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419: Wijnstok Gemeente, Berkel en Rodenrijs, The Netherlands
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Wijnstok Gemeente, Berkel en Rodenrijs, The Netherlands.
Mystery Worshipper: Carmelite.
The church: Wijnstok Gemeente (the Vine Community), Berkel en Rodenrijs, The Netherlands.
Denomination: New Frontiers International.
The building: A refurbished office complex in front of a timber company. The church worships in an airy lower ground floor room with several skylights. The timber-yard car-park served as parking space for the many bikes, some of which had seats for two children, one at the front, one at the back, with the (adult) pedaller in the middle!
The church: They offer Dutch language classes, flower arranging classes, cookery classes and the usual Alpha course (Nicky Gumbel with subtitles). These build contacts with various new people. They also have cooking and drawing sessions for the children in the Kinderclub (Sunday school equivalent) during half term and for their friends. Virtually the whole church went camping together to Stoneleigh in the UK for a conference last summer.
The neighbourhood: Berkel is a small town on the northern edge of Rotterdam – lots of canals and herons. The church is on the main street, which runs beside a picturesque canal and is near the railway station in a basically residential area.
The cast: The pastor, Gert Hijkoop, who led the service, Jan and Adrianne Boers (youth leaders) did the dunking and the preacher, Bram Visser, who is one of the elders.
What was the name of the service?
Doopdienst (baptism service).

How full was the building?
Full – we were asked to squash up to make room for others before the service started. There were probably about 200 of us including lots of children who managed to play quietly (for the most part) all the way through the service!

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, I was greeted at the door with a cheerful hello and a handshake. As an obvious non-Dutch speaker ("hello" is the same, but the rest was beyond me) I was directed to the seats with headphones for simultaneous translation. I was also introduced to my translator and the people sitting around me said hello.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, although it was a plastic chair and the service lasted a bit more than two hours. I was fortunate that I was near the front, as there were some extremely tall women (and men) who could have obscured my view of the proceedings.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A hubbub of conversation and anticipation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Allemaal een heel goede morgen en hartelijk welkom in onze samenkomst (a very good morning everyone, and welcome to our service)."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None – all songs were on an overhead projector and in Dutch, although I recognized some of them having sung the English version elsewhere. There was a notice sheet which gave information about the church fellowship and who was doing what in the service. People brought their own Bibles which varied from tiny, well-worn leather ones to big bright modern ones, but they didn't get to use them this week.

What musical instruments were played?
Drums, guitar, bass guitar, two flutes, trumpet, keyboard – all played very ably. They also managed to join in with the songs that were started off by members of the congregation, although sometimes we had to change key halfway through. There was also some rummaging for the right OHP slide for those of us who did not know the words, which meant that some songs had a bit of a staggered start.

Did anything distract you?
No – even the simultaneous translation I received for everything except worship songs was well done.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Lively and contemporary (the instruments were possibly a little loud at times). I enjoyed the way that members of the congregation began songs as the spontaneity in our sung worship meant that not everything was led or initiated from the front.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Hard to judge as it was clearly an evangelistic address, apparently half the normal length, and I was having the message translated in headphones as well as hearing the actual speaker. The congregation seemed to enjoy listening to him as he had some good one-liners, and a relaxed and friendly manner, whilst communicating important truths.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was the essence of the gospel, intended for the many visitors or for the uncommitted.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was a special service in which eight young people and adults were baptized. As each person gave their testimony there were a few tears from proud parents and friends. Worship was heartfelt, the congregation was clearly glad to be there and cared for each other.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing really, except the high temperature in the building for the first 10 minutes. This may have been because some of us were going to get very wet in the sizeable swimming pool that had been erected in the middle of the room.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was completely ignored except for a friend of a friend who knew I was a visitor. In fairness, I only managed to engineer periods of about 1-2 minutes looking lost, and there were apparently lots of visitors because it was a special occasion.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I don't drink coffee but the range of cakes was excellent. The children had fruit squash in lurid colours. I was told that the coffee is real and very good quality, but the tea is weak. Both are served black in small china cups with saucers from a fleet of thermoses. This is partly for convenience, but also because the church leader occasionally decides that everyone should stop for a coffee break part way through the service.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – It was friendly, relevant, and committed.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I have never had simultaneous translation of a service in my ear before – with occasional jokes added by the translator. The person who sat next to me commented that only once in the service had the translator got so carried away that the rest of the church could also hear the translation without the need for headphones!
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