Elke twee maanden wordt voor Kerknieuws iemand geïnterviewd die op de één of andere manier betrokken is bij de Nederlandse Kerk. Deze keer is de predikant van onze Zwitserse zusterkerk, Carla Maurer, geïnterviewd.
Where are you from and how did you end up as a minister in the Swiss Church in London?
I am from the small medieval town of St.Gallen in Switzerland, founded by the Irish monk Gallus. St.Gallen is ecumenical and I grew up in that spirit. Love is what brought me to London. I met my husband 11 years ago in a pub in Spitalfields on a weekend trip with some friends. I lived in Strasbourg at the time where I worked for the Conference of European Churches, and after some years commuting back and forth, I decided to settle in London. I found work as project manager for a joint Methodist/URC project. When my predecessor decided to move back to Switzerland in 2013, I successfully applied for the ministry at the Swiss Church. We now have a little son who is half Swiss, half British.
As a colleague minister of a foreign church in London, what is your view of the Dutch Church? Do you see important similarities or differences between the Dutch and the Swiss Church?
I always say that without the Dutch Church the Swiss Church would probably not be here – or any Protestant Church from the European continent. I see the Dutch Church as a pioneer church that paved the way in 1550 for many other ‘Stranger Churches’. It’s a fascinating history. I also see the Dutch Church as a very progressive church, particularly being the first church to marry a same-sex couple. I hope all churches will eventually get there. Both the Swiss Church and the Dutch Church have modernised their buildings and opened the doors for many different events to happen. In that way we are similar. And I always found that Dutch and Swiss people are free spirits and do things their own way – not always for the better, but often.
This year, dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, has been difficult for us all. What were the most important challenges for you? And looking at the upside, what where the new opportunities and possibilities you have discovered in the last year?
The Swiss Church heavily depends on income from lettings. So the halt of all commercial activities in March was a shock to our system. The main challenge was to keep the church financially afloat, whilst keeping the congregation connected. The upside of it all was to discover what an amazing team and board of trustees we have. The team showed a lot of flexibility and got involved with fundraising. We managed to close the funding gap, an amazing achievement. The trustees lived up to the leadership challenge, we grew closer and we discovered the benefits of zoom trustee meetings. Also, we decided to grow our support for the arts community who have been so badly affected by the pandemic. We expanded our artist residency programme and turned the church into a creative hub. We have also strengthened our relationships with other charities. This is always a direction we wanted to go: more community use, less commercial use of the church, and the pandemic has pushed us in that direction. I am also very lucky to have a record producer husband as he helped me to produce audio Sunday services which kept the congregation together and kept us united in prayer. In short, I think we have reinvented ourselves in some ways, and we want to keep going that path, rather than returning to how things were before.
Ending with a positive note: Have you seen some glimmers of hope or inspiring thoughts you can share with your European friends from the Low Countries?
We are living through a very confusing time. We don’t know what is right and wrong anymore. Only time will show what we should have done, or what would have been the best approach; if we will ever know… I believe that it is now more important than ever to be tolerant and non-judgemental towards others. We never know what goes on behind closed doors and how the pandemic and the restrictions imposed on us affect people. The pandemic will cost more lives, both directly from the virus, as well as from the mid-term and long-term consequences of the economic restrictions on people’s livelihoods and physical and mental health. We are more directly confronted with our own mortality which makes us vulnerable. This is not a time to judge and point fingers. This is a time to be gentle and kind. Yet at the same time we should also remain critical. Compassionate and critical – that’s the path of Christ, and I wish that we can go it together.
Carla Maurer was interviewed by Bertjan van de Lagemaat