for the past several years, i have been attending the unitarian universalist church of boulder. though i don't know if i'm necessarily a UU (that very sentence by default probably makes me one, though), i find a lot of comfort and joy and peace in being a part of a religious tradition and community like UUism.
unitarian universalism is a small denomonation, consisting of maybe only a couple hundred thousand in the USA. the numbers are even smaller here in europe, despite the fact that it originated in transylvania. (if i'm getting my UU facts wrong, someone please correct me. i don't know much about the history of it, unfortunately.) so when we moved here, i was pretty excited to discover, through my awesome UU friend neal, that there is a UU community here in the netherlands!
the netherlands unitarian universalist fellowship (NUUF ) meets on the first sunday of the month at a church on kaizersgracht, near the leidseplein in amsterdam, at 2:00 pm. so this past sunday i made a trek out there to see what it was all about. the following is my story:
i went to the train station in hengelo to buy my ticket to amsterdam, a 2 hour train ride away. when i got there, i discovered that the trains were not running into or out of hengelo, due to some construction that was being done. so i was guided towards some bus to take me to almelo, where i would connect with a train there. a rough start to my day, but it all worked out.
arrived in amsterdam around 12:30, and thought about stopping for a cup of coffee somewhere but decided instead to just go to the church, since i wasn't sure where it was or how long it would take me to get there. using my best dutch, i asked someone directions to the kaizersgracht, and which tram i would take to get there. he walked me to the correct tram, explained to the driver where i wanted to go, and the driver kindly told me that he'd instruct me as to which stop i should get off.
the driver was a funny man who was born in turkey but who has lived in amsterdam for almost 30 years. we talked in both dutch and in english about how hard it is to switch back and forth between languages, and i told him his english was very good (it wasn't really), and that made him happy. he ended up giving me his phone number (!), and then because he was so focused on writing down his number while driving a tram through the busy streets of amsterdam, he looked at me sheepishly and told me that he "forgot" to tell me what stop to get off at -- so that i could stay on the tram talking with him longer! isn't that funny! fortunately, amsterdam is a small enough town, and i've been there enough times, that i was able to find my way back to the kaizersgracht to locate the church.
okay, so now i'm at the church. i sit outside on the steps since it's only 1:00 and the service doesn't start for an hour. but then i get cold and make my way inside. i'm stopped by a few people who asked me quite protectively what i'm doing here, which really intimidated me. i suppose if i had a church in amsterdam, i'd probably be protective of it too, though. eventually a shady-looking man tells me to go sit in a corner, which i do. not sure if i made a good decision to come here today.
shortly after taking a seat, a tall canadian approaches me and introduces himself as derek, the minster of NUUF. he's lived here 15 years and came here with his wife, who is dutch. i help him fold programs for the service, and when that's done the "music committee" walks in, which is basically a husband a wife team who have been coming to NUUF for about a year. we talk about music and our favorite UU hymns, and i end up accidentally volunteering myself to help lead hymns at future services since i have some experience with singing these songs in my UU choir back home.
and then, the BEST part: a young woman walks in and everyone's like, "oh! this is valerie! she's from colorado too!" how funny! valerie is 1/2 dutch, 1/2 american, and tells me that her dad lives near denver. "in fact," she tells me, "i've been to a UU church up in boulder one time." no kidding! as it turns out, she's been to MY church in boulder! and, to make it even more amazing, valerie came to church on the very same sunday in february when i had a solo in the choir. after the service that day, she joined the young adult group for a luncheon (an event that i actually planned for that sunday). the only reason i missed meeting her that day last winter was because it was superbowl sunday, and rather than joining my friends for lunch i decided to go home and get ready for the game. it was fate that she and i would meet here, 9 months later. i cry and we hug, and i feel better and safer already.
so now the service has started. i have my nametag on, a UU staple, and the guests and visitors introduce ourselves. i learn that NUUF is approaching its 25th year, and that on any given sunday they number between 15 and 20 people. i'm pretty amazed that a group this small has survived for so many years! currently, the services are all in english, but more and more dutch people are coming every sunday, and rev. derek is hoping that soon they can start a dutch-speaking UU group, which would be the first of its kind in europe. the service has all the elements that i am familiar with: they light the chalice, they have their "needs and blessings" portion, we have a meditation, etc. the only thing missing was singing a few songs, but since the "sermon" that day involved rattles, chimes, chanting, and movement, there was still music involved in the service.
afterwards, valerie and i walked together back to centraal station, where we got a drink before i caught my train home. i cried saying goodbye to her, because i am just so touched and amazed at the beauty of the world, and the serendipities that we come across every day. i am relieved that a group like this exists out here in a foreign land, and that i have so much in common with them despite the fact that i had never met them before and that we all come from such different places. but we're not that different at all. and the fact that valerie and i would share a service together in boulder, and again one here in amsterdam, just warms my heart and makes me feel incredibly blessed to know that the world is not as big and scary as it seems sometimes.
i can't wait to go back next month. the whole experience just shifted my attitude here. suddenly i feel a little less homesick, and a little more centered. yay!