Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Conferentie Versus Coetus

In my last post, I wrote about the division in the Reformed Dutch Church in Kingston, New York between 1766 and 1772. I had noted during this period that some baptisms were performed by Domine Hermanus Meyer. His name was followed by the word Coetus. Whereas, other baptisms were performed by ministers whose names were followed by the word Conferentie and the phrase, "from xxx," where xxx is the name of a town other than Kingston.

Dutch parents typically had a newborn baptized within a week after the child's birth. However, during this period parents in this church appear to have had infrequent, mass baptisms performed by a minister of another congregation. I usually observed this behavior when a community did not have a minister and had to wait for a minister of another church come to town.

Kingston, known as Wiltwyck before the English gained control of the Dutch colony, had a Reformed Dutch Church with a full-time minister since the 1600s. Even during this period, the church had a full-time minister, Domine Meyer. The clue to what happened in 1766 and the next six years was in the words Conferentie and Coetus.

Reformed Dutch ministers, called domine, were sent to the North American colony from the Netherlands by the Classis of Amsterdam. The Classis of Amsterdam found it difficult to recruit clergy to go to America so the colonists sent prospective clergy to the Netherlands to be educated and ordained as ministers of the Reformed Dutch Church. As this was expensive, the population in the American colony was growing, and the Dutch government was no longer in control of the colony, some members of the Reformed Dutch Church began to push for educating and ordaining ministers in  America.

As time marched into the 18th century, business and education outside the home was conducted in English. Subsequent generations of descendants of the Dutch were not speaking Dutch even at home so there grew another reason that the congregants were pushing for home-grown clergy, ones that spoke English.

These forces caused a split in the Dutch Reformed Church of America. One side of the argument were known as the Conferentie while the other side was called the Coetus. The Coetus pushed for the clergy to be trained and ordained in America. Domine Meyer supported the Coetus movement. Obviously, the majority of his congregation did not support him.

According to "An Historical Sketch of the Early Collegiate Church," the Coetus was dissolved in 1754. So what was going on in 1766 in Kingston?

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. It wasnt just Kingston- it was some of the other congregations under Kingston as well. When a young man was sent to Netherlands to be ordained the expense of the Congregations. This was the case with Domine Freyenmuth - 4 churches of the RDC of Minisink. It was believed to be simpler, indeed less expensive and an expression of further autonomy from Netherlands. This division in the Church also caused rifts in the communities - you cite in frequencies in baptisms at Kingston. Some were travelling in excess of 70 miles to Kingston at some points to baptize their children