Helderberg Reformed celebrates 250 years, looks to the future

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Backpack blessing: Rev. Lindsey De Kruif blesses the school backpack of Lawton Schanz, one of the youngest members of the Helderberg Reformed Church, on Sept. 10 during a ceremony that De Kruif hopes to make annual. Each child was given a pin to attach to his or her backpack as a reminder of the blessing.

GUILDERLAND CENTER — Helderberg Reformed Church, which has had five buildings and two locations, is celebrating the 250th anniversary of its founding. Longtime members recall when the church was the heart of Guilderland Center. As the congregation ages and declines, a new pastor is reaching out in new ways to involve more people in the community.

When they were growing up, and on through the 1950s and 1960s, said both Beverly Harrington and Al Sholtes, churches were the center of life in Guilderland Center, as in many other places. Harrington and Sholtes are retired teachers from Guilderland High School.

“Church served a social purpose as well as a religious purpose,” said Sholtes. “The village was the church, and the church was the village.”

“There was nothing much else to do, back in the ’50s and ’60s,” said Harrington. “You either had the fire department or the church.”

Back then, it wasn’t just a matter of the Sunday church service itself, either.

There were Sunday-school lessons, for children and adults alike, as well as many other activities: For women, there was the Busy Bees that put on a spaghetti supper every year; the Ladies Social Union, the Up and Doing class, faith circles, and business meetings. The men had the Dutch Arms Club, which “usually had projects to work on, for church events, or for the community,” Harrington said.

There were also three choirs, said Sholtes, organized by age.

Harrington was not born into the Helderberg Reformed Church, but originally attended St. Mark’s Lutheran Church down the road, where Centerpointe Community Church is now located. She began attending Helderberg Reformed when she was in the eighth grade. “All my friends were going there, so I changed, and got my parents to do the same,” she said.


The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Commemorative: Al Sholtes holds up an artifact he brought in to display at the
250th anniversary celebration of the Helderberg Reformed Church at 435 Route 146: a commemorative plate from the church’s 200th anniversary in 1967 showing the church building that burned in 1986. 

In 1882, there were 245 church families, for a total membership of 512, De Kruif said.

The church experienced growth during the mid-20th Century, the pastor said, although she doesn’t have data on membership during the 1950s or 1960s. It was also during that time that Lynnwood Reformed was created as another daughter church of Helderberg, De Kruif said.

Today, although church membership has declined— as it has at most churches — De Kruif said it currently stands at 86, not including those who attend regularly but do not join.

Religion is a very personal thing, said Sholtes, but for him, faith continues to provide comfort and a greater perspective, while the community creates a sense of belonging.


The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
“Log-cabin style”: Church documents say that the original church, at Osborne’s Corners, was a “prayer house” built in a log-cabin style. Rev. Lindsey De Kruif suspects that this painting that hangs in the Helderberg Room, which provides overflow seating just beyond the church’s last pews, depicts this first church. 


Fifth building

The first church building was at Osborne’s Corners, where a historical marker stands, across from Phillip’s Hardware at routes 158 and 146, said De Kruif. She became the church’s pastor in November 2016, the first woman in the church’s history to hold that post.

The first church building, built sometime before 1767, was a simple “prayer house” built in a log-cabin style, say church documents. De Kruif says she “suspects” that a painting of a log cabin that hangs inside the church building is a depiction of that first church.

That church was replaced twice in the Osborne’s Corners area, said De Kruif.

First a “more official” church building was erected in 1788 and then, in 1835, a church known as the Gamble church, for then-Reverend Samuel Gamble, went up in 1835.

In 1896, the church relocated to its current site on Route 146 in Guilderland Center following the creation of Altamont Reformed, which De Kruif said was a daughter church organized after the railroad came through what is now Altamont. The church moved partly to accommodate its growing Guilderland Center membership.

But the church in the hamlet on Route 146 burned in 1986 when a young man who “liked to watch things burn,” said Harrington, set it on fire. An Enterprise article from 1986 named the young man arrested in the case as Kenneth Donato, then 20, of Guilderland Center.


The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Sunday-school pin: Al Sholtes of Guilderland Center holds up a pin with 13 bars on it, each bar representing a certain level attained in Sunday school studies. He emphasized
modestly that many people received pins, and that adults and children alike wore them to services. He had brought his to church for a display of artifacts that Rev. Lindsey De Kruif was organizing for the church’s 250th anniversary. 

Some church records were salvaged, as were a large, brilliant stained-glass window; a number of stained-glass medallions, each about two feet in diameter; and a baptismal font.

The bell that once called worshippers to service in Guilderland Center is in the new bell tower, but has been silenced, replaced by an electric carillon.

Into the future

When he was growing up, Sholtes said, church was “what you did on Sunday mornings.” He remembers his neighbors in Guilderland Center walking to church, “sometimes in blinding snowstorms.”

There was no such thing as canceling church, he said. “Church was open, and you got there.”

Today, young people, especially those involved in sports, have more demands on their time, and often have conflicts on Sunday, including games or “voluntary practices” that make it hard for families to commit to going to church, he said.

“The churches suffer for that, because the kids don’t come unless their parents bring them,” Sholtes said. “Frequently the young people are caught in the middle,” he said.

De Kruif is quietly determined to bring the church forward into the future, toward its 350th anniversary.

She hopes to make broader connections with the community, including through a new organization called Guilderland Cares, of faith leaders and community leaders who meet once a month to discuss needs of Guilderland residents and how they can help build a sense of community.

She said that the church has started to update the way it communicates, in order to make the church more accessible to people of all ages and provide ways for members to communicate during the rest of the week, and not just on Sunday.

The newsletter that has been a staple of church life for decades recently went digital, and the church now has its own Facebook page.


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