Christ Church Amsterdam: 250 years at Groenburgwal

On the first weekend in November, Christ Church Amsterdam celebrated 250 years of worship in its historic canal-side home at Groenburgwal in one of the oldest and most picturesque parts of the city. Christ Church has survived wars and conflicts. It has closed and opened. It has known riches and poverty. It has offered a welcome to all nationalities, but it has kept a quirky Britishness in the midst of its international character. 

left Clergy Associate The Revd Rik Florentinus, right Interim Minister The Revd. Kerry Buttram

I was privileged to be invited to unveil the plaque celebrating the rich history of this place. Originally a Guild Hall, the building has been associated with numerous famous people. Hendrick de Keyser, architect of some of the city’s most significant historical buildings lived here. Rembrandt van Rijn had his studio close by. Vincent Van Gogh taught in the Sunday School. And Charles Simeon came to serve as a missionary pastor here. 

Of course, I am far from the first bishop to visit! In the church’s historical photo exhibition, I particularly liked this picture of The Bishop of Fulham arriving at Amsterdam Central Station with his wife in June 1933 and being met by the Chaplain, Dr. Keay. This was long before the Diocese in Europe in its modern form had been conceived and when the Bishop of Fulham looked after chaplaincies in North and Central Europe. 

Rembrandt’s ‘The Staalmeesters’ now hangs in a prominent position in the Rijksmuseum. Rembrandt crafted this remarkable, vast painting in Groenburgwal, and for a while it hung in the building that is now Christ Church, before being transferred to a safer place. It shows the Officials of the Drapers Guild assessing the quality of the cloth presented before them. They wear black as a sign of their religious humility – and their power!

The festival 250 weekend was celebrated with a wonderful programme of music. Pictured here is ‘The Schoch Quartet’, named after the first violinist. They are playing instruments that date from the 17th century onwards. Christ Church has a marvellous acoustic and lends itself particularly well to the intimate atmosphere of a string quartet. Behind the quartet, the East Wall of the building displays the classic texts on Christian belief, action and prayer that you might see in a traditional English village church. Dating from 1698, these panels were brought into the building when the congregation began meeting here in 1771.

The weekend was evidently a huge amount of work for the organisers, especially for a chaplaincy in vacancy. I detected the guiding hand of the very capable Church Administrator, Pamela Matinde Ten Wolde. It was a joyous event which I have no doubt will have affirmed the church’s sense of fellowship and togetherness. 

I enjoyed meeting the Chaplaincy Council, who are an exceptionally talented team. Christ Church is a three centred Chaplaincy, and so the Council has to work hard to build fellowship and enable all three locations work together in a unified way. We had a warm and convivial discussion about the process of appointing a new Chaplain.

Our hostess, Beth Johnson Kat, used to run an Amsterdam bookshop. She now oversees an educational project called ‘Room For All’. The project has acquired the rights to six delightful children’s books promoting inter-cultural respect and understanding. The books have been translated into Dutch and the intention is that copies are given to each primary school in Amsterdam, and then each primary school in the Netherlands. This struck me as a really significant initiative in a country where acceptance of different backgrounds and cultures is a vital issue, as it is in all European countries. 

Of course, buildings are important in providing us with a safe place to meet, a sanctuary for worship and a storehouse of treasured memories. But the church is at heart a community of Christian people and the faith they share. So I was delighted to confirm these nine – mainly young – people at Christ Church ‘Centre’, shown here flanked by the two wonderful churchwardens Becky Moss and Rebecca Teerlink. Along with the candidates from Christ Church it was a special pleasure to confirm Stephanie Van Leer from Groningen, who had been prepared for the event by her father, Archdeacon Sam Van Leer. 

After morning service at ‘Centre’ we drove to afternoon service at ‘South East’, for a second confirmation service. The ‘Congregation of the Holy Spirit’ is 10 years old and the newest of the three Christ Church congregations. Our oldest candidate, Nout, joined us from Heiloo, whilst the immaculately turned out younger candidates are from Christ Church families. 

And here they all are having been confirmed. The multiple use worship centre at South East is a really impressive place. It features a large and a medium-sized worship space both equipped with proper pipe organs and sound insulated from each other, plus a suite of meeting rooms and a central hospitality area. This centre enables people who are mainly from the global south to sustain church worship and community in their own traditions in an affordable way. 

Chaplaincy life can sometimes feel fragile. And those of our communities in city centres (especially) see lots of people passing through. But the celebration of Groenburgwal 250 reminds us that our church communities are more tenacious and robust than we often realise. Kerry Buttram, as an American, reminded me that the United States of America was founded less than 250 years ago. God has been faithful to Christ Church over the centuries. The Church’s current motto is ‘In the City, for the City’. I pray for this very special chaplaincy as it goes through a vacancy process. I trust and hope that it will be a place of great fruitfulness in the next phase of its life.  

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