father, now pastor of the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk at Westzaan, the Netherlands, officiating.

During the nine years he served the St. Thomas congregation many blessings were experienced. The membership grew and a new church building was erected. But as is often the case, where the Lord gives blessings He sends trials and tribulations as well. The young pastor had his share of both and acquired his early ministerial experience the hard way.

In 1980 there came a call from the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk at Ermelo, the Netherlands, and--much to the surprise and dismay of many (not in the least his dear wife Jane)--Pastor Bilkes accepted! On September of that year he took up his labours in his second congregation, situated on the Veluwe, one of Holland's most beautiful areas. For almost eight years he laboured there and became thoroughly acquainted with Dutch church life, thus gaining more valuable experience. Being a hard and disciplined worker he found the time, in addition to his many ministerial duties, to pursue doctoral studies at the Theological University in Apeldoorn which institution awarded him the degree of doctorandus in de theologie.

The Netherlands were not to be his permanent domicile, however. Throughout his stay there, he and his family remained Canadians at heart, speaking and reading in English much of the time and staying in touch with the churches this side of the Atlantic ocean. So, when in 1988 the FRC of Aldergrove (now Abbotsford) B.C. issued their "come over and help" distress call, a now much more experienced and seasoned Pastor Bilkes was given the liberty to reply: "I am coming"--much to the joy of Aldergrove and of Jane and the children who by now were well into their teens.

The installation took place on July 8, 1988 by Rev. P. Vander Meyden, then pastor of the Langley FRC. Pastor Bilkes' pastorate of eight years so far, has been a blessed one in many ways. Also here a new church and parsonage could be built in the new location of Abbotsford. In 1991 a new congregation was instituted in Chilliwack under the supervision of the Abbotsford church which "lost" many members in the process, but the sacrifice was gladly made. The institution of Chilliwack thus serves as a model of how new congregations should be established, namely in the spirit of love and harmony and a common desire to promote the cause of Christ.

Rev. Bilkes (or Pastor Lawrence, as many affectionately refer to him) has a unique place in our denomination. I suppose every minister is unique but some are more so than others. I've known him for many years, already before he became a student for the ministry. I still remember seeing him sitting in the basement of the Ancaster church doing his homework. His father was upstairs doing church visitation, I believe, and the young Bilkes had chauffeured him, taking his books along and here he was, reading, writing and smoking a pipe! A youthful indiscretion, no doubt, which was apparently dropped soon afterwards, for I have never seen him with a pipe in his mouth since, nor with a cigarette or cigar for that matter.

Over the years I have come to know Pastor Lawrence as a faithful preacher and caring pastor. I already mentioned that he is a hard worker. Those who are close to him know that nothing is ever too much for him. He is on duty 24 hours and gets by with less sleep than most of us. Our esteemed colleague has also taken an active part in denominational work, serving on a number of synodical committees and chairing several Synod meetings. Also outside our denomination he has let his light shine, for instance, as a member of ministerial associations both in St. Thomas and Abbotsford. His more focused ecumenical interests, however, consist of contacts, official or informal, with the Canadian Reformed churches and the Independent and Orthodox CRC's in the Fraser Valley.

In short, Rev. Bilkes is a man of many gifts and interests and evidently enjoys the ministry. He serves his Lord with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. True, he has his faults and weaknesses but so do we all. The Lord never had a perfect servant yet! He takes those whom He calls and molds them into instruments fit for the Master's use. In the hands of the wise Potter earthen vessels are shaped to contain the treasures He wants to put on display. L.W. Bilkes may be one of those vessels by the grace of God and for twenty-five years he has been enabled to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. It is our heartfelt prayer that the Lord may continue to bless our brother's ministry for many more years to the edification of His people and the salvation of sinners, to the glory and honour of His holy Name.

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