by , under church, life

(Disclaimer: I don’t know how long the link will persist and I can’t embed or download the video.)

Deventer is officially 1250 years old this year, and one of the things we’re doing to celebrate that –did yesterday, in fact– was  an ecumenical procession. The previous procession with the relics of St Lebuinus (counted as the founder), St Radboud and St Marcellius, decades ago, was a completely Catholic affair, but this time all four churches in the town centre (Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, mainstream Protestant and Mennonite/Remonstrant) did it together. Some of the reliquary carriers were Protestant, and two men from our parish took turns carrying the icon of the three saints. I remember a planning meeting in mid-2017 in which I said “oh, we have that icon, let’s carry it along” — either that was the beginning of it being completely ecumenical, or it was in the air already and it seemed the natural thing to do.

(There’s also a medieval English St Mildred in the reliquary; she’s not one of the “Deventer saints”, but she was along for the ride. Sometimes people come from England to venerate her!)

The Roman Catholic church had provided an auxiliary bishop, who blessed the procession when it started, praying for “a pious and joyful procession”. And it was, both!

What we wanted to achieve was to be visible as churches, as Christians. In the Netherlands, Christianity (any religion in fact) is not oppressed so much as ignored. And here we were walking through the town, lots of people in ceremonial robes, singing. In Latin, too! (Also in Dutch but we sang “Laudate omnes gentes, laudate Dominum” a lot because it’s the perfect processional song, after two or three times you know it by heart and you can pick the part that suits you and if you lose it you just jump right back in.)

In the main shopping street I saw a man and a woman come out of a shop, look at the procession a bit bewildered, then join in. Later I heard from other people that they’d seen similar things. We started out with about 100 people and arrived at the church where the reliquary “lives” with at least 300: people were hurriedly fetching extra chairs from storage. It was only about a mile but it took us all afternoon, stopping for prayer and song at several places. As for song, I wrote a troparion for St Lebuinus for the occasion! And now every time the 16th of November is a Sunday — not until 2025 because 2020 is a leap year which makes it a Monday– we can sing it in the Liturgy.

It’s not a thing to do every year — it takes half a year to prepare, for one, and it might become stale when people get used to it. One of the good things about the procession was that it was so fresh, everybody bringing their own tradition and mixing kind of on the fly, nothing set in stone. But it would be great if in fifty years someone says “oh! I carried a torch in that procession when I was thirteen! Can’t we do it again?”


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