Mystery Worshipper: Variable Bede
Church: Oud-Katholieke Parochie
Location: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 January 2010, 10:00am
The present building of Oud-Katholieke Parochie dates from 1914 and is successor to the hidden church of Saints Peter and Paul. In the Netherlands, after the Reformation, church buildings that could be identified as Catholic were outlawed; thus, Catholics worshipped in private homes, in rooms decorated with the trappings of a proper church. In 1953 the hidden church of Sts John and Willibrord merged with Sts Peter and Paul. The building is of red brick, in the style tourists generally associate with Amsterdam. The inside is traditional in appearance. Many of the furnishings are older than the building itself. There is a rotunda-style tabernacle (cylindrical with a dome) on the altar, which, as it turned out, had a false door – read on!
This is the only Old Catholic church in Amsterdam. They hold a variety of services, including the eucharist and vespers, and sponsor a concert series. Judging from their website, they appear to encourage their parishioners to share their concerns and make good use of their talents. The church is also known as Sts Peter and Paul and Sts John and Willibrord.
It seems to be a typically nice "Old South" Amsterdam neighbourhood, with canals, lots of bikes, some nice shops mixed in with the residential area – and none of the seedy stuff that tourists associate with central Amsterdam.
Pastor Dick Schoon led the service, and pastoral worker Jarek Kubacki preached. There was also an unnamed server.
What was the name of the service?Eucharistie
How full was the building?
Only 18 in the congregation, so fairly sparse. A sudden snowstorm had arrived, which may have kept people away.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, but I got there a bit too early (20 minutes or so). I helped myself to the books and leaflet set out.
Was your pew comfortable?
Pews with fold-down kneelers, as found in most Roman Catholic churches in the UK today.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The choir and organist were rehearsing. That boded well, I thought.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Goedemorgen en welkom, followed by announcements I couldn't understand. The priest opened the service itself with In de Naam van de Vader, de Zoon, en de heilige Geest. (OK, I admit I copied that out of the book to get the spelling right.)
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Gezangboek van de Oud-Katholieke Kerk van Nederland (hymnal) and Kerkboek van de Oud-Katholieke Kerk van Nederland (prayer book). There was also a two-page A5 leaflet with the page numbers in the prayer book, hymn numbers, and the readings for the day.
What musical instruments were played?
The organ accompanied a choir of three people, including a soloist.
Did anything distract you?
Because of the language barrier, I juggled the books around a lot during the first part of the service. Once I realised the liturgy was almost the same as my home church's and that many of the hymnal page references were to musically notated versions of the texts (which I wasn't trying to pronounce out loud, much less to sing), I relaxed a bit.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Smells and bells, with almost everything sung or chanted that can be done to music (including the creed). Despite the churches' different histories, the order of worship was remarkably similar to the Anglican liturgy I'm used to.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Most of the time I had no idea what he was saying, but he seemed to have a good style.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
I don't understand Dutch well enough to know, although I picked up a few snippets: I think he referred to someone from the Dutch feminist movement, and later to the scroll of Isaiah (mentioned in the day's reading from Luke 4:14-21 – Jesus tells his fellow worshipers in temple that the passage from Isaiah that he read was fulfilled that day in their presence), and I'm almost sure he used the English expression "wishful thinking" twice.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The combination of good music, incense, a liturgy smoothly carried out with a serious approach to the sacrament, and friendly people.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nervousness about the unfamiliar church and the language barrier, which I overcame after the sermon.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't get a chance. At the end of the service, a woman came to greet me in Dutch and invite me for coffee before I could get out of my pew. Then she repeated it all in English for me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good, freshly made, served in small cups with saucers – with real cream!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – The priest told me there was an Anglican parish nearby but that they were "rather evangelical." I replied, "Well, I've come to the right place then."
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It left me feeling joyous all day, and it was well worth the walk in the snow to get there. I would recommend this church to anyone passing through Amsterdam on a Sunday. (Unfortunately the community isn't big enough to provide weekday services.)
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The false door on the tabernacle. At communion time, the priest opened it by pushing it sideways, revealing that the "door" was in fact the back side of a rotating cylinder, on the other side of which the ciborium rested in a hollowed-out niche. It reminded me of a door hidden in a rotating bookshelf in a film. I thought it was splendid!