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850: Dominicusgemeente, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Other reports | Comment on this report
Dominicusgemeente, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Mystery Worshipper: Whinny.
The church: Dominicusgemeente (Dominicus Congregation), Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Denomination: Independent ecumenical congregation with origins in the Roman Catholic tradition. According to one of their information pamphlets, the congregation "derives its inspiration from the Christian tradition with roots in the Jewish Bible".
The building: Seen from the outside, the sizeable neo-Gothic building makes me think of one of those soaring Oxbridge college chapels. The architect is the same one who designed Amsterdam's best-known architectural twins – the main train station and the city's premier museum, the Rijksmuseum. Built as a Roman Catholic church, the building's interior displays a startling mix of Catholic and Protestant elements. The furniture is arranged along Reformed lines, with the "liturgical centre" and choir facing each other half-way down the nave.
The church: The Dominicus is a diaspora congregation which attracts a mix of Roman Catholics, Protestants and others. In British terms: perhaps this is a Dutch version of
The neighbourhood: The church is in the tourist heartland of Amsterdam, although it's not mentioned in any of the tourist guidebooks. Its location is within easy walking distance of the main train station. Close by are plenty of cheap hotels, some university faculty buildings and the city's golden age canals. Closer still are a couple of alleyways with "window brothels", but these are some distance from the main Red Light District.
The cast: Mirjam Wolthuis was the celebrant. Andre Wesche gave the sermon (referred to as a "reflection").
What was the name of the service?
Sunday Service.

How full was the building?
Mostly full. Several hundred worshippers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The order of service was handed to me with a welcoming smile, but from then on I was ignored.

Was your pew comfortable?
The seating consisted of chairs in the middle of the church, flanked on either side by pews. First come, first served. Having arrived just as the service started, I ended up on one of the unrelentingly hard benches at the back (no cushion).

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The congregation had begun singing the first song when I arrived, ahead of the word of welcome.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The very first sentence could be seen being mouthed but not heard, because the loudspeaker system was not working. The first sentence that I could just about make out, being seated at the back, was something along the lines of "Mensen, de microfoon doet het niet" ("People, the microphone isn't working"). A quarter of an hour later we finally heard the words with which the celebrant had meant to open: "Goede morgen allemaal. Fijn dat jullie er zijn en geduld hebben" ("Good morning, everyone. Fine that you are here and have patience").

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A hymn book was not needed, as the order of service included the melody lines of all the songs.

What musical instruments were played?
There was one musician who alternated between playing the organ and a grand piano.

Did anything distract you?
The technical breakdown that delayed the start of the service was about as big a distraction as you could get. Then there was the lavish 19th-century artwork that covered the ceiling and walls. The only annoying distraction was when someone came over to set up a Fair Trade stand next to my pew while the congregation was still in full song. I briefly felt an urge to rush over and overturn her table. But afterwards I realised that there had been purpose to her apparent haste (more on this later).

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Relaxed but purposeful. A sort of Dutch cousin of Iona worship services. Or Taize with the lights left on. The music was wonderfully luscious and the language very poetical. God was variously referred to as "other", "older", "the one hidden within us", "as yet nameless", "the only true one" and even "God". However, one song still managed to refer to God as "He".

Exactly how long was the sermon?
The "reflection", given in Dutch, was exactly 10 minutes long.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
God is not distant or static, but living, moving among people. God accompanies them to the promised land where, according to the Apocalypse, there is no temple to be seen. The reflection took its cue from the only Bible reading during the service, Exodus 39:32-43. A transcript of the reflection was available afterwards for a small price (25 eurocents), causing one of several post-worship scrums in the church.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Where to begin? The music was outstanding. The songs featured rambling melody lines that were closer to, say, birdsong than to human song, and were set to lush harmonies. Then there was the sensitive use of language. The texts of most of the songs were by Huub Oosterhuis, perhaps the best-known Dutch hymn writer around, whose home congregation happens to be in another Amsterdam city church, a few minutes walk away. But most moving of all was the involvement of children in the weekly "sharing of bread and wine". Children of primary-school age brought the bread and wine to the liturgical centre (a podium on which a large table stands). Later they fanned out to form several distribution points throughout the church. And the communion ended with the adult and child ministrants returning to the podium together.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, the technical problem which held up the start of the service must have been something of a nightmare for the worship leader. And yet the mood of the congregation was quietly cheerful throughout. What started as a major irritation soon became a source of inspiration: what do we do when the technical wizardry lets us down and we're back to basics?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No sooner had the service ended, than the place was transformed into a busy train station. People were hurrying hither and thither, forming little scrums and then moving on again. Everyone seemed to be busy with something or other. As I walked past the various stands and displays around the inside perimeter of the church, I came across a table placed beneath the old, disused pulpit. A large banner proclaimed that this was the "Trefpunt" (Meeting Place). Various leaflets and books were available there with information about the congregation, and two people were on hand to speak with newcomers. On noticing my general interest, one of them was willing to strike up a conversation with me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Given that coffee is the national drink here, the scrum at the refreshments stand was both sufficient testimony to the quality of the coffee, and enough of a deterrent for me to join the throng. The price list featured coffee at a very reasonable 70 eurocents per cup, several soft drinks at 50 eurocents each and tea at a mere 30 eurocents. A jug of water and plenty of cups were on a separate table for self-service (no charge, but also no scrum).

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I may come to worship here occasionally, to complement my regularly attending worship in a local suburban church with which I have something of a love-hate relationship.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so. The building, the service, communion – they each played a part in making me feel whole again.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The carefree spirit of the child who skipped along in front of the liturgical centre just before the communion.
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