During three consecutive Sundays almost two hundred delegates gathered in the small town of Scherpenzeel to debate and decide about the state of the Adventist Church in the Netherlands. They looked critically at the 2007-2012 period. Repeatedly, it was concluded that some things had not gone as they should. This explains why several proposals were brought (and accepted) to do some reparatory work, and to prevent similar problems in the future. At times the discussion was quite heated. But, after all, important issues were at stake.
The re-election of union president Wim Altink was a lengthy and painful procedure. Even during the last of the three days of the session, some wanted to re-open the proces. It was suggested that there had been some procedural faults, but there was no majority to reconsider what had been decided. The choice of Tom de Bruin as general secretary was far from unanimous. Was his age (33) a problem? I must admit that I was surprised by the choice and that the point of his age momentarily entered my mind. But I almost immediately remembered that I was even a few years younger when I got my first administrative church assignment. The name of the new treasurer also came as a surprise to most people, but, apparently, the information that was provided about his financial expertise was so satisfactory, that a quick and comfortable vote resulted. When the other positions were named, the choice of Hans Ponte as youth leader was totally unexpected. But it passed without any difficulty. I must express my admiration for someone who at age 60 is willing to assume such a (also physically) demanding task.
I was happy that the discussion and the voting on the motions that had been passed on to the plan committee for further discussion, went so well. For several hours the Plans Committee met and considered what would be, or would not be, in the interest of the church, and what wording would be most suitable. It was my privilege to chair this committee and then to provide further information about our conclusions to the plenary session. All of this took so much of my energy that, when I came home, I had no interest in anything but to take my wife to the local pizzeria, where I could order my favorite pizza (quattro fromaggio).
All together, the rather easy-going afternoon session on the third day made me go home with a more positive feeling than I had at the end of the first and of the second day. But I had very mixed emotions. Yes, we had managed to complete the agenda. And yes, I was happy with the choice of the new leaders of the Dutch Adventist Church and of the new union committee. And, yes, I was satisfied that no decisions had been made during this three-day event that would have turned the clock of the church backwards for a good number of years.
But there was another side to it. I can understand that there may be a degree of suspicion when leaders have failed to be fully transparent. And I can understand that some will oppose proposals that are brought by the nominating committee. And I understand also that some delegates regret some tendencies in the church, and do not like some of the ideas that were expressed in various motions (such as the one about the principle of full equality of men and women in the church). Or, to make it a bit more personal: I can accept that others in the church may disagree with me on some points.
But I utterly fail to understand how people can vote against a motion tot calls for more mutual understanding and tolerance in the church. And that some hesitate to subscribe to the ideal of our church as a faith community that wants to be involved with the society around us. The burning question is: How for Heaven’s sake can we ensure that, in spite of differences of opinions and cultural diversity, we stay united in things that truly matter and dedicate ourselves as one people to the mission that we have.
This thought keeps going through my mind as I sit (this Monday afternoon) in the high speed train to Paris, where in the coming days I will be representing the Belgian-Luxembourg Conference during the autumn meeting of Franco-Belgian union. I trust that these two days of meeting will not produce much firework. In fact, I almost regard these days as a short vacation, after a few hectic weeks and just before a very full week with the Australian church growth expert Peter Roennfeldt, with whom I will visit more than a dozen churches in Belgium and Luxembourg. I hope it will be an inspiration for many.