Visiting a Calvinist Church for the first time
by Sophie Grier
In all honesty I was not looking forward to attending the Gereformeerde church last Sunday. I had witnessed the dark figures in black solemnly pass my house many a Sunday, and it always looked to me as if they were headed to a funeral as opposed to a service of worship. Their formal attire seemed to drain them of any personality or joy. Nevertheless, we had heard a lot about the Calvinist community in Kruiningen, but were yet to meet such people, therefore I was intrigued to go and learn more about them.
I was invited round to a family’s house a few days prior to Sunday, to be briefed on what to expect at a Calvinist service. The family were lovely and welcoming but some of their church’s traditions seemed very old fashioned and outdated to me. For starters I had to wear a skirt. This may not sound like a big deal, but as a girl who loves her jeans and only wears skirts to weddings it seemed a bit far-fetched. However, my fashion woes did not end there. I also had to sport a hat in order to cover my head. I do not wear hats so one of the girls was kind enough to lend me one out of her collection. I come from a church with no dress code, therefore the fact I had to wear certain clothes to attend a service was a somewhat horrifying reality for me. After witnessing the black parade go through the streets many times I asked if black was compulsory, a question at which the whole family laughed and replied “of course not”!
Sunday morning arrived and I begrudgingly put on my skirt and hat and decided to stick to dark coloured clothing to avoid drawing any unnecessary attention to myself. I arrived at the church which was flooded with people pouring in and surprise surprise, they were ALL WEARING BLACK. Boy was I glad I didn’t wear yellow. . .
However I was pleasantly surprised by the nods, smiles and hello’s I received that morning. Normally if I was walking through the streets on a Sunday these people would do everything in their power to avoid eye contact with me. However, since today I was wearing a skirt and a hat it seemed that I was accepted as one of them and I received countless ‘goedemorgen’s’.
It was the busiest church I have been to thus far, but also the quietest. Once inside the church all conversation ceased and I felt as though people were watching as I walked down the aisle to my designated seat in the very front row, number 450.
Everyone had to stand as the minister and all male board walked into the church, then we sat, and I didn’t stand up again until the board and minister left. In this church females are not allowed to stand during song or prayer like the males are. To a 21st century western girl like myself this seemed like a derogatory tradition from 400 years ago and I found it hard to fathom that so many women were sitting there week after week of their own accord.
In spite of these blindingly obvious differences, the core, structure and style of the service was very similar if not identical to every other service we had attended.
Afterwards we headed back to a family’s house for lunch. They were very pleasant and one of the girls gave us a short summary of the sermon in English, which was very helpful as my dutch still needs a lot of work.
Overall, the service was better than I thought it would be, although I may not agree with their requirements for females I met very nice people and it helped me put a human face on the term “Calvinist’’ which I’ve heard so many in this town talk about. It was interesting to see things from their perspective and I feel it was a worthwhile experience , but I won’t miss the hat!