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Kerken als een gezamenlijke waarde voor dialoog

woensdag 3 juli 2019 - 11:54

Van 19-21 juni organiseerde de Rijksuniversiteit Groningen een internationaal congres over religieus erfgoed in een divers Europa. Namens de Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed mocht Frank Strolenberg daar een aftrap verzorgen. Hieronder zijn enigszins aangepaste lezing (in het Engels) waarin hij aangeeft dat kerkgebouwen waarden vertegenwoordigen die een basis kunnen vormen voor een dialoog tussen mensen: ongeacht of ze geloven of niet. Maar dan ligt er wel een opdracht om de mensen die niet bekend zijn met deze waarden hiervoor te interesseren. Interessant is dat de aanpak die voorgesteld wordt, om op basis van waarden de gemeenschap te betrekken, nu ook onderdeel gaat worden van een praktische kennisuitwisseling die voor het najaar van 2019 opgezet gaat worden met de Engelse Churches Conservation Trust. Waar een conferentie allemaal niet toe kan leiden..

"A hundred years ago, the Netherlands was a deeply religious country. Only 5% of the population indicated that they were not part of a Christian denomination. Around 7.000 churches that we have in our country are still a reminder of that period.

The country was neatly divided into protestant and Roman-Catholic groups. And everybody knew what to do. Church was not only the norm; church also set the norm in our country.

I remember myself, being raised a roman catholic, that as a boy of four years old we had to walk in holy processions. The norm was to stay in line with the boy in front of me and stay in line with the boy behind me. Actually, that was the norm of the Church all over in those days: to stay in line.

Fifty years later the times changed dramatically. In the sixties of the previous era, the Second Vatican Council let go of norms. At least, that is how we in the Netherlands interpreted the range of freedom that the Council formulated. As a consequence: my parents for example stopped going to church on sundays. If there are no norms; why go to the church? They said their prayers at home; they worshipped the saints they preferred; no norms needed here. And I guess that a lot of people took to that conclusion and stopped going to church all together. Around a thousand churches closed since then and about 300 of them were demolished. 300 may sound as a dramatic figure, and it is, but we also have to realize that 700 church buildings were saved and used for other purposes. And a lot of the time it was the local community who put the energy and money on the table to save the buildings.

Travelling another 50 years. Stepping from the sixties into the present. Last year it was calculated that the Netherlands reached a tipping point. Just more than half of the Dutch considered themselves as not being religious at all. The headline in the papers said that the Netherlands now ‘officially’ was a secular country. That off course is maybe a conclusion drawn to quickly because still a little less than half of the population consider themselves being religious.

But the consequences for the use of church buildings will be noticeable, nevertheless. Since the sixties around one thousand churches closed. Now the representatives of the churches themselves predict that it may be around 2 to 5 thousand buildings that will lose its religious use. So at least double the effect; and maybe even more.

But again it is the local community who stands up and wants to rescue church buildings. Local entrepreneurs, inhabitants living in the neighborhood, developers with a heart for this type of buildings. It is because all of them value church buildings. People value the fact that it is -or was- a temple off worship, a place of encounter, a physical landmark in a village or neighborhood, a display of art and craftmanship, a barrel filled with events, memories and stories.

So it seems that religion is often associated with norms. Things you can or cannot do. People who are either in, or outside of the group. But religious buildings seem not so much associated with norms, but more with values. They seem to have an integrating power.

For us as a government body who try to rescue the monumental church buildings, this perspective of the value of church buildings brings about common ground. A possible mutual understanding to start a dialogue with the community about the future of the buildings. So we created all kinds of instruments to encourage people to engage in this dialogue on values: through financial impulses and all other kind of actions.

But there is challenge. If we want to talk about the plural values of church buildings, people have to be acquainted with the fact that these buildings contain values at all. For example, young people who have never gone to church are very often not familiar with these buildings aka with the values they stand for. The same is true for non-Christian immigrants who are not familiar with the significance and symbolism the Christian church buildings stand for. By the way, non-Christian beliefs bring about new places of worship that for us -as a heritage agency- are part of the collection of church buildings as a whole. There is no distinction in religion here.

So the challenge is, to reach out to groups who are not familiar with church buildings and the values they stand for. Because the young generation and the new generation also have to become caretaker of this important heritage.

To conclude
For me personally, heritage is all about the things we cherish, the things we love. And religious buildings are the pre-eminent symbols of this love. Raised in the sixties I am off course a strong believer in EL OO VE EE (love), but I also realize that I am helplessly hoping without a little help from my friends. So we have to work together on this."