You’d hardly expect it, but at the celebration of 70 years World Council of Churches at August 23rd 2018 someone attended who also attended the celebration in 1948. Albert van den Heuvel, now 86 years old, was the secretary-general of the Dutch Reformed Church and the chairman of the VARA, a socialistic broadcasting company in The Netherlands. In 1948 he attended the celebration in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, and now attended the symposium.
Of course a lot of Dutch people attended the celebration, but we also spoke to multiple people from every corner of the world. There were ‘neighbours’ from Germany and people from the other side of the world: New Zealand. We attended as representatives of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, but also because we thought it would be a great experience. Below is a report of a festive day in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Symposium on Hospitality
The day started with the symposium Hospitality: On a Pilgrim’s Way of Justice and Peace by the Protestant Theological University. Accordionist Juul Beerda was playing invitingly at the entrance of the room.
Six people hosted a TED Talk: one man (dr. Olav Tyeit, secretary-general of the WCC) and five women. A lot of words fit in as a little as two hours, a few of them resonated with us. Like the remark of Mpho Tutu of Furth (from South Africa, but recently in The Netherlands): “Look at the people on the streets. Every person is part of the mosaic of God.” Or the advice of Naila Kassab from Lebanon: “Hospitality revolves around how people feel. Step into the space to truly meet each other.”
Mathilde Sabbagh from Syria also told a beautiful story:
I was in a McDonald’s, where a little girl walked around with a plush sheep. The kid walked to a table and said: ‘Look what a beautiful sheep I have!’, but nobody responded. She walked to the next table and said again: ‘Look what a beautiful sheep I have!’, and again nobody responded. She continued, from table to table, and remained as enthusiastic as she was at the first table.
Mathilde didn’t say it, but she probably talked to this girl when she arrived at her table. Wat she did tell: this event made her think of a broadcast by the twelve: “go, and if someone doesn’t let you in, wipe the dust off your feet and continu.”
In between the TED Talks we sang with Kees Posthumus. He had created a beautiful song text on the melody of Brother John that he taught us on sight. The first time we sang it, the second time we also moved and the third time we sang in canon. And all of that succeeded, with the accordionist!
Because many of the attendees continued on to the Walk of Peace, there was a lunch package ready for every participant at the exit. Great service!
Walk of Peace
The Walk of Peace gives shape to the Pilgrim’s Way of Justice and Peace that the WCC has stimulated in the last couple of years. In more and more places around the world a such a walk is walked in the yearly peace week, and this year also for the first time in our hometown Nieuwegein. The goal is to meet and connect to people outside your own circle.
In Amsterdam a walk such as this took place this year, and a few hundred people participated. People walked in groups of around 20 people past 10 stops where something would happen. The route went along a Jewish monument, the statue ‘de Dokwerker’ which is a remembrance of a strike in 1941 as a protest to the prosecution of Jews, the Armenian Church, the Salvation Army and ended on the Dam.
Everyone got a backpack with directions, explanations about the stops and more. Because we attended the symposium, we were only able to experience a small part of the route. But what we did see, made an impression. And it’s nice to see there were groups of people walking around with a recognisable backpack.
Service in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam
The theme of the oecumenical service was Walking, praying and working together. The liturgy opened with a photo of 70 years ago. There was a gospel choir that sang beautiful songs and provided a nice foundation for the community singing. There was a group of young people from all over the world who had already spend a couple of days here as pelgrims. They gave a nice performance which included multiple people from the church.
What really made a big impression on us, were the spoken memories of the time of the establishment. There were told by Jurjen Zeilstra, who promoted on September 5th on a biography about Willem Visser ’t Hooft, the first secretary-general of the WCC. Every memory, filled with shocking images from right after the war, was brought to a close with “Kyrie eleison”. After that we sang a couplet and a chorus of the song “Until all are fed”, which was the thread of the last Assembly in Bussan, South Korea in 2013. We sang that four times.
Just like what we are used to at the European Forum, we paid the Lord’s Prayer, which everyone did in his or her own language. After the blessing we sang “A toi la gloire”, which was also sung in 1948. At the end the choir walked to the exit while singing, and stood there singing until the church had emptied. A festive close for a festive day!
By Jenni Schuldink and Ineke Lautenbach