Earlier this year, it was our 40th wedding anniversary and we decided to celebrate by going on a river cruise, from Budapest to Amsterdam. The cruise travels on three rivers - Danube, Maine and Rhine - plus a couple of canals. The canals were built to connect the rivers and create a transport route for cargo.
Although it’s slower than trains or trucks it is much cheaper. It has also become a popular tourist route as it is very relaxing being on the water. After the cruise, we attended one of Andre Rieu's concerts in his home town of Maastricht, a couple of hours south of Amsterdam, but still in the Netherlands.
During our time away we managed to find two English-speaking or International churches. These churches have formed as Westerners have come to Europe to work in schools and universities, teaching English and other related subjects. It was holiday time for these congregations and many had returned home for the break. Consequently, both pastors and lots of regulars were away. Nevertheless, both services had a good atmosphere and about 50 attendees.
We visited many historically significant churches and cathedrals. These have become important sites for their architecture and culture, but we were left wondering about their current spiritual value. At Melk, we visited the monastery. The church was the most ornate I’ve ever seen. Sadly, though beautiful, it makes you wonder about the ethics of a church building containing so much wealth.
At Cologne, we visited the world-famous cathedral. These days it’s rarely seen without scaffolding, as it requires a lot of maintenance. I understand why people in times gone by, built such huge structures. They wanted their buildings to point to heaven, to glorify God, to reflect God’s greatness and magnificence. It was culturally important and a cathedral gave their town status. It wasn’t without biblical precedence. God allowed Solomon to build a temple to honour him. Though it wasn’t God’s initiative
Interestingly God allowed Solomon’s temple to be destroyed and also the temple the exiles rebuilt on their return. The Jewish temple has never been rebuilt and perhaps this tells us something about God’s priorities.
Those who built the cathedrals in Europe, couldn’t possibly have foreseen that hundreds of years later, these buildings would become a burden to the very communities they wanted to bless. These days government taxes help to maintain many of these historic buildings, including churches. Again, I’m left wondering about the ethics.
What is the solution? We’ve seen the same dilemma in our time when the cathedral at Christchurch was badly damaged by an earthquake. The local authorities wanted to rebuild the cathedral, the church authorities weren’t so keen.
Cathedrals are historically important and attract tourists. Yet, for some of these churches with poorly attended services, it may be time to consider bequeathing the building to the community. The local authorities would then have the opportunity to repurpose the building as a museum or similar. This would create the opportunity of an income source which could be used to maintain the building, rather than charging visitors to these churches.
There would be church members who would be completely horrified with the thought of giving away their building: “Where will we meet?” But if the building is no longer fulfilling the purpose it was created for, what’s the point of keeping it? Churches would have to start again meeting in rented premises, but perhaps with a renewed focus on how to bless their community.
It makes you wonder about the legacy that we leave behind. Do we leave behind a building, an organ, various chattels, a tradition, that is a constant drain on resources, or a vital faith without strings attached, that edifies and encourages?
Following the cruise, we explored Amsterdam on our own. We visited the Anne Frank museum and Corrie Ten Boom’s house in nearby Harlem. Two completely different life situations, Anne a young girl, Corrie an older woman; Anne a Jew, Corrie a Christian Gentile; Anne hidden, Corrie who hid Jews in her house. Yet the same war impacted them both. Both were sent to concentration camps at similar times, Corrie survived, Anne did not.
The Anne Frank museum is situated on the site of Anne’s father’s business where the family hid for over two years. They were discovered months before the end of the war. Anne’s father was the only one who survived the concentration camp. Corrie Ten Boom’s house is the one that Corrie and her family lived in during the war and has been recreated to look like it did at the time. Both museums are very popular and guaranteed entry requires an online booking in advance.
Both sites were incredibly moving. The cruelty and hardships Anne faced, plus the struggles and challenges to Corrie’s faith were impacting. They both wrote books about their experiences, though Anne actually wrote a diary not knowing it would be published. Their stories live on and continue to attract large crowds to their museums is a testimony to the difference one life can make, and the power of the written word.
We travelled to Maastricht by train and very much enjoyed Andre Rieu’s concert. Music has the capacity to draw a diverse group of people together into a positive experience.
Overall, we had a wonderful time.
Susan Barnes has been involved in pastoral ministry for over twenty years with her husband, Ross. They are now semi-retired and enjoy supporting a number of churches in north-east Victoria. You can find more of Susan’s articles at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/susan-barnes.html