By Frank Holleman

In Haarlem, the first organized Church of the Nazarene in the Netherlands quickly became permeated with the aroma of coffee and the joyful greetings of people who hadn’t seen each other in years, as well as those who last met at the district assembly just two months earlier. Maybe it is a biased view of a third-generation Nazarene, but gatherings like this can feel like a big family reunion.

13 May 2017 was the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Church of the Nazarene in the Netherlands.

The celebration consisted of a cake reception, then a church service with classic and new worship songs. Some shared memories and stories from the old times, and the day ended with lunch and a panel discussion.

The service took a theme of “gratitude.” Special attention was given to the guests, including Miep Holleman, who at that time with her husband Cor, founded the church in the Netherlands; Rev. Spijkman, who later became the pioneer of the second church in Koog aan de Zaan; and Rita Seijlhouwer.

We could also look back together with Rev. Jaap Overduin, Bob Kagenaar and Wouter van der Zeijden who told us many stories from the past. The anecdotes ranged from frogs in an improvised outside baptism pool, to a summer camp story of a Romeo and Juliette play that led to someone’s first kiss.

When people had the chance to express what the church means to them, it was not only a collection of fond memories but a testimony of the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the past 50 years. Many of the Nazarenes have their roots in a church switch, moving from spiritual stagnation to a new-found enthusiasm based in the sanctification and holiness theology of the Church of the Nazarene.

The work of the Church of the Nazarene was the result of an invitation of a small group of seven people on a spiritual journey who, when introduced to the denomination 50 years ago, recognized their own experience in the holiness theology of the church. Out of this group, Cor Holleman sensed God’s call to end his secular career in order to become the first Nazarene pastor, and later, in 1976, the first district superintendent of the Netherlands. As a result, the Church of the Nazarene in the Netherlands was indigenous from the beginning. Today the Church of the Nazarene has 2,400 members spread over 16 local communities.

The international church family enabled this small group to build a solid foundation, and the connection to an international church is still a rich source of perspective. The fact that you, brothers and sisters around the world, are reading about us in the Netherlands is humbling and encouraging, and many people referred to this international aspect as something that makes them grateful and proud to be Nazarene.

In the afternoon, the panel discussion touched on issues such as the future of the church and the relevance of the church in a mostly secular country. In true Dutch fashion, everyone was invited to share their opinion. Unsurprisingly it was a lively debate between young and old, pastor and laymen, modern and traditional. It was a stimulating conversation that brought up more questions than answers, and will likely continue in future district assemblies and after-church coffee meetings.

In all the healthy disagreement however, there was an exciting common thread. We may differ in our opinions about the “how” and the “what” of the church, and these “what” and “how” aspects have certainly changed over the past 50 years. But the “why” that we as Nazarenes carry is the exact same as 50 years ago and also our hope and drive for the future: The Church of the Nazarene in the Netherlands was started to bring in word and deed liberation from sin through the sanctifying work of the triune God. In this way, celebrating 50 years was not just a nostalgic moment, but a celebration of God’s grace and work, and a motivation and reminder of why the Church of the Nazarene is where we want to serve our God.

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