Rotterdam Kirk celebrates 375 years of faith and renewal

By Jane Bristow

A Kirk congregation that began its life in the warehouse of a wine merchant and survived the total destruction of its church in World War II will celebrate 375 years this month.

The Scots International Church in Rotterdam, which was founded in 1643, will mark the occasion with a string of events culminating in an anniversary service on Sunday 16 September.

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Rt Rev Susan Brown, will also preach at the service.

Rev Derek Lawson has been based at the Scots International Church since choosing to come out of retirement in 2016.

He said: “We’re celebrating the past but also looking to the future.”

However Mr Lawson, who spent many years as the minister of Redgorton and Stanley near Perth, is proud of leading a thriving 21st century community of people from across the globe.

“On Sunday morning I look out on a congregation of around 30 nationalities,” he said.

“We’ve changed dramatically.

“Originally we were primarily Scottish, but today we are about 30% British, 30% Dutch.

“Historically we’ve had a lot of Americans and Canadians but now also people from Asia and Africa.

“The English Language is the common denominator – it may be their second, third or even fourth language.”

“Our age profile is remarkably young,”  he adds.

Whilst Mr Lawson cites “a whole load of reasons for a Scots church” in Rotterdam, he explains it was primarily due to the large number of sailors, soldiers, merchants and dyke-builders who hailed from Scotland.

Foundation stones were brought from Scotland in 1695 to build the first church building.

This church remained in use until the Second World War, which proved a difficult time for the congregation.

“There was virtually no contact with Scotland during the Second World War”, explains Mr Lawson.

“After a bomb destroyed the building in 1940 there was a real risk that it would not continue.”

However, through the efforts of the congregation, and with financial support from Rotterdam merchants, by 1952 the then Moderator Rt Rev Johnstone Jeffrey visited the church to dedicate a new building.

Rev John Russell, who is the Presbytery Clerk of Dunkeld and Meigle, was minister of the Scots International Kirk from 1963 – 1972 and will also attend the anniversary service.

He said: “We loved our time here.

“The Manse was our first home – we arrived on a cold winter’s night to a warm welcome 13 days after marriage.

“When I was appointed in 1963 I was given the task to reach out to the large English-speaking population drawn from Britain, the Commonwealth and the United States and many other nationalities living throughout South Holland.

“In my ministry this outreach was carried out and the congregation became truly multinational, a tradition that has continued throughout successive ministries.

“We’re very pleased to be going back – it’s very kind of the church to invite us.

“One of our sons who was born in the manse, is coming back too.”

The strong connection to Perthshire goes all the way back to the 17th century as the first minister Alexander Petrie came from Rhynd, near Perth.

Mr Petrie was the minister in Rotterdam from 1643 until his death in 1662.

Right Rev Susan Brown said: “Having family links with the Netherlands, it is wonderful to be able to celebrate with the congregation of the Scots International Church Rotterdam on this special anniversary.

“It is a congregation which, over the years, has continually reviewed and renewed its role and vision and as such offers vibrant testimony to the faith that undergirds all it does. 

“May they continue to be a blessing to all who walk in through their doors – people of all nationalities!”

A total of 16 churches of Scotland are based overseas spread across thirteen countries.

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