St. James, Voorschoten was founded nearly 40 years ago, as a plant from St. John and St. Philip, the Hague. It is led by Ruan Crew, their much-loved chaplain. Ruan is married to Lisette, and they have three teenage/pre-teen children, Emily, Hannah and Tim.
St. James serves the communities in and around the prosperous and delightful towns of Wassenaar and Leiden as well as Voorschoten itself. Cycleways, parks and daffodil-clad waterways abound. The main international employers in the area are Royal Dutch Shell, the European Patent Office and the European Space Agency. Consequently, a good proportion of the congregation are highly qualified engineers and scientists.
We travelled 90 minutes by Thalys from Brussels to the Netherlands’ ultra-modern Schiphol transport hub and from there by car to Voorschoten. I met first with the six younger candidates for confirmation: Manon, Robyn, Jennifer, Ann, Daniel and Elliana. They had been following a youth alpha course led by St. James’s youth pastor, Adam. To complement this, I was happy to share with them some more specifically churchy material, such as the nature of Anglicanism and the place of sacraments in our worshipping life.
I then met with the four adult candidates: Fredrik, Liesbeth, Iris and Sarah. Fredrik and Liesbeth are ‘old’ members of St James, now worshipping at the 4,000 strong St. George’s Singapore, who had returned to their home church to be confirmed. Sarah is a student at York University. Iris is a local Dutch lady, who had come to a living faith at the Holy Spirit day of an alpha course that she dropped in on in an Anglican Church in New Zealand. In addition to her confirmation, she is celebrating her marriage at St. James in three weeks’ time, so it’s a very special time for her.
Lisette prepared an excellent supper for the church council in the evening. Over forkfuls of chicken, I had a particularly stimulating discussion with a physicist about reasons for the existence of God, the anthropic principle and the problem of suffering. It is not everywhere one gets this level of intellectual engagement with faith! We talked later in the evening about the challenges facing the congregation. How better to connect with the 10,000 English speakers in the area? How to meet administrative demands in a congregation where everyone is so busy with their work and families, and there are few retired folk? And specifically: how to find a new churchwarden in time for the annual meeting in just two weeks’ time!
The confirmation service the next morning was a joy. St. James meets in the main hall of ‘The British School in the Netherlands’.
In this kind of environment, ‘set-up’ is a weekly necessity, so for an hour before the service teams of people work hard putting out chairs, setting and testing P.A. equipment and arranging all the furniture at the front. This is at the same time as the music group is having a final rehearsal. So there’s plenty going on. Creating an appropriate atmosphere in this kind of setting can be a challenge, and St. James do a particularly good job in getting this right.
Our service order was an especially fine example of the genre, enhanced by colour photos and brief biopics of all the candidates. 170 people attended. With two candidates for baptism and 10 for confirmation there was plenty to celebrate. There was a bumper collection for the diocesan ordination candidates fund. And at the end of the service, each candidate was given a rather fine in-house candle and a Bible. The service was followed by a bring ‘n’ share lunch in the lovely school atrium.
This was my second confirmation service at St. James Voorschoten. It is a highly talented community, with a strong degree of care and fellowship amongst its members. Its financial model is strong. It has real potential for further growth. It certainly has all the elements of a healthy and spiritually dynamic community.