Will the church afford the heating?

Every week I receive the digital bulletin from a number of Adventist congregations in the Netherlands. I always look through these bulletins, because I am curious to see what is happening locally, and what challenges these churches are facing. This week the Adventist church of The Hague reports that it is facing a massive increase in energy costs. From November 1 energy costs for the church building have increased from 39,920 euros to 112,960 euros per year. That converts to 310 euros in energy costs per day—-on all days of the week, not just on the Sabbath!

In today’s Nederlands Dagblad (Thursday, Nov. 24), there is a full-page article about the same issue, with the title: “Church can no longer be heated.” The article begins with the following paragraph: “In three of the six Roman Catholic churches in the region of Dordrecht, Zwijdrecht and Papendrecht, Sunday worships will no longer be held from December to March. Skyrocketing energy costs are forcing the parish board to take that measure . . .” A little further on I read a statement by the secretary of the Reformed Church in Barneveld, that he expects that the annual energy costs for their church building will soon rise by more than a hundred thousand euros. The litany continues in that same pessimistic tone.

Personally, I haven’t noticed much of an increase in energy costs yet. Our apartment is very well insulated, and heating is provided by a community heating system. The monthly amount has not (yet?) increased dramatically. Yesterday our electricity company credited the 190 euros, that were promised by the government, to our bank account. We heeded the suggestion to donate the 190 euros to someone who does suffer more substantially from the extra energy costs. Of course, we also hear from friends and acquaintances about gigantic increases when their old contract expired. For some, this is no less than a catastrophe.

We realize that our individual and collective energy problems cannot be compared to the energy drama currently taking place in Ukraine. The Russians’ energy-terror poses an enormous threat to millions of residents of Ukraine, especially as the winter is now approaching. How will the Ukrainian government supply the people with electricity, gas and water in the coming months? Hopefully, the Western world will continue to support Ukraine with concrete aid, and help the country through the winter. But in the meantime, there are the challenges at home. How do we ensure that we can go to a reasonably warm church every week, even when the temperature dips down? Will sitting in church with a thick coat become the norm? It was common in the distant past, but now it could be an additional reason for many people to forgo church attendance, at least for the time being.

That the thermostat also must be turned to about 19 degrees in most church buildings on Saturdays and Sundays is obvious. Furthermore, it does not seem unreasonable to me if not only businesses and cultural institutions, but also churches would receive a temporary government subsidy for energy costs. However, one of the things that would really help is if church attendance (and thus offerings!) increased substantially. And perhaps this is the time when churches (including the Adventist Church) should pay extra attention to this important issue.

Statistics indicate that in most Western countries at most sixty percent of Adventist Church members regularly attend church services. There is no reason to believe that the figures are more favorable in the Netherlands. Of course, there are all sorts of reasons why people stay away from weekly church services. And the Corona pandemic has not been helpful. But one of the reasons is that many find–and this is especially true of youth and young adults—that the services do not really captivate them. They don’t get enough out of them, to encourage them to come to church on a weekly basis. How to change that is a complicated matter. But we need to grapple with that question.

It’s going to take a lot of headaches in many places to heat the church building, or to pay the inevitably higher rental costs. But the all-important question remains how the content of the services can sufficiently warm the attendees on the inside, so that they keep coming to church, even if they have to keep their coats on during the service.