The nautical experience portrayed in the New Testament is ambiguous. On one hand, it reflects moments of fear and anxiety, as the stilling of the storm in Mark 5:35-41 for example. On the other hand, the New Testament also reflects very successful fishing experiences, as in Luke 5:1-11 or John 21:4-6. In short, the New Testament views the nautical world not differently than the rest of the world. It is a place where good and bad can happen simultaneously.
On Sep 13th Susan and I spent the late afternoon on Manhattan’s South Side and on Governor’s Island. We enjoyed the festivities of HUDSON 400, the anniversary of Henry Hudson’s famous arrival in Manhattan. Our nautical experience that day was unambiguously positive. Using a ferry from Liberty State Park in New Jersey to Manhattan, we saw the beautiful tall ships cruising from Upper New York Bay into the Hudson River. The largest was the Brazilian built barquentine Peacemaker. Yet the most unusual were a fleet of flat bottom boats from The Netherlands. These boats with single mast had traveled the Atlantic with folded rigging in the hull of large Dutch freighters.
Now, ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy accompanied the spectacle, proudly displaying the national flag of the Netherlands. When you look at the accompanying pictures of a few of the Dutch flat bottom boats, you can see their traditionally curved form. Instead of a keel, these boats feature two retractable boards on either side for stability against the pressure of the wind. This enables maneuvering in very shallow waters. For more information use the Dutch website www.spts.nl and click on Language: English.
I can just imagine what the TV images of these boats with their Dutch flags must have meant to viewers in the Netherlands. Live coverage was, of course, substantial. At the same time, I wondered what this might mean for us, our church with its Dutch roots and its members that come from many ethnic backgrounds.
My response is simple: Old and moderate is well tried and beautiful. There is a lot of serenity in watching a flat bottom boat of the old design spreading its sails before the sun. Does this not hold true for a church like ours? Of course, as there are many different ships in New York Harbor, church buildings can be avant-garde or modern, suburban or warehouse style, or sacramental looking, or cathedral-like. They can be smaller or bigger than ours is, and convene many more or many less people for regular worship.
But just as the nautical world would be incomplete without the flat bottom vessels of the Dutch, so would the world of New Jersey churches be incomplete without a church like ours. Indeed, as manyvolunteers gather to keep a tall ship running, many of us volunteer on workdays and beyond to keep our steeple in the skyline of New Brunswick. When the tall ship then begins to travel, it fulfills its mission beyond the display of wood and canvas. Tall ships train naval officers, provide intercultural exchange, and serve as ambassadors of their country. Similarly, our church fulfills its mission first when we look beyond brick and mortar: We worship God, provide education and cultural exchange; we feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. We also sit with those who mourn and visit the sick.
In the light of this, I think it makes sense when we view the images of the Dutch flat bottom boats as images of the church itself. This is, at least, what I wish for us during this fall season: Water under the keel and fresh wind in our sails, so that we may display our colors for the greater glory of God. Come, and sail with us!