NoorderLichtkerk, Zeist (Exterior)

Northern Lights Church, Zeist, The Netherlands

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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Northern Lights Church
Location: Zeist, The Netherlands
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 March 2016, 7:30pm

The building

The imposing brick building, which dates from 1931, is a late example of the Amsterdam School, a style of architecture that was part of the Expressionist movement of the early 20th century. It is the work of architect Bastiaan Willem Plooij, who designed more than 40 churches in the Expressionist style. The outside, featuring a soaring tower, is traditional looking in a rather austere sort of way. Inside, one's eye is drawn to the organ case at the east end, in an auditorium featuring Gothic-like tracery and pews angled in.

The church

The congregation present themselves in a brochure as multi-coloured and open." People from different backgrounds come to gather here, not only Reformed but also Evangelical, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic and others. Their website lists numerous activities and groups that they sponsor, but since it is in Dutch it would be difficult for the English speaker to follow. Most church congregations in the Netherlands offer people with mobility problems the possibility of following their worship services online, both live and at a later time.

The neighborhood

Zeist is a prosperous town near the city of Utrecht. Documents dating as far back as 838 make mention of it. The Zeist family itself seems to have died out during the late Middle Ages, but the Moravians settled there beginning in 1746 and built an impressive array of houses. During the 19th century, Zeist became a fashionable place for the wealthy to live. In the 20th century, the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial took place here in a court convened under Scots law. Today, Zeist is home to the Royal Dutch Football Association. The church is in a quiet, leafy suburb.

The cast

Pastor Roel Bosch, Marco Wemekamp, Hannina Boers, and others.

What was the name of the service?

Ionaviering (Iona Celebration). Inspired by the ecumenical Christian community on the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, Iona Celebrations feature readings, songs, prayers and activities that have to do with faith, justice, peace and their connection to nature

How full was the building?

There were about 50 churchgoers in a church hall that seats 700.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

In the foyer next to the church hall, a woman interrupted her conversation to greet me. And I was also greeted by the usher, who handed me an order of service.

Was your pew comfortable?

The wooden bench was surprisingly comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet, informal. There was piano playing, while people chatted or wandered around the church hall.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

(In Dutch:) Welcome to this Iona Celebration. Each Iona Celebration is different from the previous one.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None. We received a photocopied order of service. The readings were also projected, along with the texts of the songs, onto the wall behind the liturgical centre.

What musical instruments were played?

Grand piano. The organ, a magnificent example of the work of the renowned Dutch firm MW Flentrop Orgelbouw, remained silent.

Did anything distract you?

A row of teenage girls who did not join the rest of the congregation in the "Holy Chaos" (see below), but remained seated, glued to their mobile phones.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Neither. The best I can come up with is "soothing." The service was held in Dutch.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

One minute. In the order of service it was announced as some words alongside the [Bible] reading. This was followed by a PowerPoint presentation about a local diaconal project, which lasted 10 minutes, and the reading of a short text from the noted Dutch priest, writer and theologian Henri Nouwen. There were two speakers and one reader (none of whom was the pastor).

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – It would be unfair to score such a short sermon, so this mark also covers the PowerPoint presentation that followed.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The link that God makes between gardens and cities. The preacher took her cue from the Bible reading, Jeremiah 29:5-7 ("Build houses and settle down"). The Bible starts in a garden and ends in a city. Take care of the garden and contribute to the welfare of the city, because then you too will fare well. Parting thought: You are now already at the place where you should be.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The quarter hour dubbed the "Holy Chaos", which followed the sermon. We were invited to visit one or more of half-a-dozen stations dotted around the church hall. I particularly liked the table on which were a large tub of earth and a watering can we were invited to fill a small pot with earth and sunflower seeds, and take it home with us. On another table, designated a meeting-place for conversations, were bunches of grapes and a plate with oatcakes, as they apparently would be offered after worship on Iona.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The row of girls glued to their phones was unsettling, to say the least. Was their opting out perhaps a harbinger of things to come, a glimpse of church life in the future?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The drinks were self-service and there was no one else looking lost. After a while, the pastor came over and introduced himself.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

It was OK. The choice was between coffee and tea (no milk, unfortunately).

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 – I hope to attend future Iona celebrations, which are held once every two months at this church. But my regular churchgoing will continue to be at my local church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Very much so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The row of teenage girls glued to their mobile phones, while everyone else was wandering about during the Holy Chaos.

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