The weekly service is held in the Meditation Centre, a modern free-standing structure of smoked glass and cool tones off the F concourse in the very busy Schiphol Airport, about seven minutes (by foot) from the gates used by many of the arriving US flights. There are three rooms: a quiet room, a reading room and a meditation room. The Meditation Centre is open throughout the day for prayer and reflection. It can also be used by passing clergy for their own services. The airport chaplains preside over a Sunday service each week. It seems a considerable number of Muslim passengers make use of the room. Islamic prayer carpets and copies of the Koran were stored in bookcase in the corner, along with copies of the Bible.
They are under joint oversight by the Church of England, Diocese in Europe, and the Oud-Katholieke Kerk van Nederland (Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands). They also operate in ecumenical partnership with the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestantse Kerk (Protestant Church in the Netherlands). Quoting from their website: "Within the dynamic flow of thousands of people coming and going, chaplains are available to assist and to guide to help find the way forward, to lend a listening ear and to pray." Among their ministries are visiting passengers detained in custody, helping stranded passengers, and counseling passengers who may feel vulnerable, afraid or disoriented.
Originally a military airbase, Schiphol Airport began to see civilian use after the Great War. Destroyed by German bombs during World War II, it was quickly rebuilt and is the Netherlands' principal airport today. There is one large terminal divided into three departure halls. The airport features a shopping centre, a library, and even a mortuary. Expansion has taken place over the years, and further expansion is currently underway, scheduled for completion around 2019.
The celebrant, who wore a simple white alb with light purple stole, did not identify himself, nor was his name printed in the service booklet, which contained all of the liturgy and readings.
What was the name of the service?Mass.
How full was the building?
About 14 people an extremely small fraction of the thousands walking through the airport terminal sat in modern chairs arranged in a circular pattern around a table that functioned as both an altar and lectern. The service booklet was sitting on each chair.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No welcomes or pleasantries were given, except during the exchange of peace.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a surprisingly comfortable chair, despite the lack of padding for the back.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." After opening the mass, the celebrant gave a quick three-minute overview of the readings.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A four-page service booklet, which according to the tiny fine print on the last page was taken from the "Archbishop of Dublin texts" of the Roman Missal and works from the International Commission on English in the Liturgy.
What musical instruments were played?
It was a strictly said mass.
Did anything distract you?
Being asked to read the responsive psalm, which for this mass was Psalm 125:1-4 (the Lord protects his people).
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly catholicky yet at the same time low and ecumenical with enough breadth for everyone. A few of the worshippers were considerably higher up the proverbial candle than the liturgy of the said mass and insisted upon kneeling, despite the lack of any kneelers. At first, I found it fairly similar to a contemporary service of the Episcopal Church under Rite II of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, albeit with some significant verbiage differences. I have never been to an Old Catholic mass and just assumed the unfamiliar bits were their way of doing things. But then we were asked to pray for the Pope. I had a clear impression that this was to be an Anglican or Old Catholic service. There was nothing to indicate it was Roman Catholic, which might present an issue for some. Afterward, while getting the coffee, I thanked the celebrant and asked if he was Old Catholic, to which he replied, "No, Roman Catholic." My jaw literally dropped, though I tried masking my inner Calvinism by replying, "Oh, right."
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Delivered extemporaneously and in the celebrant's Dutch-accented English.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It focused on the the chance for those in the bombed-out cities of Iraq and Syria, where Christians are being massacred by ISIS/IS/ISIL, to be drawn to a new chapter this Christmas. To quote the celebrant, "May the light of Christmas be seen by the whole world."
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being at peace and worship only yards from the hustle and bustle of one of the world's busiest airports.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The complete lack of a cross or crucifix on the altar or anywhere on the walls.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As expected, everyone cleared out quickly as they had flights to catch. Nevertheless, one of the volunteer attendants made an announcement that coffee and tea were available in a small room off the side that seemed to be one part office and one part sacristy.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was fairly industrial and was served in plastic cups, which wasn't ideal for piping hot coffee.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – It's a very nice ministry for passing travelers, though it should have been declared up front that the mass would be Roman Catholic as I couldn't have been the only one expecting an Anglican or Old Catholic service. Even the airport's public address announcement said it was a Protestant service.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
As much as one can be after making their first communion with Rome.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Finding myself at a Roman Catholic mass completely by surprise.