BETWEEN YOU AND ME!

Two Extremes Dick van der Pyl

I decided to stay in The Netherlands for half a year to make this my final call to my homeland! I had several reasons for making this decision. Early in September , there was a Remembrance Day for the Fallen in Indonesia where I had served Queen and Country to “Restore Order and Peace” in our colonies. It was held in Roermond, in the south of Holland. It was an experience I wouldn't have wanted to miss, as a number of my comrades-in-arms had lost their lives in Indonesia! Then there was another invitation for ex-army men to attend a full day reunion to meet up with old mates. For all that, I still collect an army pension for services rendered, non-taxable!

The third wish I had was the arrival of Saint Nicolaas. There again my wish was fulfilled! Though I had to stay on a dyke for three hours without moving my feet an inch away from my spot before we sighted the steamer. Old Saint Nick was greeted with cannon shots from the 15th century old fortress. A few thousand children and half a dozen music groups greeted him as he climbed on his horse, surrounded by about thirty Black Peters. The whole township of Woudrichem fêted and welcomed the Great Man from Spain at the Town Hall, to be addressed by the Mayor, while the Black Peters threw ginger nuts (pepernoten) to the children. I begged one of the Black Peters - a female - to get me a video of the event. I got it! You're welcome to borrow it!

There were two more wishes to experience: a white Christmas and a frosty Old & New Year!

My relatives thought I was nuts, as there had not been any ice or snow for a good number of years. Believe it or not, but the day before Christmas real snow came down, and the creeks froze up, and it all lasted till the day after New Years Eve. Two weeks later we got even more ice and snow - enough to skate on and make snowmen!

Church-Trawling

For several months I'd been church-trawling, going from one church to another!

I wanted to know how they had fared since I left these shores. In the past, these visits to Holland were too brief to get a true picture of church life. Over the years, I wondered why so many of my family and friends had turned their backs on God, and their churches had emptied and been sold. An elderly uncle of mine told me that mosques are replacing churches. In his town there are still five or six churches left but the others have been replaced by more than forty mosques! I had read enough about it in the Press and magazines and experienced time and again lukewarm responses!

According to the Cultural Planning Bureau, over two-thirds of the population have become non-churchgoers; their prediction is that by the year 2020 only 22% will still attend church: 13% Roman Catholics, 5% Reformed (Hervormd) and 4% Reformed (Gereformeerd).

In a recent poll in Holland on the real meaning of life, God was in fifteenth place and money tenth. Meditation and prayer were even lower down the scale (18th and 19th). And freedom (of what?) scored the highest points and was regarded as the nation's highest quality! Traditionally, God had always scored much more! But a recent enquête concluded that the Dutch now care less about money and God.

Recently, the theologian(?) Kuitert, he of the denial of the faith of our fathers, wrote another book, questioning, among other things, where our spirituality comes from, reasoning that all religion purely depends solely on feelings and emotions.

In a conversation with the manager of a large Christian bookstore, we talked about our faith and the problem of sharing it with others, even including fellow Christians. He admitted that people shy away from spiritual conversations, even among themselves. "Why?" I asked. He shrugged his shoulders and confessed that it would be seen as prying into one's personal feelings.

One Sunday morning, I decided to attend a worship service of an extreme orthodox Reformed congregation, and for the evening service a liberal Reformed Church.

A few weeks earlier, I spotted this church well hidden among trees and bushes next to a carpark on the outskirts of Gorinchem. Looking for a faithful church to worship in, I decided to attend this church! Well, on Sunday morning we left quite early and settled in the adjacent car park to watch the faithful arrive! They all wore black clothing, and the women of all ages carried black hats in their hands and put them on as they entered God's House. My companion did not dare to come inside with me, because she did not wear black clothes and had no black hat either. So, she decided to stay put in the car or go for a walk.

I must admit that I was somewhat apprehensive as I joined the throng. The doorkeeper tipped me that "all seats are 'free'". Great! It reminded me of the days of my youth, when pews were rented out to families and only free when a red light above the pulpit was switched on 5 minutes before the service commenced!

I took my seat somewhere at the back, and had to move twice as a whole family settled in.

One young man, in front of me, had a black band around his left arm above the elbow, as an indication of bereavement in the family. When a close relative passed away, the males would wear a black band to indicate the loss of a close member of the family! Generally this tradition has died out, except in certain traditional parts of the country in the farming community!

I noted that the worshippers arrived quite early and were settled quietly in their pews by 10 minutes before the service started. About two minutes to ten, the doors were locked to prevent disturbances when the session walked in to lead their minister to the pulpit. I noticed that the doors were unlocked again after the votum, but there were no late-comers! There was a total silence as they waited in their seats; maybe a wee whisper here or there, but not the racket that we have before the services begin.

After the whole session had goose-walked in from a side door, the duty elder shook the pastor's hand at the bottom steps of the pulpit, which was at least a metre high from the floor. On the instant, all the men got up from their seats and prayed at length for a blessing on this hour of worship. When the pastor climbed up the steps to the pulpit the men in the congregation sat down, together with the elders and deacons. The elders were seated to the right of the pulpit, overlooking the congregation, and the deacons on the left.

A Good Reformed Sermon

It was an excellent sermon on David, after he had slain Goliath and been introduced to Saul, and when Jonathan, the crown prince, abdicated his right to the throne when he offered not only his friendship, but also all his weaponry to David.

The sermon had three points, a good Dutch habit! After the first two points had been dealt with, we had a break, and sang a Psalm. By then it was 11 o'clock. After the break the 3rd point of the sermon was exegeted and by 11.30am we all trooped out again without a word or greeting. No one approached me, except for a brief glance, and all went on their way, except for some young people who went to socialize with one other, having a smoke at the side of the building.

By the way, I almost forgot to mention the traditional King Peppermints. As soon as the sermon is presented, out came the peppermints, the first one sucked in the first half of the sermon, and the other one after we had sung the mid-sermon Psalm. On several occasions when worshipping here and there, I noted that the minister would wait briefly till the crackling noises of the peppermint rolls had diminished!

During the collection, it was announced that a bit over sixteen thousand guilders had been gathered for the annual nation wide Thanksgiving Service Harvest. This special collection had been held the previous week.

Then Something Different

For the second service, we decided to go to a liberal Reformed Church, about 25 kms from where I stayed. I spotted an advertisement for a Youth Service that evening. They had invited a Christian Gospel Band, "Courage," one of the oldest Gospel bands in the country. They presented noisy pop music and ear-shattering guitar-rock. The theme was "Going for Gold" - copied from the Olympics in Sydney.

The church was about 90% full with young people, organized by the church from youth clubs in their area. The music of the band was absolutely deafening, and I saw some of the few "oldies' frowning. The youth enjoyed themselves and clapped quite noisily. The general thought of the sermon was not that bad, but still strongly Arminian flavoured.

Some weeks later, I went back to this church to find out how effective this outreach had been. I was a bit curious about it! Well, sad to say, the hall was almost empty except for some grey-heads and a few youngsters at the back.

I found that the ultra-orthodox were inward looking and totally unapproaching towards visitors! The liberal churches, however, were more visitor-friendly and sociable, with even coffee before and also after the worship services, and heaps of literature on tables at the entrance. None of the churches we visited had greeters or ushers to hand out Psalm and Hymn Books and Bibles. We always had to ask for them. In some churches, they even had to search for them in some hidden cupboards!

Some of the readers of this article may have had different experiences - and I am glad for that - but the above are factual experiences, without any exaggeration! I am glad the Lord caused us to leave home and hearth to save us from all this. But how sad it is!

Over religie, aan de liefhebbers onder haar beoefenaars

Back to the article index


Faith in Focus / NZ Reformed Church / thirty@paradise.net.nz / Copyright 2001