The Anglican Chaplaincy in Utrecht has been doing some serious gardening this past year! We have a small church building in Utrecht and for the last few of years had the “problem” of bursting at the seams. Our church can fit 90 to 100 comfortably but we often had 130 and many more for major services, and even with adding three early morning services per month (and many chairs) we were finding ourselves overfull. A large number of the congregation were from Amersfoort, about a 20-minute drive, so after prayer and reflection on all the possibilities we concluded we were being called by God to plant a church in that city.
How many would go? What about friendships and pastoral relationships built up over the years? What would it be like for those remaining in Utrecht, especially for the Sunday school, with many children from Amersfoort? What about language of worship? What about our ecumenical relations? Could we afford and sustain two full time chaplains and two church buildings? We are now 9 months into the church plant in Amersfoort and the “replant” in Utrecht and here is a brief update.
All Saints Anglican Church Amersfoort began on 20th December 2015, a new Anglican church in the geographical centre of the Netherlands. It was born through the blessing of the Lord. There was prayerful reflection and strategic thinking by Holy Trinity Utrecht followed by sacrificial giving in terms of giving money and people to the project.
And now, in September 2016, there is a new congregation averaging 50-70 adults and 20 children. We have so many things to be thankful for to the Lord. Luke 5 talks of the Lord asking Simon and the others to let down their nets in an area they had worked hard and they were (reluctantly!) obedient and the rest we know. Often we never know what the Lord has planned until we take those steps of faith!
It has been a great learning curve. The simple things which you take for granted as part of an existing church life, but in a new church, many ministries need to be started afresh. For example, we needed 8 Sunday School teachers and at one stage we only had three, but after requests from the front, and prayer by people inside and outside the church, the Lord provided.
Our new minister – the Revd Grant Crowe – moved, from England, with his family last November, and he was formally licensed in March this year. It was a great service, noted also for the number of local ministers and preachers who made a point of attending in support, apart from the Anglican chapter. And we hope, as All Saints was blessed and encouraged by those local churches, All Saints can be a blessing to our fellow parts of the Body of Christ, and bring blessing to the city in which we are located.
One question we faced was – what name to give this new church that would speak to Dutch and international Christians living in and near Amersfoort. We settled on All Saints – that regardless of background, spirituality, age, or whether someone is Anglican, Baptist or Reformed or other, we are all saints, united. And how we are all saints – through the cross of Christ. And the call to be, in our daily lives, to live as saints – as holy ones, where we live and work…
We rent the use of a Roman Catholic church building in the south of Amersfoort. It has been a great home for us to use and to move from being a baby church into a toddler… But unfortunately that church building has been sold, and next year, after Easter, so we will be homeless. We would ask your prayers for a new home – trusting as the Lord began a good work, he will carry it on in Amersfoort.
Grant reflects on his first year, “It is a privilege to be involved in such a stage. To see people excited – a word often used in conversation – about being part of a new church starting, excited about what is going to happen… As the chaplain primarily responsible, I am thankful for being called here to serve and to be a part of this community of ‘saints’ and we look forward to what God has planned for us in the coming months and years.”
In the coming year, we want to sharpen our vision as to what God is calling us to be and do as an English language Anglican Church here in Amersfoort. We will encourage the importance of worship and prayer, of warm welcome to all ages and all sorts regardless of churchmanship or background, the crucial place of deep community and of life long discipleship, and of looking outwards to our city and beyond, through seeking to serve and love others as Christ did and to communicate and share the Christian faith so more may discover the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. We hope to do this open to the leading and depending upon the presence and power of God promised in the Holy Spirit. In all of this activity, we will continue to enjoy working with Holy Trinity, both on a church level, and also as two chaplains working together. One example of the latter, will be how Grant and David in the year ahead will continue to provide service cover and pastoral and ministerial support for the Anglican congregation in Zwolle (which meets usually twice a month). Also, beginning in December, there will be occasional pulpit swops between the two chaplains, as we seek to continue close relations between All Saints and Holy Trinity.
At Holy Trinity Church in Utrecht we experienced the shock of not having an overfull or even a full church, a change in the volume of singing, a lessening of overall energy. Our main Sunday service now has 70 to 90. But new people have come to both churches. Since starting the new church in Amersfoort the total numbers worshipping between the two churches on a Sunday has grown by about 25%. Practical changes: a change in service times to encourage more to come for fellowship after services; new people have become involved in the many tasks and ministries in the church that had opened up; and we will need to decide if the 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday early services will continue. With fewer people attending, our focus on ministry to the many university students in Utrecht has come more to the forefront. As well, greater attention can be given to newcomers.
The replanted Utrecht congregation met for an Away Day last June to reflect together and brainstorm on five aspects of being church together – teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers (from Acts 2:42) – and in the context of considering our mission to the world. The results of that day will help guide the Council in the coming years.
We’re also enjoying new opportunities offered by having two Anglican churches in the neighbourhood – participating in each other’s worship, fellowship and educational initiatives. After a summer of rest, we are excited about the new possibilities opening up before us. We are grateful for your prayers as we enter this new phase of being church here.