Proclaiming Jesus as Lord in Amsterdam for over 400 years
At the southern tip of the old centre of Amsterdam stood the military hospital, where English chaplains in the 1570s ministered to the English troops who fought for the Dutch in the Eighty Years War against Spain and its allies. Windows in the church building now mark the memory of that contribution.
The first actual congregation used a building over a foul-smelling ditch in the heart of the city. Next, we appear in 1771, in a room of the Drapers’ Guild. A little while earlier, Rembrandt had painted in that room a portrait of the guild, assessing the quality of cloth leaving Amsterdam. We wish he’d left it behind!
Some decades later, the Napoleonic wars broke out, and there were no funds to pay a chaplain: the church closed. But, in 1817, the churchwarden invited the “London Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews” (now “Christian Ministry among Jewish People”) to send a minister as our Chaplain, and to assist the local Jewish population, who were in dire straits socially. The Society sent the great Charles Simeon, who stabilised the church and preached in support of the Jews: he laid the foundations of gospel ministry for years ahead, working in little what he worked in great measure at Holy Trinity Cambridge for over 40 years.
During the nineteenth century, the chaplains of Christ Church served in Amsterdam, but they also planted congregations in Haarlem, Arnhem and Utrecht; these later became chaplaincies in their own right. In 1852, we entered the lists of the then “Commonwealth and Continental Church Society”, which offered much-needed financial help. Oh, and Vincent van Gogh assisted in teaching Sunday School for a while, during his period considering pastoral ministry!
The Second World War brought another closure. Many continental chaplaincies have known the effects of war very close at hand. Near our Centre building, thousands of Jews were taken to the camps: very few returned.
Amsterdam was a tolerant base of operation for Spinoza, Locke and Descartes. If there was light in the Enlightenment, it shone here first. But man became the measure of all things, and this is now perhaps the most secular city on the planet, as well as the most international. Many here (Dutch and other) are not opposed to faith; our task is to ask always, “What is the entry-point for the good news of Jesus in this City?” The symbol of this city (which used to be an old fishing village) is 3 crosses of St-Andrew-the-Fisherman – Christian roots run deep here, and the kingdom of Christ has been welcomed at times.
We have a historic building in the heart of the City that we want to see used more. Our hope and prayer is that this city, with a confident record of gospel faith stretching back many centuries, will again come to see Jesus as Lord.