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A letter from Ryan and Alethia White, co-regional liaisons for Northern and Central Europe

Summer 2023

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Dear friends,

In the past few months, it feels that we are finally stepping fully into the role of regional liaisons for Northern and Central Europe. The past year has been a time of learning and adjusting, while also transitioning from the primary role of offering pastoral support to the Iranian Presbyterian Church in Berlin. As we have engaged in conversations with partners, we have explained this new role as a liaison, or coordinator, between PC(USA) and the partners in this geographical region. It entails listening to what is being shared by partners and sharing about developments from PC(USA), while mutually looking for opportunities for collaborative engagement.

A reconstructed ship from the Dutch colonial period. The Sites of Memory organization developed a collection of flags seen at the stern that was constructed from maritime signals using the pan-African flag colors. The collected signals state, “Decoding the Atlantic World.”

Conversations and connections with partners are one of the primary functions of our role as regional liaisons, and in the past few months, we have had the opportunity to do this not only online, but with in-person visits. In this letter, we would like to share some of what we have heard from our partners.

At a gathering of churches in Amsterdam, we heard “a tale of two stories” from the Protestant Church of the Netherlands. They told the story of the decline in the overall attendance of churches and of congregations that could not maintain the buildings where they worshiped. Decreased finances have presented challenges along with fewer clergy. But the second story they told was a story of renewal that is happening in communities. These may be smaller-scale stories, but they are happening in communities throughout the Netherlands. Some congregations are combining, and others are trying to think of creative ways to engage in the community or to repurpose the church buildings to benefit the community around them.

In many congregations, members have become increasingly uneasy talking about faith in a secular society, but this has led some to have conversations about what they really believe, leading to developing new statements and expressions of faith. The Dutch have a saying, “The shore will change the ship” meaning that external factors will force change. The question is what change will come, but the church is not worried, and is instead hopeful to discover what new future they are being led into by the Spirit of God.

A historic Amsterdam home from 1663 that features Black figures in the facade decor symbolizing wealth maintained by the family.

In Wales, the aging membership of many congregations has led some churches to ask what relevant and practical needs are present in the communities. This has led to a campaign for “Dementia-friendly churches” and resources that help congregations support the changing needs of people with dementia. Rather than this being developed and kept within one denomination, it is being shared amongst congregations throughout Wales.

Also from the Presbyterian Church of Wales, we heard about a campaign in 1923 called, “Law not War,” which was led by the chair of the Women’s Committee of the Welsh League of Nations Union. This campaign consisted of Welsh women writing letters to American women, appealing to them to pressure the U.S. to join the League of Nations.

Additionally, in 1924, a delegation toured the U.S. for two months on a “Peace Tour,” speaking and urging women in the U.S. to advocate for peaceful and diplomatic solutions. In remembrance of this campaign, a chest containing archives from this campaign was welcomed back to Wales on April 5, 2023. It was a meaningful moment for the Welsh women today, remembering the boldness and advocacy of their forebears, but also the importance of rediscovering history that has been lost and not remembered because women have not been the recorders of history.

A door lock mechanism on display at the Lutheran Museum in Amsterdam with an intricate swan crafted into the system. Swans became an important symbol for Lutherans, tracing back to the reformer Jan Hus, whose name literally means goose, and who was burned for his teachings. According to legend, when he was burned at the stake, he called out “You are now going to burn a goose, but in a century, you will have a swan which you can neither roast nor boil.” (Quote found at

One of the highlights of visiting Amsterdam is touring the canals that ring the city center. And on this past visit, there was a wonderful opportunity to have a private boat tour led by the founder of the projects Black Heritage Tours and Sites of Memory. The question was posed to our group, “What is the future for the past?” as we heard about the uncovered history of Black people in the Dutch empire. This is a history that was not openly recorded and celebrated during the remembrance of the “Golden Age.” A remembrance that began as the Dutch empire slowed in growth and began to decline. But the glorification of the wealth and dominance of the Dutch empire did not discuss the impacts of this empire, questions were not asked about what the costs were and who paid these costs.

As we floated along the canals of Amsterdam, we heard stories that reminded us of the importance of asking and listening for the untold stories, and that history is a collection of what is chosen to be remembered. And we were encouraged not to remove the markers of history, but to let them serve as moments for teaching and offering the previously untold perspectives.

While new history can be painful to hear, and the decline of churches discouraging to experience, in listening to our partners’ stories we have been reminded that change is the opportunity to see where God is at work. The same God who has been faithful to us in the past and provided for what we need will remain faithful to us in the future and with what we do not yet know we need.

As our family prepares for an upcoming time of transition, we are thankful for each of you who pray for and support us. We remain unsure of many things, but we also are grateful for the space and place where we are. And for connections that remind us we are not alone, and that God is still with us.

Alethia and Ryan

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