Chaplain’s Report to AGM 2021

Beloved in Christ of Utrecht, Zwolle and Groningen,

As human beings we desire first and foremost – communion – communion with God, communion with one another and a certain communion with God’s Creation.  Everything we do in our churches is to help in the reestablishing of communion on these levels – it undoes the loneliness and alienation we feel at the deepest level of our hearts and recalls us to our true purpose.  In communion with God we find life.

Communion has been one of the greatest challenges of the corona pandemic the past year. We are being deprived of communion with one another, of seeing one another face to face, and even seeing one another’s faces, and of touch – not a handshake nor a hug.  And we are being deprived of or limited in one of the ways we know communion with God – in our worship – limited in our gathering, together, in opening our mouths in praise, together, and receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus, together, to know and strengthen that bond of union with God, and in doing so, strengthening our bond of communion with one another.   

At the heart of who we are as Church is the building of communion on all these levels.  But here is a little about what we have done, by the grace of God.

In 2020, we’ve had only one baptism – Annemarie Boneschanscher.  Since then there have been no baptisms – though we expect some soon! – and no confirmations.

Last year we did have four marriages, praise God!  Brian and Christianne; Oliver and Connie; Luke and Donna; and Juliette and Esmir.  May God bless these couples with ever deepening love and joy.

We have had funerals and burials in 2020 for: Annemarie Boneschanscher; Tommy Thomas; Joop Wever; Hans Urleman; Ton Postma; and Benjamin van Rossum.  Others in our congregation have lost loved ones, but not with services led by Holy Trinity, most recently, Terry Vollmer, father of David our Chaplaincy Administrator.

Let us remember them all:
O ETERNAL Lord God, who holds all souls in life: Shed forth, we pray, upon your whole Church in Paradise and on earth the bright beams of your light and heavenly comfort; and grant that we, following the good example of those who have loved you and served you here and are now at rest, may at the last enter with them into the fullness of your unending joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AmenMay they rest in peace, and rise in glory!  Amen.

At the AGM last October, I spoke of major events in the life of our churches in 2020 to that point, so I will only speak today on what has happened since October.

In November we conducted a survey of the congregation by email and using Survey Monkey asking questions about worship, about peoples’ experience of their spiritual health, about pastoral care and desire for fellowship.  We had 64 responses, which is about 1/3 of the people to whom it was sent out in Utrecht and Zwolle.  I will weave in some of the results of that survey into what follows. Click here for a post with some of the Survey Results.

On Worship:

Zwolle has not been able to worship since December with the current lockdown provisions because they are using the Lutheran Church which has chosen to stay closed.  The congregation has opportunities to watch live-stream services from Utrecht and Amersfoort and also Grant Crowe and Angela Berben have been providing some services by YouTube. 

In Utrecht, we are blessed to have our own building, and we have continued services in our limited way.  Our main rationale has been that the provisions we have been taking are sufficient for safety, even with the new variants.  Also, we see corporate worship as vital to our life in Christ, and of continuing to receive the sacrament, one of the means through which Christ is incarnate in His people.  And we are witnessing to the wider world of the centrality of worship in our lives.

We have had quite consistently over the past year around 35 households participating from home during the live streaming of services and this continues to the present.  Our December survey indicates that number probably represents about 80-90 individuals, since many of these “views” represent two or more gathered together in homes participating together.  So with the 15 to 22 people in church, and 5-8 people at the midweek Communion services, we are maintaining our Sunday congregation numbers from pre-Corona times, which was on average around 90 to 110 in Utrecht, and perhaps even improving a bit.  This is good news.  In addition, our live-streamed services are visited 50-100 times during the following two weeks and for an average viewing time of 10-15 minutes, about the length of the sermon – so additional teaching and worship is happening beyond the Sunday service because of our live-streaming.  This is a gift of the corona times, something to think seriously about retaining in post-corona times.  Thanks go out to the team of technical people who make this extension of our worship into homes possible. And thanks for the faithfulness of all of you who continue to participate from home when you cannot come in person.

One area of deep sadness for me is that the 9am Dutch Holy Communion Dutch services in Utrecht have been suspended since March last year.  Members of the Catholic Apostolic community, who are the primary attendees of these services, have not felt it appropriate to continue until the restoration of the shared cup and until all are able to worship together.  I don’t agree with their decision but I respect it.  And I look forward very much to the re-establishing of these services post-corona. 

On Spiritual Health:

Our survey gave mixed results about how people are experiencing this pandemic – some finding it a time of enrichment, with more time for family, for walking and reflection, and deepening their faith in God, some finding no change, while others are finding it a deep challenge spiritually.

On Pastoral Care:

Requests in the survey for greater pastoral connection have been followed up on.  And there is a mutual care happening between members of the congregation.  We had lots of individuals offering practical help but very few requesting it.  Thanks goes out to Daniëlle Los, to Harry Barrowclough, our pastoral assistants, and to the Local Contacts, and to many others who have been making calls, staying connected, and especially with those more isolated.

I am continuing to offer home communion to whoever requests it and have also been doing house blessings and other visits regularly.

On Fellowship and Learning Together:

We have been keeping connected through the weekly Trinity Tidings by email – thanks to those who have sent updates of themselves – please do share through this means how you are doing so we can stay connected with one another and be encouraged.

Our survey indicated a desire from some to connect and grow together even by online means.  The idea of Daniëlle Los, that we bring Life Groups to Holy Trinity in Utrecht, has been followed up on.  There have been 7 groups meeting by Zoom since January – with very positive responses.   There are  3 to 5 members in each Group meeting at different times in the week, every 2 weeks, representing 28 people.  This began for 5 sessions, and these groups will decide after Easter if they will continue.  We have been reflecting in these groups on our relation to God’s Creation.

An Alpha Pre-Marriage Course hosted by Daniëlle (Koning) and I has happened between January and March with 4 couples, using Zoom: (Andreas and Heidi; Rebecca and Hadrian; Natalie and Robin; Niels and Pauline.)  And follow up with them will continue.

Godly Play for our children has been started by Madeleine de Boer and has been offered every Sunday at 9am by Zoom since September – that is 24 episodes to date!  This is no small task, as each week, Madeleine translates the 10-15 minute plays from English to Dutch for the first time, memorizes them, and creates the props used in each Godly Play.  A real labour of love and creativity.  Thank you Madeleine!

On the Vocations Front:

God is blessing us with many vocations springing from our chaplaincy.  Thomas Fink-Jensen was priested last October and is half way through his second year of Curacy in England. Wim Kuiper was deaconed last September and is in his first year of Curacy in England.  Erik Heemskerk is in his second of three years of study at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford.  And there are four people in the process here in Utrecht at present: 

  • Daleen Bakker is doing a year in the Ministry Experience Scheme in Barcelona and has been recommended by the Bishops to attend the Bishop’s Advisory Panel this Spring – if recommended, she will likely begin studies in England this Autumn. 
  • Marieke Sybrandi is in the process and the Council will soon be asked about sponsoring her – if all goes well she will go to BAP in Autumn this year. 
  • Fred Schonewille is also in process of discernment towards non-stipendiary ordained ministry and the Council will be asked about his sponsorship soon. 
  • Nathan Bunt has asked to restart the discernment process after a time of rest following the birth of his dear daughter Tirza last summer.  
  • Tjeerd Bijl, Ineke Cornet and Marten van den Toren have all decided to step back from the discernment process towards ordained ministry for different reasons.

We thank God all of these people for their dedication and desire to serve God, for the ways they have been and are helping the Church, and we pray for their discernment and futures.

A word about Future Planning:

We are all expecting that as the vaccines role out and our society is freed up, we will begin to return to some kind of pre-corona normalcy – maybe even by September.  It will be for our Chaplains, Wardens and Council to work together with the congregations and the Leadership Teams in Zwolle and Groningen to shape what is key to our mission in post-corona times. 

The financial giving in our congregations has been extremely encouraging – God has greatly blessed us through the generosity of this family.  Thanks to all for your faithful giving!  We are tasked with being good stewards of what has been offered.  How might God be calling us to expand our ministry?  A Mission subgroup established by Council just before corona, came up with a number of proposals that Council will need to look at, ways to expand our ministry.  One of the chief bottlenecks identified to growth has been limitation in ordained ministry in the chaplaincy, would we consider having an assistant priest?

One thing that has been agreed by Council recently is the proposal to add a Sunday 5pm weekly service in Utrecht – we have held back starting this because of the most recent lockdown measures, but the plan is to begin soon.  Two Sundays a month will be Holy Communion, one Sunday Evening Prayer and Praise (as we are doing now) and the other Sunday, when possible – Evening Prayer or Evensong.  This will be good to enable more to attend in Utrecht on a Sunday during the pandemic, but also good as an expansion of our ministry in post-corona times.  Obviously we will need lay leaders for the first Sunday of the month, as we hope to restart 4pm services in Zwolle soon.

Thanksgiving:

Let’s conclude by expressing my thanks for service of individuals since our last AGM: our Wardens – Frank and Adrian, our Deputy Warden Jegan, to our Treasurer Beth, Simon as Council Secretary, Marieke as Assistant Secretary, and to Council Members – especially those who are stepping down after today – Anne Gast, Juliette Gentenaar, Niels Tacoma.  Simon has been secretary on the Council since 2015 – and has decided not to put his name forward for election as secretary for Council this year.  He will remain on Council as Archdeaconry Synod rep.   Thank you Simon for all these years of keeping us organized! 

Thanks are due to Freek Elbers and the choir – we thank you for contributions in the early autumn and for your patience in these last few months when you haven’t been able to make music together.   Thanks to Brian Fink-Jensen and members of the Worship Band who continue to lead Evening Prayer and Praise once a month and provide music for the first Sunday of the month.

Thanks are due to the hours and hours of work put in by the Building Maintenance Committee Team.

Thank you David Vollmer for your competent, pastorally sensitive and cheerful work as Chaplaincy Administrator.

And thanks to Anne Miechielsen for heeding God’s foundational call in Genesis 2 to be a tiller and keeper of the garden!

Penultimate thanks go to Daniëlle, my wife, for her love, her longsuffering and for support and inspiration in countless ways!

God has been faithful to us, leading us, step by step, through the twists and turns of this past year, without us knowing the end.  We suspect it will not be 40 years!  We give thanks foremost to God for guiding us through these times and into the new world that will emerge. 

May God bless us and keep each one of us and make His face to shine upon us!

In the love of Christ,

David