Coffee at the 1995 world congress

On Tuesday mornings I can usually be found in the basement of the office of the Netherlands Union of Seventh-day Adventists. A few volunteers are steadily working on getting the denominational archives in order. Documents from the past are analysed and professionally described and stored. Materials from a few succesive periods of 20 years each have already been worked on. What is ready goes to the Provincial Archives in Utrecht, where the storage conditions are optimal and where interested parties can consult it.
The archive boxes with material from the 1965-1985 period are now ready to be taken to Utrecht, after one more final check. Work on the subsequent period from 1985 to 2005 is already well advanced.

Today I spent a few hours in the archive again. I worked my way through a thick stack of paper–documents that in one way or another have to do with the activities of the Dutch Union Office in connection with the World Congress of the Church that was held in the Netherlands in 1995. Much of it need not be kept, such as, for example, the correspondence of delegates from around the world, who sought assistance in securing a visa for entry into the Netherlands. But there are minutes of meetings and important letters that must be preserved. After all, this was the most important Adventist meeting that ever took place in the Netherlands, and the church organization in the Netherlands was closely involved.

Sometimes one comes across something that may not be of real historical importance, but still sheds light on certain aspects of who and what Adventists are. For example, this morning I came across a letter that had been faxed to the Dutch Union, with copies to a list of other individuals and agencies. Among the addressees I also saw my name. In 1995, prior to the GC session, I was working in the church’s regional office for much of Europe (the so-called Trans-European Division), as the person responsible for, among other things, communications.

What was going on? It had come to the attention of the organizers of the conference (in the headquarters office of the church in the USA) that pastor C.E. van der Ploeg, the person responsible in the Dutch church for the communications department, had included in a bulletin for the Dutch church members a warning, that, if they visited the meetings in Utrecht, they would have to do without their cup of coffee or tea. A message went out from the US to the regional office in England criticizing the Dutch bulletin. After all, the Dutch union was supposed to be positive about the church’s attempts to keep coffee and tea away from the conference. The president of the division (Dr. Jan Paulsen) then sent a letter to the Dutch Union (which will be preserved for posterity) to convey the complaint from the GC. He regretted that van der Ploeg had written about this topic. That only generated resentment. Moreover, it was completely unnecessary because, he commented, Dutch Adventists need no advice where, if they need their national drink, they can find a place to satisfy that need.

Unfortunately, I cannot remind van der Ploeg of this incident, for he is no longer with us. But it may one of these days be a good occasion to write or call Jan Paulsen, who was elected President of the World Church after his presidency of the Trans-European Division. I don’t know if he remembers this event, but it was a small but striking example of his gift for de-escalating problems. And that is one of the most important qualities of a good leader.