Mystery Worshipper: Eirene
Church: Parochie Thomas à Kempis
Location: Zwolle, the Netherlands
Date of visit: Thursday, 25 May 2006, 11:00am
The Parochie Thomas à Kempis (also known as Verrijzeniskerk) is an ugly, squat grey church dating from the middle 1960s, with a free-standing bell tower. Inside it's much more light and roomy than you'd think from the outside (it was remodeled in the 1980s) but still all the warmth has to come from the people, not from the walls, which are uninspiring grey brick.
The service I attended was atypical and so I could not get a feel for ordinary parish life. But from what I could gather, it seems to be very socially active. For instance, there's a service once each month in Papiamento for immigrants from the Dutch West Indies.
Zwolle is located about 50 miles northeast of Amsterdam. Mention of a settlement named Zwolle dates back to about 1040. Its golden age occurred during the 15th century, when the city was an important member of the Hanseatic League. In the 20th century Zolle became a thriving fish and cattle market as well as an industrial centre. The Verrijzeniskerk sits in a modern development on the north side of the city. There is evidence of old flats being demolished to make room for new ones. One housing estate is surprisingly called Limbo.
The Rev. Monsignor Dr G.J.N. de Korte, auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Utrecht, presided. The bishop was assisted by the Rev. P.L. van der Weide, pastor of the parish; the Rev. Dr Emilio Sumbelelo, a priest visiting from Angola; the Rev. G.J. Nijland, a retired priest; and deacons A.H.M. Wijngaards (with a splendid reading voice) and J.G. Collignon (also serving as ceremoniarius).
What was the name of the service?Eucharist with ordination to the permanent diaconate of Michael Buykx
How full was the building?
Almost full, and when the children came back from the children's service, completely full. According to the website it seats 600 and there were indeed at least 500 people present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We met the ordinand's wife, who welcomed us warmly but had to rush off again. Everybody was far too busy to welcome strangers – after all, more than half of the people there must have been strangers to the parish.
Was your pew comfortable?
No! It was subtly the wrong size and shape, which became more evident the longer we sat in it. The bottom of the backrest pinched my back, and when I tried to sit up straight to avoid that, I noticed that the seat sloped backwards, making it almost impossible to sit without leaning or perching on the edge of the bench. Also, the kneeler was too high to use as a foot-rest and too much in the way to let me put my feet on the floor, and the seat was just too high for that as well. Strangely, all five of my party, all different sizes, had similar problems.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Joyful and expectant, with lots of excited buzz.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
We sang the hymn "Wees hier aanwezig, woord ons gegeven" (one of the better products of Huub Oosterhuis, a prolific modern-ish Catholic hymn-writer). After the hymn, the bishop began the service with "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A very beautifully made special service booklet.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano, keyboard, a kind of little electric ukelele or guitar, and an African drum, all at different points in the service. And many different human voices, notably those of two African sisters who sang a special ordination song in Swahili ("I am here, Lord, to do thy will").
Did anything distract you?
The woman behind me, an alto, went all over the scale when the pitch was too high for her. Also, one of the loudspeakers was right behind, giving the illusion that those speaking were standing at the back of the church. I kept fighting the urge to turn to see them.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy but not clappy, dignified without being stiff, especially the ordination itself. But at times the service seemed strangely discontinuous, with breaks for announcements and stage business. As an Orthodox Christian, I'm more accustomed to services that flow on and on without breaks.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Bishop De Korte's light, informal tone that jarred ever so slightly in the words of the liturgy came into its own when he was preaching. He made sense without becoming boring or overly serious.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The ascension of Christ shows us that we are called to serve, as Christ was sent from the Father and taken back to the Father to do His service on earth. Serving as a deacon is only one kind of service. Other people have other callings, which are as important even if not so visible.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The litany of all saints, recited while the ordinand was lying flat on the floor. It moved me literally to tears. What was most touching about it was that each saint's name was qualified: "Rachel, weeping for her children," "Mary Magdalene, apostle of the resurrection," "Augustine, surprised by God's grace," etc.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, two hours in that pew was penance enough, but what made me cringe most was the applause at some of the admittedly very good singing.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance to look lost. There were at least 15 people we knew. As I stood in line to congratulate the new deacon, I exchanged some words with the people on either side of me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Decent hot coffee in a disposable cup, served by earnest looking teenaged scouts in uniform. And delicious shop-bought cakes; I had one with chocolate sprinkles and vanilla creme filling, but there were different kinds.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I don't know if I could get used to the ugliness of the building, albeit mitigated somewhat by the loveliness of the ritual and especially the vestments.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes! Also glad that those 500 other people are Christians.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Crying at the litany of all saints.