‘Home grown’ chaplain has found his happy place
The new chaplain in Voorschoten in the Netherlands says he has finally found the job he’s always wanted.
Matt is one of the first people to have begun his journey to ordination, trained, gone on to serve his curacy and become an incumbent, all within the Diocese in Europe.
Matt Thijs (39) leads the thriving and youthful congregation of St James, not far from The Hague. Having been ordained three years ago, he says he is excited about the future of the church as he takes on the chaplaincy role.
“Since I have been ordained there is nothing I have ever done in my life that feels as suited to me as being a priest,” he said. Although Matt’s parents are both Dutch, he spent a lot of time in the UK and other countries. He says it was this strong English connection that led him to join the Church of England.
An invitation to visit South Africa to help in a church came at the right moment for Matt. What was originally an extended holiday, turned into a full-time job and he began leading worship at St Martin’s Church in Durban, a role he enjoyed for more than six years.
“It worked with all kinds of people from townships, helping young people get interested in church through music.
That’s really what my first interest in church was, the music and from the music into the worship.”
While in South Africa, Matt met his wife Lizelle, who was one of the first people to ask Matt if he had thought about whether God might be calling him into the church.
“I wasn’t sure at all if it was my thing, what with the robes and all sorts of stuff,” he said.
According to Matt, the conversations about ordination kept happening and Matt and Lizelle eventually found themselves back in the Netherlands, linked to the Anglican church in The Hague, where he worked as a pastoral assistant. It was here that the vicar, Andrew Gready, encouraged him to test out his call to ordination.
“I think I had to stop worrying too much about how other people did it, but trust that if God had called me, he called me to be myself and be a priest, not to be someone else.”
His first chaplaincy in the village of Voorschoten, is in the western Netherlands. The chaplaincy was planted by the Anglican Church in The Hague and meets in the British School based in the village.
“That has set the culture from the beginning,” Matt said. “The fact that we’re not in a 'church' building. In the past we had a lot of people connected with the school, but now less English people are attending, and the number of other internationals and Dutch people who are coming has been growing.”
Each month they have around 120 people attending and a third of the congregation are under the age of 18. “We have always been a church that has a big focus on children and young people, and a priority on community and fellowship” Matt said.
“We’re Anglican in a very European way,” he said. “If you came into our service, it wouldn’t feel like a little island of Britishness. We are more international. We use easier and accessible language, as for many English isn’t their first language, and we have a mixture of liturgy and informality, which is suitable for our context.”
Looking to the future, Matt said: “My hope is that we could become more outward looking. Covid put a break on everything and so we are focusing on rebuilding community. But the next phase is looking at being a missional church.”