“Now strengthen the bonds with other churches”
Larry Koelewijn (46) and Gertjan Haandrikman (44), both members of the executive committee, are confident about the future of the Dutch Reformed churches. They see the unification of the NGK and the GKv as a blessing, which they welcomed with gratitude.
Gertjan is happy that unification is “finally” a fact. “The word liberation might sound a little too heavy, but I feel like we’ve been held back for a long time by all sorts of things. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but it feels like a release. And in addition, there is a deep gratitude for the unification.
Larry also recognizes Gertjan’s first feeling in a way. ,,When the consultation committee was relaunched after a long break, there was a new momentum and the desire to really come together. We have been greatly helped by national developments. But in the past, in my opinion, local barriers have been erected unnecessarily.
Shortly after it was announced that unification would become a fact on May 1, 2023, Larry wrote a blog. “I suggested in it – the name was not yet known – that I would like the church to be called NGK. I indicated: how nice it would be if the larger group was named after the smaller group. A very nice gesture. So in that sense I think: magnificent. But on the other hand I have doubts: because what are you telling the outside world with this name? Then you should have chosen something completely different.
Gertjan Haandrikman: ,,On the one hand, I regret that this name was chosen. I would have preferred that we leave the past completely behind us and choose a name that has no connection with the two churches. Unfortunately, the beautiful names were already taken. On the other hand I say: what is in a name? More important is what we will do as a church in the future.
You regularly read the term: unity in diversity. Gertjan indicates that this must become the strength of the Dutch Reformed Churches. “It applies to every community and certainly to a church. It also keeps the church vital. If you amplify differences, you will separate people. Acknowledge who people are, that they may have different opinions. Give yourself space in there. And hold on to the core that you are church with one another. Then you are potentially super strong. Locally, we made a big effort to answer the question: how to bring people together.
Larry: ,, Around the world you see so many forms of how people live out their faith. In the GKv it has sometimes been very inconvenient in the past to want to do everything the same way. Give space to the Spirit. I am convinced that the Spirit stirs up different things in one place than in another. Without one being better than the other. Let it happen.
Things have already been taken together by local churches, such as summer evening services. Gertjan and Larry see many other possibilities. Gertjan: ,,That’s enough ideas, but sometimes it takes time and everything has to fit. Of course, we have already made great strides with the exchange of chairs and common services. Larry adds: “The GKv and the NGK have done more together locally in recent years than the GKv churches in the previous period.
When asked what they think is the strength of each other’s church, Gertjan remarks: ,,I think we should respect the determination of the GKv, aided by manpower. There are people who have knowledge who walk around, people who have a great talent for organization. This is what stands out now. Just look at the magazines produced by Noord.
Larry: ,,I have the impression that the Westerkerk is a very close community. That’s how I see it from afar. What I have sometimes envied in the past is that liturgical innovations at the NGK went faster than at home. If ten years ago I had to take a fresh look at the church I would join, chances are it wouldn’t have been the GKv. It could have been the PKN or the NGK at the time. In recent years, many things have changed for the better in the field of liturgy within the GKv. Besides, I never seriously considered changing, I always felt called to dedicate myself for and in the GKv.
Larry and Gertjan are confident about the future in the Dutch Reformed Churches. Gertjan: ,,I really see that as a starting point. It allows us to mean much more to each other in our village, not only as believers, but also to people outside the church. We do it far too little. It’s very simple, but we just don’t do it. In business, we call this inside-in. We can be so busy with all kinds of internal committees and forget that there are also people outside the municipality who are having difficulties.
Larry: ,, This look outwards is so important, and then also towards other churches. Now that we are merging nationally and locally, the search for contact with others does not stop. Now is the time to strengthen the ties with the local Gereformeerde PKN. There is already the possibility of a choir exchange. This gives church members a signal that you recognize yourself as the church of Christ. We must continue to seek contacts, do things together. And we must also continue to seek contacts with the CGK and the Reformed Church, even if it is a little more complicated.
When asked how the church remains vital, according to Larry, only one answer is possible: ,, As a church, continue to focus on the fact that you, as an entire congregation, continue to follow Jesus by as disciples and continue to see the will of God. Word as Word of God, with room for differences of interpretation, whereby the core of the Gospel: Jesus is Lord and He is risen, remains standing.
Gertjan: ,,That’s where the key is. And, as Larry says, make room for things that don’t eat away at the heart of the gospel. People are different, everyone’s beliefs are different. Don’t try to put people in a straitjacket. Many things are held back by fear. Give space to new developments, new ideas. Do not apply the brakes in advance. Let the Apostles’ Creed be our foundation and leave space beyond.
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