Chaplain’s Letter

This month we have not one, but two Chaplain’s Letters! This second one is written by the Rev. Sam Van Leer, Groningen chaplain.

Being Church Together, for God is Our Stronghold and Source of Hope

In early October, Anglican clergy and lay reps from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg, met up for our annual Synod meeting of the Archdeaconry of the Anglican Churches of Northwest Europe, which takes place at the Oude Abdij in Drongen in Belgium over the course of several days. It is a wonderful opportunity to share with each other about the life of our congregations and chaplaincies, to pray and worship together, to learn together, and also, in our business meetings for the Deaneries and Archdeaconry, to weigh in on matters that affect all of us.

In informative and inspiring interchanges, we learned more about the Open Doors foundation’s efforts to support members of persecuted churches worldwide, about chaplaincy ministry to seafarers in Rotterdam, about pastoral care for prisoners in Belgium, about our link with the Diocese of Luweero in Uganda, and various chaplaincies involvement in action to respond to the climate crisis. And our main guest speaker at Synod this year was Michael Harvey, a leading force in developing ‘Back to Church Sunday’ in the UK, which has, thanks to our Area Dean Ruan Crew’s input and support of the National Council of Churches, been translated into ‘Kerkproeverij’ inititiatives in the Netherlands. Michael encouraged us how to make ‘Welcome and Invitation’ a central part of our outreach and chaplaincy life.

For me, all of this once again illustrated the virtue of our understanding that we as a local congregations and chaplaincies are part of the universal Church, the Body of Christ, and these occasions reinforce how we depend on, can learn from, and need to continue to pray and support each other. In Groningen over the past month, we have had a short-course on the subject of ‘Being Church Together’, to explore what it means to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, together, for our towns and cities, and for the world.

Additional highlights of Synod, for me, were definitely what we heard from our Bishop and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Antwerp.

Bishop Robert Innes

Our very own Diocesan Bishop, Robert Innes, gave a presentation on the Diocese, fittingly entitled ‘A Tesimony of Hope.’ As we all know, the world, and even our relatively peaceful continent of Europe, are experiencing a perhaps surprising (after so much peace and prosperity for so long) degree of political turmoil of late, not least because of the ongoing Brexit grapplings, the conflict in North Syria, the climate crisis and its impacts, but other challenges as well.

Bishop Robert unveiled some less-noticed, delightful developments in our Diocese, like chaplaincy aid for asylum-seekers in France, new church plants and anniversary celebrations for long-standing chaplaincies, cross-denominational collaboration in Russia and Turkey, a forthcoming Lent book on the theology of environmental stewardship, and so much else. With these examples, Bishop Robert encouraged us to remember that to have faith in Christ, who was raised from the dead, means we can and should always have hope, however things presently seem to be.

Coat of arms of John Bonny, Bishop of Antwerp

The next day, we were introduced to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Antwerp, Mgr Johan Bonny, with whom Bishop Robert is paired, as part of global Anglican-Catholic initiative to stimulate interaction between our two Churches. Bishop Johan spoke to the societal challenges of antagonism and exclusion and how the Church, in his view, lives differently. The Church is to be a listening, welcoming, accompanying community of faith that is also growing and moving forward. How striking how similar his vision is to that of our Synod and its other keynote speakers.
After Synod, and after riding back to Utrecht in the company of colleagues and friends from Holy Trinity Utrecht and Amersfoort, I boarded a train to Groningen. En route, the Psalm appointed for Evening Prayer that day just happened to be Psalm 46. Once again, I was moved by how Scripture speaks into situations.

Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength,*
a very present help in trouble;
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,*
and though the mountains tremble in the heart of the sea;
3 Though the waters rage and swell,*
and though the mountains quake at the towering seas.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,*
the holy place of the dwelling of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; therefore shall she not be removed;*
God shall help her at the break of day.
6 The nations are in uproar and the kingdoms are shaken,*
but God utters his voice and the earth shall melt away.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us; *
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
8 Come and behold the works of the Lord,*
what destruction he has wrought upon the earth.
9 He makes wars to cease in all the world;*
he shatters the bow and snaps the spear and burns the chariots in the fire.
10 ‘Be still, and know that I am God;*
I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.’
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; *
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

With the world in a bit of uproar, and so many political and environmental challenges facing us, we must not lose sight of the fact that the God of Jacob is our stronghold, and His Kingdom shall come. And for now, God is our refuge and strength, still and always a very present help in all sorts of trouble.
Moreover, when and if we are disquieted, we must recall that God’s streams of peace ever flow, making glad His city and His citizens. This is a noteworthy detail in light of the fact that the earthly Jerusalem does not have a physical river running through it. Yet the Psalmist points to a spiritual and psychological truth: with faith, we are showered with God’s blessings, and are more aware of them, and can rightly be filled with hope, and witness to that, even if the world around us seems dry.

And let us resolve to help bring this water to the thirsty (even if all do not recognize their own thirst).

Yours in Christ,
Sam Van Leer (Chaplain for Groningen)

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