On a Friday night, 18th January, 11 worshippers from the English Reformed Church and two dogs set off by train, tram and car, to the Bethel Church in the Hague to spend the night there in worship – and to support an Armenian family, sheltering in the church to avoid deportation. They were protected by “church asylum” – as long as a service is being conducted in the church they are in the authorities may not deport them.
Around midnight we had all arrived and the coordinator at the Bethel Church, Christine, made us so welcome. Food and drink was constantly available, water for the dogs, and information on literature available. We began preparing our marathon service, which was to start at 1 am on Saturday morning and finish at 8 am. In the sanctuary the group before us were celebrating the Lord’s Supper. We pottered around, unpacking our liturgies, hymnbooks, and music. The dogs sniffed around getting to know the place. At 1 am the “baton”, in this case a candle, was handed over to our minister Lance – a symbol that we were now to carry on the worship.
It was a great team effort – Elisabeth and Maeve stepped in to play the piano and Giles the viola when we couldn’t find the music on the internet; Lauran had brought her speakers so that we could drown out our tired efforts with more uplifting sounds; Lance filled up any gaps, leading us in Taizé singing; Maeve woke us all up – or at least made a valiant attempt – at 6 am with her “power hour”. We sang hymns, prayed, listened to interviews with refugees and their families, and discussed what we can do to welcome refugees.
During the night – astonishingly – various worshippers attended. Around 4 am one couple arrived and told us the good news that there had been moves in parliament to extend the grounds for asylum for children, including the Armenian family. We were all cautiously optimistic. A gentleman, who arrived at 5 am, told us he no longer shared the Christian faith but came along anyway to show his support for the family. The arrival of these visitors through the night was in itself inspiring.
I think I speak for all of us when I say we found worshipping together through the night a moving and inspiring experience. The Bethel Church tell us that the family – even if they do have to leave the Netherlands – have felt uplifted by the support they received through the 24/7 worship. So the travelling, the light heads, the bags-under-the-eyes were more than worthwhile.
Article written by Gillian Walker.
Postscript: After 96 days the marathon service achieved its goal as the Dutch government said the family would be allowed to stay in the Netherlands.