The Scots Church on Schiedamsesingel has been completed and is now in use. The solemn consecration took place yesterday, according to the rules of the old tradition. When the Right Reverend G. Johnstone Jeffrey, head of the Church of Scotland, stepped up to the entrance, the door was shut. He first had to ask to be admitted....
There was deep gratitude now that the Scots community, after a period of twelve years, has a building of its own again. It will be a centre for the Scots community in Rotterdam.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 3 September 1952
Two churches stand opposite each other on Schiedamse Vest: the Walloon Church and the Scots Church. They reflect the international character of the port city of Rotterdam, and also the freedom of worship in the Netherlands of the seventeenth-century, which provided a safe haven for refugee Protestants. The Walloon Church from 1925 survived the bombardment; the Scots Church, located a little further away on Vasteland, did not. A number of antique books, silver baptismal font and silver tableware could be salvaged, however. Between 1951 and 1953, a new building close to the site of the original location was constructed.
The Walloon Church was founded in Rotterdam in 1627, and the Scots Church followed in 1643. Scots services were initially held in a house on Wijnstraat, after that in the Saint Sebastiaan Chapel on Lombardstraat, and after 1697 in a church of its own on Vasteland. The Netherlands was home to quite a few Scots people, among them mercenaries who fought against the Spanish, whale hunters, merchants and refugee Protestants.
After the war, the church found a temporary home in the hall of the School for Social Work on Graaf Florisstraat. In 1948, the Rotterdam architect M.C.A. Meischke drew up a design for a new Scots Church. A building committee tried to raise a third of the estimated 300,000 guilders (c. 136,000 euros) that construction was to cost. In the end, the church cost 460,000 guilders, half of which came from a reconstruction subsidy provided by the government and the rest from donations. Construction started in 1951, and the first pile was driven into the ground on 31 July.
May the spirit of the Lord continue to dwell in this building, that it may be a blessing to many.
With these words, dowager A.M. Reuchlin-Elink Schuurman laid the foundation stone for the new Scots Church on 11 November 1951. The stone is visible on the east facade. The church opened for use on 2 September 1952. The consecration was a solemn affair, based on age-old traditions. The head of the Church of Scotland, attired in black toga, knocked on the front door and uttered the command, ‘Open the doors for me’. The door was opened and the church was inaugurated with the words: In the name of the Church of Scotland, we take possession of this church building. He was joined by the chairman of the General Synod of the Reformed Church. The first service then took place in the new building.
For many people (…) the design of this church will have a familiar feel, because both client and architect (M.C.A. Meischke) consciously strove for architecture that harks back to conventional and historical notions.
Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, 3 September 1952
It is a fairly traditional church building of modest size, a freestanding structure set in the public garden on Schiedamse Vest. The nave is recognizable, but there is no spire. There is, however, a small bell tower on the roof. On the ground floor are a meeting room for 150 people, a smaller hall, a vestry, a minister’s room and a kitchen. The nave on the first floor can hold 300 worshippers and features five stained-glass windows at the front. Depicting Christ, Peter, John, Paul and Jacob, these windows come from the English Church in The Hague and were donated to the Scots Church in 1902. A commemorative plaque was unveiled in 1954 in memory of John Irwin Brown, the Minister at the church from 1886 until 1934. The complex also includes a vicarage and a home for the sacristan.
Harking back to conventional and historical forms occurs on the exterior only, while the interior was modern for its time: whitewashed walls, indirect lighting and a mahogany pulpit. In addition, the church has always been used for non-religious events such as theatrical performances, concerts and lectures.
In 1957 the church caused something of a sensation when two reformed clergymen, Ministers Julius and De Bruine, combined church services with jazz music. Services were accompanied by a band, consisting of drums, clarinet, two trombones and piano, the last of which was played by Minister De Bruine. Both clergymen achieved their aim: the church was full to overflowing. Apart from the 250 available seats, young people sat on the podium, the steps and the open space on the floor. Outside, the street was filled with an assortment of bikes, mopeds and scooters. That was the report in the Leeuwarder Courant of 21 October 1957. The church council deemed jazz to be unsuitable for a church, and so the Ministers relocated to the theatre.
You could question whether it was indeed jazz. The music was actually more reminiscent of lively marching tunes with a static rhythm, with the occasional blue note, but it was certainly easy to sing along to. “But if I’d known that it would provoke so much resistance, I would never have used the word jazz," says Julius now. Het Vrĳe Volk, 17 December 1957.
Incidentally, in the summer of 2018, the church was one of the venues of the jazz festival North Sea Around Town.
Mattheus Carel August Meischke (1893-1973), the architect of the Scots Church, was active in the post-war period, as was his brother Johan Coenraad (1889-1966). The Meischke brothers were sons of an inspector with the Rotterdam Building Police. M.C.A. Meischke designed a number of other churches in Rotterdam: the Orthodox Reformed Church (1953) beside the Technikon building, the Mormon Church on Jacques Perkstraat (1954), the Reformed Church in Hoogvliet (1961) and the Church of the Resurrection (1962) on Lisplein. They are all clear examples of the more traditional architectural ideas of the Delft School in the post-war years. J.C. Meischke designed the two ‘Witteveen buildings’ on Pannekoekstraat. The town hall in Spijkenisse from 1958 by M.C.A. Meischke is one of the most explicitly traditionalist buildings in this style in the Rotterdam region.
Restoration work on the church took place in 1978. The Scots Church celebrated its 350th anniversary in 1993. Like most congregations, the Church has seen attendances fall, and the venue now hosts other activities. At a meeting here on 29 January 2001, for example, the Stadspartij decided to change its name to Stadspartij Leefbaar Rotterdam. In 2014, a large mosaic designed by Wilma van der Meyden was added to the garden wall of the church. Around one hundred volunteers spent a year working on the thirty-square-metre mosaic.