How the RCA Saved Central

One hundred years ago, Central College was nearly lost. Its founding group, the Iowa Baptist Education Society, had opened two colleges in Iowa — Central in 1853 and Des Moines College in 1884. A few years after starting Des Moines College, the society found it would be impossible to support two institutions.

Central's Chapel was constructed in 1982

Central’s Chapel was constructed in 1982

The Baptists chose Des Moines College. Delegates voted to drop Central’s collegiate department and make the college a feeder school. To escape the merger, Central obtained a circuit court injunction. This put off the Baptists’ decision for 30 years — until a new affiliation saved the college.

Central proposed a transfer to the Reformed Church in America, maintaining an accredited college in Pella. The transfer included Central’s name, charter, grounds, buildings and equipment — everything but the school’s hard-won endowment, which went to the Baptist Education Society.

Less than a year later, a fire took Central’s auditorium, chapel, library and gymnasium. Yet, through generous support from Pella’s Reformed community — and shared space with local churches — the college didn’t miss a beat. Through campus disasters, the Great Depression and two world wars, Central College has thrived for 100 years with support from the RCA.

And what happened to Des Moines College? The school never attracted more than a few hundred students at a time and was sold to the Baptist Bible Union in 1927. Within two years, the new president fired the entire faculty, the students rioted, and the school closed, bankrupt.

“Colleges that have been in existence as long as Central College endure because their roots run deep. The ecumenical and inclusive spirit that defines our past is also the pathway to our future.”

– Central College President Mark Putnam


Today, Central continues to flourish with support from the RCA. The longstanding relationship connects students to meaningful opportunities for missions and internships, and many RCA members contribute to Central’s future as part of the board of trustees. Reformed churches across the country support students through the Journey Scholarship Fund, and RCA students can also receive the Heritage Award. Meanwhile, hundreds of Central graduates serve as leaders in RCA congregations, also supporting Central’s students and mission in their turn.

“It means everything to me to be able to study at an RCA-affiliated school. When trying to decide what college I should attend, I knew I wanted to be somewhere I could grow in my faith, both on and off campus. I am so blessed to be able to say that I am not the same person who arrived on campus four years ago. I am far more secure in who I am and my beliefs, and for that I am forever grateful to Central College and the Heritage Award.”

– Jane McKown ’17, accounting major, Independence, Minn.


Central College Pella IA 100912The Reformed Church in America is the oldest Protestant denomination in the United States, brought first to New York City — then Iowa and the Midwest — by immigrants from the Netherlands.

While not to be confused with Christian Reformed Church in North America, Reformed Church in the United States or Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, the RCA belongs to several ecumenical and church partnerships, including World Council of Churches and Christian Churches Together.

The RCA supports three colleges — Central College in Pella, Hope College in Holland, Mich., and Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa — as well as two seminaries: New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Brunswick, N.J., and Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich.



When the Iowa Baptist Education Society decided to open a college, it selected Burlington as the location. However, the committee in 1852 judged Burlington too far east to serve all of Iowa. Burlington University was built anyway — but closed in 1901.

The year after rejecting Burlington, the Baptist convention met in Pella. Among the local delegates was Pella’s founder, Dominie (Reverend) Hendrik Peter Scholte — also a Reformed minister. Determined to see Pella chosen over Oskaloosa, Scholte offered free land for the college, and Pella won the vote.



As heirs to Central’s tradition of faith and service, today’s students take advantage of many opportunities to connect with RCA ministries, among many religious traditions, in Iowa and around the world. Reformed tradition focuses on long-term mission relationships, says chaplain Joe Brummel — and students participate in lasting connections through Campus Ministries.

“Campus Ministries provides a venue where students who have a heart of faith can get involved and serve in meaningful ways,” Brummel says. “Our middle name is ‘mission.’”

Campus Ministries sponsors mission trips to places like Haiti and Texas.

Campus Ministries sponsors mission trips to places like
Haiti and Texas.

Students participate in many different mission experiences each year — from Iowa, Kentucky and Texas to Haiti, China and Ethiopia. As many as 100 Central students have traveled to Texas each winter for the last 15 years, maintaining the college’s connection to local churches, ministries and families in need. The group built four new homes last year. In January, they’ll return to serve area families again.

Spring, fall and summer breaks also offer opportunities for Campus Ministries students to travel and serve. Many students spent their first break this year in Baton Rouge, helping the city recover from summer floods. At the end of the academic year, Brummel plans to lead another international trip. In between, Campus Ministries will also lead several trips during Central’s spring break, giving students a variety of opportunities to serve.

God changes students’ lives through these opportunities, Brummel says. They are challenged spiritually, find community, share experiences and gain new perspectives while serving with Christians in different cultures. “I watch our students, and they really get it,” Brummel says. “They understand that love transforms the world.”

It’s a passion that unites many at Central. Dozens of prospective students interview for Ministry and Mission scholarships each year, already eager to participate in ministry on campus and beyond. Besides participating in service with Campus Ministries, many students have also created their own organizations, focused on clean water, helping homeless people, justice issues and more.

My favorite Central memories include two trips with Campus Ministries to Mission, Texas. My life was changed through building houses for poor families. I made lasting friendships and saw God work in incredible ways.

– Ashley Radig ’16


The Calm is a contemporary worship service held on Sunday evenings.

The Calm is a contemporary worship service held on
Sunday evenings.

Sunday evening provides “the calm before the storm” for students involved in Campus Ministries — a time for community worship before Monday initiates a busy week. More than 200 students attend “The Calm,” a weekly, contemporary worship service hosted by Campus Ministries. “The Calm” offers student-led praise music, a challenging message and community among believing students. Many also participate in Bible studies, discussion and accountability groups, InterVarsity and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Students in Campus Ministries come from many different Christian backgrounds, says Brummel, but a common desire to love and serve God unites them. “It has to make God smile because there are no labels, no tags,” says Brummel, an ordained RCA minister. “With God as our focus, we worship.”

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