by Lisa Neef
A little over six months ago, I left my life in Toronto behind and moved to the Netherlands. I’ve been less than successful in my search for Christian community in my new home, but the journey’s been interesting and humbling – and in the process I’ve learned a few things about the nature of church and the difficulty of community.
July: I start by randomly picking a church from a Google search, a Dutch Reformed Church close to my house. I drop in on their Sunday afternoon service, and though I understand almost nothing of the sermon, the clean, simple sanctuary and service are a comforting respite from my first week in a strange country.
Maybe it is my nose ring that makes me stick out enough for the Pastor’s wife to approach me after the service, and she introduces me to the closest “young people” she can find, a group of high school-age boys (I’m 28). They are struggling to speak English for my sake, and it’s uncomfortable to sense that they want out of this conversation and back to their regular conversation, and it’s a relief when I put an end to it and excuse myself.
Before I leave, a church administrator flags me down and asks me if I want to become a “temporary member” – a pseudo commitment that, as far as I can tell, boils down to getting on the church email list.
Figuring that participation in church events and ministry is a better way to get to know people than awkward coffee talk, I sign up, and a few days later I get an email requesting all kinds of information about me: my address, my phone number, my job, my previous church, etc., with a promise to be introduced to the congregation two Sundays later.
What I don’t know is that I will have to stand up and be stared at for the first 10 minutes of the service, and that my name, address, and biography will be printed on the front of the worship bulletin.
For a nation of reserved, somewhat-awkward people, they sure know how to embarrass a reserved, somewhat-awkward new person. Afterwards, everyone stares at me, and nobody talks to me.
The introduction makes me want to crawl into a deep hole, but despite the fanfare, I can’t seem to make it past the email list. I come back a few more times, each time standing around alone with my coffee cup, feeling like a fool with nobody to talk to, and too shy to butt in on existing conversations when I still can’t really formulate a complete sentence in Dutch.
I’d like to participate in church activities, except that there aren’t any. And this is how I’ve come to think of this church of as the Brittle Church: entrenched in tradition, comfortable in the way things are, they’d like to welcome outsiders, but end up scaring them away. Busy with the upkeep of the church itself, nobody seems to have any ideas or initiative for ministries. Though eager to bring in new people, nobody wants to stretch enough out of their element to talk to them.
[This is the first in a series of six reflections on finding Christian Community in a new city. Keep your feed reader locked in on empireremixed.com/blog for updates.]