This month, in place of the Chaplain’s Letter, we have the addresses that the chaplains gave at the AGM. This means that this page is very long. We start with the report on Groningen and then continue with Amersfoort, followed by Zwolle and ending with Utrecht.
Chaplain’s Report on Groningen for Chaplaincy Annual Meeting 2018
‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
Our lives, and the life of the church, is full of all manner of activity. There have been times of joy and times of sadness in the last year, but we give thanks that, throughout, we have been carried, together, by each other, and by the grace and love of God.
Time has indeed flown by. Our church plant in Groningen is gradually growing into the norms of the church year, so this year we have managed to organize our own local AGM in April (22nd), before the chaplaincy AGM. An early spring AGM will also help us to plan better, as the new Leadership Team can have its first meeting well before the summer holidays and the beginning of a new academic year.
The Fruits of Grace’s New Vision and Priorities
In the past year we’ve seen many new and exciting developments in our life at Grace – new people joining us (we average over 50 at our regular bi-weekly worship services and much more on special occasions like Christmas, Palm Sunday and Easter). Many are also getting involved and the leadership and congregation are exploring new ways to serve the Lord’s mission in Groningen and help others.
In March 2017, our Leadership Team began a process of Mission Action Planning (MAP) to discern a vision for our mission and ministry and identify priorities to which we need to give emphasis in the coming time. At the June Annual Meeting this statement of our overarching vision for Grace was proposed and accepted:
‘An International Church seeking to Grow in God’s Grace and Live God’s Love in Faith and Service’
The shorter version is: ‘Growing in God’s Grace, Living God’s Love’
In the lead up to the last AGM, we also involved the congregation in a ‘SWOT analysis’, to get a feel for our perceived Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This analysis and the vision and planning derived from it have helped us prayerfully shape what we’re doing.
At this point in the ongoing process, from the inputs, we have identified the following priorities:
- Support for ministry personnel and organization
- Physical resources (building space, music and other equipment, etc.)
- Activities to build up community life (mid-week, social, etc.)
- Spiritual life and growth
- Children’s ministry
- Frequency of worship services
- Public relations and advertizing
- Community service and social justice
These priorities were not ranked in order of importance — all are significant. The MAP approach suggests taking on 2-3 per year, and we have seen fruit in many areas.
In community service, Maaike Kroese and Laura Nederveen got us connected to Stichting Present, which links local people in need with volunteers who want to help them. So in September 2017, several groups from Grace spent some Saturdays cleaning houses, painting and doing gardening work. In early April 2018, we were involved in another round of projects.
In children’s ministry, we are delighted that Meg and Brian Embry have joined the team of Junior Church leaders (with Deborah van Arragon and Judith Lap-Tensen). Week after week, the kids enjoy enthusiastic and inspired teaching and creative activities led by the team, and we are all grateful. One of the major highlights of the year was the children’s Nativity Play at our Christmas Eve 2017 service, complete with sheep, shepherds, wise men, and the of course the Holy Family!
In the area of spiritual life and growth, in the New Year, Josué Almansa and Maike Jansen have launched monthly Movie Nights at the SKLO building with food and discussion for those interested in exploring spiritual and other themes in a welcoming and friendly setting. Dragos and Cerasela Stefanescu host a fortnightly Bible study, and Dirk Nederveen launched a Spiritual Disciplines reading group in the Fall of 2017 which continues for another few months. And Deborah van Arragon and Hendrik Timmer and others are helping coordinate and offer another international Alpha course, to introduce the basics of Christianity to students and others. Berdine van den Toren gave an inspiring and insightful GraceTALK in December about her missionary experience in Africa and Asia. The Leadership Team is also exploring further ideas for courses and talks, helped by various members’ suggestions and a brilliant brainstorming overview provided by Josué Almansa and Maaike Kroese, who has been supporting hospitality for Grace TALKs this last year.
Joas Zuur, part of our talented worship music leadership (along with Krina Huisman and Phil Monsbourgh), helped the Leadership Team analyze sound system options, and we purchased new speakers and a mixer in January. We’re still learning how to use it all, so we welcome helpful feedback. We are delighted at this new enhancement to our physical resources, which benefits our worship. We are also beginning to explore the challenges of size and space for our worship services, which are good challenges to have!
In the area of support for personnel, based on our income and budget, last year’s local AGM voted to provide a small service honorarium for pastors leading worship. This is appreciated by your chaplain, but is also helpful to make it possible to invite other ministers to take services, in case of illnesses or absence.
And last but not least, in April this year, Freerk and Judith Lap offered to start a roughly monthly newsletter for Grace Church (distributed primarily by e-mail to those who subscribe via the website). This has proven a great and much appreciated initiative. We also want to develop contact lists (phone and e-mail details) of our members, sowe can more easily be in touch with each other, and what is desired needs to be discussed with and by members (given privacy and other issues). Freek is also working with Dragos Stefanescu on a promotional film for Grace, and we look forward to seeing the results in the coming time!
So in several of our priority areas, we are seeing fruits, which is very much to be celebrated! Thank you to all who are praying for the growth and development of our faith community and are pitching in to help!
We have fantastic spiritual enthusiasm and energy in our community, and also need to bring helpful and healthy structure and resources to bear, so that Grace Church can continue to be an attractive, inspired and enduring faith community and witness in Groningen and surroundings.
As ever, we are immensely grateful for and dependent on the grace of God in all we do, and are thankful for the prayer and practical support we receive from all our members and friends.
With thanks and gratitude, yours in Christ, Sam Van Leer Assoc Chaplain for Groningen
All Saints Amersfoort
Annual report I think is a way to look back – perhaps the funny moments, or the profound and moving ones – and to recall where God has led us and been at work. A way to also look forward to what where we going in the year ahead, with God’s guidance and grace, as he seeks to bear fruit through us.
I believe in thank yous. I am thankful for all who serve in the life of All Saints across the past year, in any capacity. With our move to the Nieuwe Erven more role have been created, and more bodies and hands needed to fill them. I want to thank all who served and have served – in our set up teams, who come in at 0830 regularly… To all who work on sound. To those who serve as bible readers, intercessors, chalice assistants, who serve as altar server or prepare the altar for worship. To all our musicians. To those who serve in Sunday School, creche. To those who are stewards, serve refreshments. To our home group leaders and prayer ministry teams. To TACA leadership team who have met on average every 6 weeks with me, focusing on a range of inspiring and perhaps sometimes less inspiring but highly important topics concerning our congregations life and direction and future. Thank you for your service. Thank you to all.
Looking back, a few moments. For All Saints, 2017 was a year of three away days.
- There was our time in, in February, in Nijkerk, our first one as a church. A really good full day. We sought to deepen our relationships inside the church and to reflect upon our desired core values of UP, IN, OUT and how we want to express these as a congregation.
- In May, on Ascension Weekend, we went to the YMCA, a weekend of incredibly warm weather, full of BBQ, worship, testimony and words of encouragement, teaching on the Holy Spirit, friendships being formed, sleeping in big tents, and laser gaming, which brought out sides of people rarely seen! We go back on May 11-12th – if you aren’t able to make it, you know what you are missing! (*since these words, the Church Camp took place. 30 staying overnight, and up to 60 adults and children attending across the 24 hours).
- And finally the All Saints Leadership team – TACA – along with the leaderships of Utrecht, Groningen and Zwolle, met for 24 hours at a venue near Deventer. The primary aim was to build and deepen relationships through time together and sharing about the challenges and encouragements each congregation faces in its particular setting. It was a moving time. On that time away, TACA felt deeply moved, by the Spirit, for situation faced by the congregation in Zwolle, to consider how can we support them. We can say All Saints is a young congregation. But they are a small, struggling one. And Paul reminds us – when one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers (1 Corinthians 12:v26) – this is something TACA will continue to pray and discern this year. It includes some members of the team visiting a Zwolle Sunday service to spend more time with their leadership team at the start of July. Pray for TACA as we reflect on what the Lord may be asking of us.
A group from All Saints attended New Wine (July 2017) and another attended Taize (July 2017) – both positive good growing times. Another group from All Saints and Holy Trinity is attending New Wine in late July 21-28 – why not come along? Teaching. Sung worship. Excellent children and young people and teenager work. Wonderful fellowship. Meeting Christians from all over the Netherlands. Why not speak to Andre and Ninke, Ron and Nienke, Beatrijs, Vera, Judy, Noa, and the other children and young people who went and be persuaded!
We have seen babies were born and baptised – Saralynn, & Timo last month when we squeezed in 156 people. And looking forward to the baptisms of Benjamin, Sebastiaan, Filip and Anouk, (* we just celebrated on Pentecost the baptisms of Sebastiaan and Benjamin, twin boys). But sadness, of the loss of two members – Corrie – who had come often on Thursday evening Holy Communion; and Lodewijk whose presence is still missed by many at All Saints. We continue to remember in prayer those who grieve these losses.
And our move. TACA worked hard, many prayed across the chaplaincy – I was often asked in Zwolle how the search was going, which was encouraging to know others were praying and thinking of us – and the Nieuwe Erven became the home the Lord led us to. I have been encouraged by how the move has gone, how this has become All Saints new home. I feel All Saints have settled here. Yes, new demands upon us, in setting up, and getting used to worshipping in a new venue. TACA continues to be keep contacts and searches going if a move to a church building becomes possible.
For this year. Looking ahead. Two parts. When the vision for All Saints was formed, there was an aim for All Saints to be an independent formally established chaplaincy ideally by three years after its launch – so during 2019. Last spring, the archdeacon, Paul Vrolijk, and Bishop Robert and the chaplaincy AGM confirmed that this timing was still appropriate. Part of this, includes working towards being self sustaining – our income covering expenditure – and self governing, with our own Chaplaincy Council.
This year, we – All Saints, along with Council, chaplains and the senior Diocese staff – will continue to work towards that aim, discerning, under God, if things are ready.
Up we have introduced three particular ways to deepen and focus our intercessions – 1. our prayer wheel (which has different areas for intercession in a church’s life), 2. praying for 5 non believers regularly during the week and for the street where we live, 3. praying weekly for one of the 50 hardest countries to live as a Christian, using information provided by the charity Open Doors.
Since last autumn we established, weekly prayer ministry. A place and an opportunity to pray with two people in confidence – perhaps to bring thanksgiving, praise, lament, need, pain, and these people will pray with you and for you. We hope to grow the numbers involved in this ministry.
Also we began at the end of last year, and we will use this coming year, seasonal liturgy booklets. So the Black Books will no longer be used in a Communion this year, only for morning prayer. The reasoning is – to hold the liturgy in one booklet instead of moving between books which makes it easier for visitors but also we have a practical limitation on the space we have for our books. Liturgy forms us as we use it, pray it. The Anglican church has a range of resources which allows us to pray more deeply the season we are in, to be formed more spiritually. So we will take the opportunity to use some of those options.. We pray or say the words in different ways but the heart of what we say will be similar.
In. We started last autumn, our first home groups. Currently we have three groups and we encourage everyone to consider being part of a group in the coming year, a place where we work out UP IN OUT. Chat to our home group leaders to hear more. The Men’s Group – coordinated by Peter – in the coming year, will be focusing upon Spiritual Gifts, What motivates us (Heart) what are our natural and learned abilities , what is unique about our personality and the wealth of life experience we all bring to a congregation. We celebrated, in the chaplaincy confirmation in March, the confirmation of Vera and Winston.
We would like to develop our teenager work – on Sundays and during the week – to work on making this happen in the coming months. Our first step / aim would be to begin to provide a monthly Sunday morning work.
As Jesus commanded, we are to love one another, help with each other’s burdens. Part of that is about being a deep community – where people are cared for and supported in their different life situations and concerns. Each person that visits All Saints Church is valuable in God’s eyes and our desire is that each person feels that they matter and belong.
While I have the main responsibility for pastoral care, and the home groups will help care for and support each other, I would like to deepen and extend our pastoral care further across the All Saints family. There are some practical ways to make this happen and Marianne and Jolanda have offered to assist in this.
This could mean: – visiting those people who would enjoy someone to pop round for a cup of coffee just to have a chat – to visit new members of our congregation. – be a listening ear for the ones that have personal issues they would like to talk through – visit people that are ill – visit families with newborn babies
I will, of course, remain available and continue to be involved in pastoral matters. Please let Marianne or Jolanda know if they can be of any help to you
Out. One question we have only began to think about is how we can be a witness in our local area in this year. We had a very encouraging time on Christmas Eve giving away a candle and card and ringing the bell and passing on this gift and inviting them to our worship.
We want to work out further ways to be of service to and connect with this area. This involves being better and closer ecumenical links in this city.
But a question we have raised a few times. We know there are roughly 10000 expats and internationals in the Amersfoort area. How do we connect? Do we need to be more deliberate or intentional in what we are doing? A focus for our year ahead will need to be PRESENCE, that folks know we are here and so they can come or tell others.
But this is local – we continue to want to strengthen our overseas OUT – we have a growing link with Albania, Continue to strengthen links with Child Sponsorship charity, Compassion. And also grow our awareness of and commitment to our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.
All these we seek to do dependent upon the Lord, seeking to be a charismatic church, growing increasingly open to the workings, gifts, voice and presence of the Holy Spirit, the great gift from Jesus to us.
To end: Looking back, and looking forward, praise and confidence, some words from the Letter of Jude. 24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – 25 to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and for evermore! Amen.
Life in the Anglican Church in Zwolle
2017 has been an important year for us. This year we took the first steps to being a little more independent. We have managed to pay both David and Grant for taking our services and for payment for travelling to other congregational meetings. We hope to be able to keep this up in the years to come.
As a congregation we continue to meet twice a month. On the first Sunday, there is a service of sung Holy Communion. On the third Sunday, sung evensong. David and Grant cover each of these services.
In 2017, we started a monthly bible study course under the leadership of David and Grant. The evening study was preceded by a meal in one of the participant’s houses and then later the study itself. The meal gave us a chance to know each other in a more informal atmosphere. The discussions during the study were sometimes quite fierce as members come from various churches with very different ideas. That is what made it so interesting. We studied the letter of Paul to the Ephesians.
The study didn’t restart until January this year. We agreed to meet every two weeks. One week with one of the chaplains attending to lead the study. Then, two weeks later, to meet as a group and lead ourselves. We have been using a study book on the Book of Acts, chapters 13-20, written by Church of England Bishop Steve Croft. We intend later, when this study is completed, to follow an Old Testament study – on the character of Joseph in Genesis.
St Mary’s Anglican Church in Twente, every 3-4 months, hold a choral evensong, on a Saturday or Sunday evening, at the Abbey Sion in Diepenveen, and we promote that among our members and held promote it using our contacts.
Our leadership team was invited in November to join the other teams from Utrecht, Groningen and Amersfoort for 24 hours of fellowship and discussions. This was held at the Abbey Sion, Diepenveen, in Overijssel. Four of our leadership team members attended and we all felt that as well as giving we could also receive a lot of support from our sister congregations. We know that in 2018 this contact and support will continue.
One way planned is that the All Saints leadership team will visit first Sunday in July. All Saints want to explore ways how they can support the church here in Zwolle. Also, the Holy Trinity Utrecht choir will visit twice – in June, to lead an evensong and for our October Harvest Communion..
Although not the youngest congregation we have established a Church What’s app which along with the mails keeps our congregation up to date with what is going on.
Our numbers have remained the same in 2017. Students come and go but the hard kern remains. Hopefully we hope that in 2018 our church will become more significant in Zwolle. The leadership team are hoping to put The Anglican church Zwolle well and truly on the map.
One aim, has been to grow the prayer and intercession for our congregation. ICS – has added Zwolle on its quarterly prayers and occasionally, we are being prayed for specifically as events approach, within their monthly prayer news and by one of their prayer groups based in Warwick. It was a nice surprise to learn that the prayer group who hold us in prayer, her parents and her used to attend Zwolle in the 70s. To grow a church in numbers and depth, and in fact in all we do as a church, prayer is the train engine that pulls the carriages. No engine, carriages go no where. No prayer, similarly no long term effect / fruit.
To attend a church, it is important people know we are here. So a theme for the coming year, has been that of Presence – raising our profile, running events so people get to know about us and to know us. In March – we invited the Dutch English Church Music Choir – ‘Anthem’- to lead our evensong on March 18th. A very well attended event as well as a lovely service. We also held in April and in May, two evenings on English Church Music, led by Christiaan Winter. Numbers were not very large, but especially during the second evening, we had a number of people attending from the Lutheran church which we use for our Sunday worship. They were informative evenings.
We look forward to the coming year.
Holy Trinity Utrecht
At Holy Trinity Utrecht
12:15pm 22 April AD 2018
We began by remembering and praying for:
Those who have been baptized since our last AGM: Melina MacNaughton; Adelchi Hankins; Ehtram Hooshyar; Azadeh Rezamand; Willemijn Kuiper; Eleonore Wolters-Oldhoff; Isabelle Cremer Eindhoven; Aurora Berghuis.
Those who’ve been confirmed since our last AGM: Annelies and Marijke van den Berge; Ineke Cornet; Juliette Gentenaar; Johannes Golgath; Angelo Hankens; Lara Ubabukoh. (Amersfoort: Winston Gillies, Bas and Judith van Oordt, Vera van der Werk)
Those who celebrated marriages: Tirza and Jasper van Oordt; Janneke and Bob Suiker, Rosemarie and Erik Heemskerk.
And those who have entered into God’s rest: Philip Povel; Lodewijk Westerbeek van Eerten, Karel Borgers (others in our congregation have lost loved ones).
Deep gratitude is expressed to our Wardens Kit and Frank for their oversight of the church in the past year, for both of them it has been their first experience as wardens and they have taken on the task admirably. Frank is stepping down for health reasons and we wish him a speedy recovery. Thank you, Henry, for being treasurer of both Utrecht and Amersfoort congregations and helping us to see so clearly where we stand as we move towards the birthing of a new chaplaincy. There are so many others involved in oversight on the Council for the Chaplaincy and on the Utrecht Leadership Team (we expect only for one more year), the Building Maintenance Committee who care for our property, and in a whole host of ministries of care around worship, teaching, pastoral care, mission and communications – too many names to name. Thank you, Anne, for your ongoing care and beautifying of the church gardens.
We give thanks for growth in the choir under Henk’s guidance, involvement of different musicians in the Gospel band under the great leadership of Brian, and thanks to Muriel that the new children’s choir continues and is more regularly involved in Sunday worship.
We are hoping for greater engagement of the children in all our services and reconsidering how our All Age worship can engage “All Ages” more fully (Sunday school teachers have since suggested two changes – to include a children’s song at the All Age worship service, prepared by the Sunday School and the children will come up with two questions to be answered at the All Age worship service. Because of the difficulty of language differences and for other reasons they concluded it is best not to have them report in every service.)
We will be considering the timing of services: not the main services on Sunday morning, but Evensong, Prayer and Praise, whether we should have additional services on Saturday or Sunday evenings or Sundays at 9am.
I will be reviewing the liturgies in the seasonal services to consider adjustments; and the use of the Common Worship baptism service (we used it on Pentecost and will probably alternate); we will be reconsidering at the Leadership Team the lectionary (the choice of readings) that we use for the Sunday morning services.
2 Teaching and Fellowship:
Thank you Erik for coordinating so many student initiatives and engaging others in making it happen (and for their help!) – Alpha and other means of teaching, lots of hospitality – meals offered not only to students but the whole church (e.g on Tuesdays and Saturdays, on Easter and Christmas), movie nights, retreats to Chevetogne (last year and this June), the Uncover John: See for yourself initiative of Marieke, the upcoming discussion about Vocations 15-17 June.
- New initiative – Book Stall in Utrecht – thank you Marc for making Christian books more available at our coffee hour and so encouraging the study of God’s Word and a deeper engagement with Christian writings.
- New initiative – The Annual Utrecht Lectures (first one last year, an idea and initiative of Jos Strengholt) – we are still confirming who will come for September and have a commitment from Hans Boersma to come in September 2020 to discuss – Heavenly Participation: Weaving the sacramental tapestry.
- New initiative – Playgroup – thank you Ineke Cornet for the Friday morning gatherings – we are looking for help to assist Ineke in this outreach especially to young families to lessen isolation and encourage friendship.
- New initiative – Godly play – thank you Madeleine de Boer for providing another way to hear the Gospel in our hearts before our shared lunches.
- Women’s Group, and a possible new initiative this coming year – a Men’s Group in Utrecht?
- New initiative – Nathan has been organizing and this autumn will begin teaching, with others, and developing fellowship among our teens
- There are Bible study groups, the Philokalia Discussion Group
- Christian Classics Study Group series on early Church writings has begun led by Jos Strengholt, and will continue in the coming year interspersed with classics from the medieval, reformation and modern eras
- There is a pilgrimage being organized to early monastic sites in Egypt by Jos Strengholt for this October (see: www.strengholt.info/egypt-desert-retreat-13-19-october-2018-2/)
Vocations discernment (in the order they have come forward) – Thomas Fink-Jensen (soon in his third and final year at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford), Wim Kuiper (has just been approved for study towards the ordination by the Bishop’s Advisory Panel), Tjeerd Bijl, Erik Heemskerk and Ineke Cornet are all in process of discernment with the Diocese – you will see them engaged in lay ministry in the coming year in different ways.
Thank you Judy for coordinating our hospitality on Sunday mornings and other occasions.
I think there has been good attention to this aspect of our church life. Two areas needing special attention this coming year include Pastoral Care and Mission Outreach:
3 Pastoral Care:
More attention to visitation, better use of the Lay Pastoral ministers, the involvement of Local Contacts, Prayer Ministry (which expanded in 2017 to be offered after the service on every third Sunday of the month) should we have a regular new members introduction supper? (could this be an initiative of Local Contacts?)
4 Mission Outreach:
Thanks to the ongoing work of the Charitable Givings Committee. I would like us to review how we are doing this, whether we should be more focused in our mission outreach, supporting fewer missions but in a bigger way that makes greater connections with the people in the congregation.
AA, NA (Narcotics Anonymous), Sola Scriptura (a student union in Utrecht), Enactus (a non-Christian student initiative) are using our church and/or parsonage for outreach in the community.
Thanks to Chaplaincy Administrators last year (at different times): Hanna Cremer-Eindhoven, Hannah Koolstra, and to David Vollmer-Laarman, who has joined us as Chaplaincy Administrator since September. They have shared in 2017 the various administrative tasks, including oversight of the website and Sunday bulletins and being a welcoming face for the chaplaincy to the general public.
Thanks to Judy for coordinating and to Juliette for doing all the formatting and correspondence with the publisher of the Newsletters.
In the coming year we will take the steps to formally separate from Amersfoort. We will look at strategies for continued growth in Holy Trinity Utrecht:
- Is the Lord calling on us to plant another church? Should we be thinking of pouring new energy into Zwolle?
- Should we be thinking about having a curate in the coming year?
- Should we be considering possible renovations to the Church/hall – some of the ideas we had before or some new ideas?
We had a meeting of the Leadership Teams of the four churches in our chaplaincy and of the Council last November and each church put together a SWOT analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
One of our challenges identified at Holy Trinity Church is also one of our greatest gifts. We are a highly diverse congregation – theologically (where we stand on Church teaching), ecclesiologically (we come from different church backgrounds – and have different ways of doing things), and diverse socially and culturally – it is an expression of the Universal Church.
But I want to speak a little on the question of our diversity on theological positions – to speak about “the elephant in the room”. There is a concern about the divisions between people and the labelling of people as conservative versus liberal. It is a reality. What is important is how do we deal with this divide. There is I think a helpful lens through which we can view this situation. The nature of our life and of existence is that we experience both order and chaos (or uncertainty) – a certain amount of both of these are needed for our flourishing. You can see this in the opening verses of Genesis, where the earth was without form and void – that is a kind of chaos. God speaks the Word, the Logos, and brings order out of that chaos – God creates life in a staged and progressive way until the summit, human beings are created, made in the image and likeness of God. In this way you can see that order is a good thing.
However, order can also be destructive, can have a tyrannical aspect to it. We see this contrast between chaos and order if you’ve been following the readings in Deuteronomy and Acts over the past couple of weeks. In Deuteronomy God brings about a huge change in the lives of the Israelites when he took them out of slavery in Egypt towards the promised Land. They had order in their lives in Egypt, but it was a tyrannical order. When they moved into their wilderness wandering this caused them both joy and great distress. Some began to long for the order of Egypt, at least they had certainty about food, ordered lives, even if it was oppressive. Some dealt with the new freedom by resisting any kind of structure – Moses described it as “every person doing what was right in his own eyes.” [Deuteronomy 12:8] They were given the Law of Moses by God and they were given freedom and these were not seen to be contrary but one was needed to ensure the other.
In Acts of the Apostles, we see the early Church Jewish apostles and disciples trying to grapple with how to live out their lives after their encounter with Jesus Christ – his life, death, resurrection and ascension. How were they to relate to the order of their lives as Jews? What structures no longer applied, what structures did still apply? Peter received dreams about the food laws, the disciples witnessed the Spirit falling on Gentiles as well Jews. In some things they were called upon to change. What is true freedom in Christ? Order and chaos? How were they to negotiate the new situation?
Our church is made up of people who tend towards seeing the need for greater order and structure (more conservative) and those who desire less order and structure (more liberal). And this relates both to our understanding of the moral life and about our decisions about how we organize our church – about liturgy, about music, about teaching, about how we govern ourselves, and about our mission in the world. It touches on our every activity as Christians.
There is this tension in our gathering as a community and I want to explain a little about why this is, what can be behind this divide, and how it is a healthy situation and how it can be unhealthy.
Some people in our church tend towards a more liberal stance because they have been hurt by too much order – whether it be a tyrannical parent or a church they were a part of that was too strict and it was experienced as oppressive, loveless and stifling to spiritual growth. They have been hurt deeply by that experience and are wary of too much order, and a way of holding doctrine that can be cruel. Others have been burnt by the experience of too much chaos, perhaps it was parents who let them run too free and in their naivety they were hurt by the world, or they come from churches where there were no rules, and they see the need for greater order, greater structure – they see the importance of doctrine. Both of these experiences do lead to legitimate concerns – order can become tyrannical, freedom can become chaotic and destructive.
There are also some who have only grown up in a conservative or liberal environment and have a fear of any challenge to their current thinking about what is right or simply because it is too much effort to think. Surely laziness or fear alone of what is outside of one’s comfort zone, a kind of timidity, are not legitimate reason for being either conservative or liberal. Growth happens in the spiritual life when we are ready always to hear from God, through the serious study of His Word written and through serious prayer and self-reflection, and by engaging in conversation and prayer with other Christians. It is to listen daily at the gates of heaven to Wisdom who raises her voice, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!… Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave simpleness, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” [see Proverbs 8 and 9, Wisdom of Solomon 8]
We can get into problems when those who are more liberal or more conservative make wrong assumptions about why other people disagree with them.
We greatly benefit from the tension even if it is messier. I think what is special about our church in Utrecht is in fact this very tension. My hope is that Holy Trinity is a place to experience healing from the oppressiveness of too much liberality or too much order, and a place where people are free to explore their faith, to ask difficult questions, to be forbearing and to challenge one another in love. I believe this is in fact the Anglican Way.
So, as long as I believe God is calling me to be here, and so long as the bishop agrees, and so long as I believe that I have your confidence, I will seek to provide that kind of leadership, open to challenges on either side, and seeking to foster a place where ideas can be discussed, where both sides on this particular divide feel welcome, and where we can all continually grow in truth, in wisdom and in love.
Thank you for the opportunity to minister among you. May God continue to bless us and keep us, to make His face to shine upon us, and to give us His peace. Amen.