Going forward, together

A few weeks ago the quinquennial constituency meetings of the Dutch Adventist Church took place. Delegates from the approximately 60 congregations and groups listened to the reports of the church’s activities over the past few years, and were given an overview of the financial state of the church. But the part that usually–and also this time—-is most exciting, is the election of the leaders for the next five-year term.

It is no secret that the Dutch Adventist Church is right now highly polarized. Nor is it a secret that during this past congress, the more conservative segment of the church led the way, and will also be over-represented on the new executive committee of the union. The officers of the union were re-elected, but both the president and the general secretary saw how about a third of the delegates voted against their return.

I came home from the convention with a severe hangover. A few days later a video message from the union president was shared with the church, calling on all members to move forward together. Regardless of whether we are conservative or progressive, he emphasized, we are all welcome and needed in the church. Well, it certainly didn’t feel that way during the meetings! I kept asking myself in the days that followed: Is this still the church in which I can feel at home? Have I dedicated my entire career to a church from which I now feel quite alienated? In the days following the meetings, several colleagues contacted me. They shared their concerns with me, and their feelings of being abandoned by their church. I also spoke with church members who said they were considering canceling their membership, or at least no longer wanting to financially support the union organization. I tried, despite my own concerns about the current direction of the church, to encourage these people and advised them in any case not to do anything rash.

Now, after about two weeks, my hangover is largely gone. I am determined not to let my relationship to the church depend on the persons who happen to be in charge of the union. I wish them God’s blessings and a clear insight in the issues they face, and I sincerely hope that the new executive committee will be less conservative in its policies and concrete decisions than I, and many with me, fear, given its composition. I will be as constructive as possible with regard the projects of the union (as long as it does not involve a door-to-door distribution of “The Great Controversy,” because that seems to me to be a very bad idea and an outright PR disaster).

I am pleased to see a good number of foreign speaking appointments in my calendar for 2023. And besides that, of course, it is mostly the local congregations that provide inspiration. Since the union session two weeks ago, I have preached in Groningen and in Harderwijk, and in both cases it was a very warm experience, and I am sure it will be the same this coming Sabbath in Leeuwarden. Yesterday I spent much of the day preparing a funeral service for a member of the Harderwijk congregation. It is a privilege to be able to support people in difficult moments.

The church is more than a meeting of delegates and everything around it. I sincerely hope that people will not drop out because they perceive that the church has made a big shift to the “right”, but that they will indeed experience that there is a place for everyone in their church, also in the years to come,.