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2560: De Bron, Nieuwegein, the Netherlands
De Bron, Nieuwegein (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Whinny.
The church: De Bron, Nieuwegein, the Netherlands.
Denomination: Protestant Church in the Netherlands.
The building: It dates from the late 1970s. The building’s unassuming appearance causes it to blend in with the neighbourhood. The worship services are held in an octagonal hall with a very colourful liturgical centre, but few windows. The construction of the church centre, which also contains several meeting-rooms, was a joint local project of two Reformed denominations, many years before the national merger to form the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. The name of the church centre, De Bron, means "The Source."
The church: They seem to be a middle-of-the-road Protestant congregation, with a team of three pastors and the use of two church buildings, the other being the early 19th-century Dorpskerk (Village Church).
The neighbourhood: Doorslag is a residential suburb of Nieuwegein, a middle-sized town founded in the 1970s. Although located on a main thoroughfare, access has been restricted in recent weeks by nearby road works.
The cast: The order of service mentions some names in full, of others only the first name. The pastor was Hester de Rivecourt. The lesson was read by Dore. And the two testimonies were given by Jos and Nino. The musicians were Maarten (piano), Emiel (guitar), and Ramon (saxophone), and the singing was led by Ester, Maarten and Madelon.
The date & time: Sunday, 16 June 2013, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Taizé-Dichterbijviering. This (even in Dutch) convoluted name reflects this being two services merged into one: the Dichterbij (Closer, as in "come closer") services prepared by youth and held four times per year on Sunday mornings; and the Taizé services, held every two months on Saturday evenings in the congregation’s other church building, the Dorpskerk.

How full was the building?
Quite full. About 170 worshippers, young and old.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The busy usher/greeter asked whether Whinny Senior and Whinny Junior wanted to share an order of service.

Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden chair that I sat on was comfortable enough. After the service, I noticed that there were also a few cushions at the front for sitting on the floor.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Almost silent, just the occasional whispering. Not surprising, given the two girls standing beside the narrow doorway who were holding a huge sign with the word Stilte (Silence).

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. I would like to take you to a random Wednesday evening, quarter to midnight." We were then invited to close our eyes and imagine ourselves being in the church in Taizé. It was the first of two personal testimonies about having been in Taizé. The pastor, who sat facing the congregation, only began to address the congregation 20 minutes into the service.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We received an order of service, with the name and date of the service printed on the front. In addition, we were handed the weekly newsletter, which also mentioned this service. And for those who still didn’t get it, there was an additional letter of invitation to the bimonthly Taizé services in the Dorpskerk.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano, guitar and saxophone. The organ remained silent.

Did anything distract you?
At the start of the service, we sang Dans nos obscurités ("Within our darkest night") as bright sunlight flooded into the church hall. And during the service, I noticed that most of the mainly elderly worshippers around me were not joining in any of the singing.

De Bron, Nieuwegein (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service reflected the mood-swings typical of a stay in Taizé, foremost calm (meditative), but sometimes upbeat (jovial), and on one occasion stunned by sad news.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
The overall length of the overweging (reflection) was 17 minutes. The first five minutes were spent getting three people to volunteer for a sketch, then ten minutes to act out the sketch – the Bible reading about the woman who washes Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50) – and two minutes for the concluding message.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – I had mixed feelings about the sketch. For one, most of the congregation could not see it. And the initial joviality risked alienating some worshippers. But the pastor made skilful use of the occasion. And her short but on-point conclusion certainly packed a punch.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
God loves you just as you are. But to receive God’s love, you have to be at peace with yourself.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There were several, such as: singing in other languages (I counted seven, with only one song in Dutch); the powerful conclusion of the sermon; the bird-song outside during the long silence after the sermon (the weekly newsletter announced that the long silence would last eight minutes, which was indeed how long it turned out to be); and an elderly woman in a wheelchair, who was still singing as she headed for the exit after the dismissal. A congregation that allows for hymns in languages other than Dutch or English always scores high in my book, as does a congregation that does not insist on every hymn being accompanied by the organ.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I felt sorry for the mainly elderly worshippers around me who seemed stunned by what was going on and who did not join in any of the singing. And the dodgy start (in terms of mood, not content) of the sermon.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was plenty of chatter in the entrance hall (standing-room only) and in a large side-room, which were both crowded. While waiting for a cup of coffee, I passed the biscuit plate around and later went to look at the information shelves, but no one came to greet me. Meanwhile, Whinny Junior’s patience was wearing thin.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Pleasantly nondescript – what the Dutch like to call a lekker bakkie (nice cuppa).

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I did not at present have a regular congregation, then De Bron would be a good contender. I particularly liked the openness – and courage – to try something new in the liturgy, without going over the top. The lively banter during the coffee-time afterwards was also encouraging, although I do wonder how open the regular members are to newcomers.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so.

De Bron, Nieuwegein (Cross)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The elderly woman in the wheelchair who left the church singing.
 
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