28 June 2009

Back to the Reformed Church

Well, that is a bit of a cheeky title, and misleading. Susan and I have not left the Catholic Church and returned to the Reformed Church.

But last night we had the pleasure of attending a Reformed Church dinner.

The occasion was the 20th anniversary of the official establishment, in 1989, of the Pukekohe Reformed Church., and the 25th anniversary of the ordination of John Haverland, the current minister.

I confess Sue and I were a little nervous. Eddie had told us, some weeks ago, that the dinner party was going to happen, and that we were to be invited. "Perhaps the date will be some evening when we are tied up," I thought :-) But no, it was to be for last night, the 27th of June - and we were free.

Susan was concerned. There were certainly persons in the Reformed Church who, at the time we became Catholics, were very upset at us; at least one or two had clearly cut her, when meeting her, in the early days. I recommended that she ring up John Haverland and ask his advice. She did, and he said that he would ask the Session (the meeting of the rulers of the Church) that evening.

His reply was that they said they definitely wanted us to come, and that they were sure no one would be disturbed.

So we went - and from everyone's reaction, I am sure he was correct.

Eddie and Eveline came as well, so they dropped by our house yesterday evening, and we went together. I am very pleased that we did go. The proceedings were as expected. There were talks from persons who had been involved from the very beginning to the present day. I myself was asked to speak briefly about the way in which we, with the Jacksons and Darbys, had been the part of the beginnings of the congregation.

All of this will not be of much interest to some of you, and what follows will be completely dark to all except members of my family and friends who were, or are, involved in the Pukekohe Reformed Church - so if the rest of you have read this far, you may safely close your browser at this point. I am going to list some of the people we saw and talked to.

  • Mike and Tina Flinn - it was really lovely to see them. I love Michael, with whom, and his brother Richard, I worked hard in the early days to get the Church going. They sat at our table.
  • Daniel, Joshua, and Jason Flinn - what lovely young men! Daniel is particularly handsome. He and Eddie were very close as boys and we are all at the same table.
  • Roel and Alie Voschezang - at our table but I was able only to greet them briefly; too much going on.
  • Derek and Janine Grul - Janine was the organiser of the whole thing and did a marvellous job.
  • Many many others, listed in no particular order
  • Alice Voschezang - just married and beautiful.
  • Jacqui Phillips and most of her children - also stunningly beautiful young people. Whare Phillips died only a few weeks ago.
  • Mike Waldegrave and two of his and Jacqui's boys: Mikie and Jacob. Jacqui had to stay home with Jonnie, but said she would otherwise have come.
  • Craig and Sharon Roberts
  • Alice Voschezang recently married a guy from Masterton who seemed to know us and our kids well - don't know his last name & will try and find out.
  • Donald van Dorp and his wife Nancy
  • Don and Jenny Petchell
  • Jaap Loef, his wife and some of their 13 kids. A number of his kids are now living in the USA and Aussie
  • Carl Larsen, who was Ross and Glenys's minister in Balclutha. Ross, I gave him my e-mail address and if he e-mails me, I will put him in contact with you. He asked about you and Glenys.

(Susan wrote the lines after the Roberts above). I'm sure there were others I am not thinking of, but my children and other friends from the Reformed Church will remember many of these.

It was really good to see these people again. Yet it was a melancholy meeting, after all. Ken Campbell opened the proceedings, talking about the days before the Church started, when he conducted a Calvinist Bible Study in Pukekohe - talking about such topics as Total Depravity (the 'T' in TULIP, the Calvinist's motto). There were numberous reminders of what we see as the sad poverty of Protestant Christianity.

This morning at Mass I recalled something that Roel Voschezang had said to me in 1994, when I was talking to him about the possibility of my becoming a Catholic - and he did not understand that was what I had in mind, although I believed I had told him clearly enough. At the time he was involved with a political group (the now-defunct Christian Heritage Party). One of the men working with them was a Catholic. The man said to Roel, once, that he (the other man) did not really understand how what Protestants did in their Sunday services could even be called worship.

Mass is not said very well in the Pukekohe parish. By that I mean that the homilies vary from acceptable, if not deep, down to ... well, downhill. The music, occasionally really good, is mostly poor and sometimes terrible.

But I was carried away today by the reality of the Mass. Please pardon me, all you who are not Catholics. This can only sound like mysterious references to private experience. So, I suppose, it is. Certainly any Catholic who does not believe the teachings of the Church - and in particular, who does not believe that Christ is bodily present at the consecration - that, indeed, we have the unspeakable privilege of receiving Christ, and Him crucified, at Communion - to such a Catholic, I am sure there is no powerful sense of reality.

I myself can in no way deny that reality.

There was a time in my life, in 1984, when I thought I had ceased to believe in God. I certainly had lost any sense of the reality of God's existence. I experienced a kind of existential certainty that God did not exist, that faith was an illusion.

But I could not make myself act on that certainty. I tried to not-believe - tried, and failed. My sense that faith was all illusion did not leave me immediately. My experience was the same. I concluded, however, that if I could not live as if God did not exist, I would rather live as if He existed.

My un-faith did not last long.

So here. I have - thank God! - no temptation to doubt the reality of the Presence - but I cannot imagine ever leaving the Catholic Church.

"Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the Words of Eternal Life."

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