The following is unsolicited advice to the administrators of the Adventist Church in the Netherlands. The leaders are probably not waiting for my advice. It might even cause some irritation. But I give it anyway. Because the question of how we can reduce polarization in our church community, and promote a healthy diversity, where all can feel that they have a valuable role to play, is constantly on my mind.
Some of the things I mention below do cost a bit of money. But fortunately, the church is currently doing reasonably well financially, so that investing in restoring mutual trust in the church seems very responsible to me. I am thinking of seven points. The order is arbitrary.
1. There have in recent years been many changes in the pastoral workforce. Many colleagues hardly know each other. In many ways, the group now lacks clear cohesion. Therefore I would suggest that it would be profitable to organize, in the near future, an informal meeting of a few days, at a pleasant location, of all pastors and active retired pastors, as an opportunity to socialize and to strengthen the group feeling.
2. Organize another “Open Day” in 2023, where the church can present itself in its full scope, and members from all over the country can meet each other in a casual way. This had become a tradition in pre-Corona days, which was very much appreciated. The Open Day can show the wide variety of the activities and initiatives of the national church and of local congregations, and show what is “on offer” (also literally) in all segments of the church.
3. Encourage congregations to organize regional, multiethnic, and multicultural Sabbaths on which members from a number of different congregations (and perhaps even from neighboring congregations from across national borders) can meet and be inspired by each other.
4. Issue a special issue of ADVENT dedicated to reducing the current polarization. Honestly naming the issues and providing opportunity for dialogue can contribute to a better mutual understanding.
5. During the next administrative term, organize another national event when members from all over the country come together. It has been many years since this last happened. We have to go back a decade for the last meeting of this kind, and the fact that such meetings very expensive has greatly diminished the desire to organize such a day again. But we need such an event from time to time to experience a sense of being church together. And that may cost something.
6. After the Corona era, there is concern in many denominations about declining church attendance. For some, even after the pandemic, the digital church service has definitely replaced physically going to church. Others seem to be struggling to regain the rhythm of weekly church attendance. I have the impression that this is also the case in our church in the Netherlands–although it varies from place to place. Should we perhaps form a national working group to study what can be done to encourage stronger church attendance? In most congregations, about 40 percent of those on the membership rolls never or rarely attend church services.
7. And then there is something else. I hear many complaints that emails to “the union” are very often not answered, and also that the office is very poorly accessible. Due to employees working from home, there is often no one in the office building. (I experience this when I volunteer on Tuesday mornings for several hours in the church archives. When I arrive around 9 o’clock, there is often no one to let me in.) It will increase confidence in “the union” if this aspect is given adequate attention.
It is not difficult to give advice from the sidelines. And I could certainly name a few more things in addition the seven points mentioned above. Of course, it is easy to respond with the (sometimes justified) conclusion that the best mates are still on the shore. Besides, the points I mentioned are not brilliant ideas that no one else can come up with. But this blog simply reflects a desire to think constructively, and I hope it is seen that way.