Maybe you’ve already heard: as of January 1st, I voluntarily but cheerfully took early retirement. As of the new year, you will no longer see me as a student pastor at NEWConnective in 3D@VU or elsewhere.
So what you are reading right now can be considered a farewell letter. That sounds pretty dramatic, right?
I keep saying that I’m happy about it, but I’m also curious and a bit insecure about the period in which I have voluntarily thrown myself into. I am going to miss you dearly. You and your fellow students (and my dear colleagues of course, but this letter is not meant for them).
NEWConnective has been around for about seven years and from the beginning, I was there. Like most students I’ve met, you’ve probably been participating in events or groups for a while now, or following us on Instagram. And just as quickly as other students, in a year or two you’ll probably be busy with completely different things: you’ll get a dear boyfriend or girlfriend, you’ll graduate, you’ll do a master’s elsewhere, you’ll find a job, a new passion, or you’ll do internship abroad or just travel. As far as covid allows it, at least. With a bit of luck (from our point of view) you will stay with NEWConnective for a while longer than planned, because all those plans are on hold for a while.
At NEWConnective, you and your fellow students come up for discussion with regularity. In conversation with our lenders, for example. We describe you as young people who are looking for meaning, for connection, for themselves, for what is real and reliable, for what really matters, what you dare to believe in. Whether that is science, a god, yourself, love, your own heart, or your family. You are concerned with truth, purpose, and meaning in your life. Partly you are very focused on yourself, your own development into who you can become, but you are also curious about how other students deal with what comes their way and you often open up to them helpfully. Differences are fascinating, abrasive, and instructive, but the things you unexpectedly recognize in someone else, can be especially surprising. I hope you recognize yourself in this!
If you have participated in one of our grief groups, you may recognize what I mean: you seek contact with people who have experienced something similar to your own, hoping to gain support and to learn how to stay afloat after a loved one has died. And it was precise with this hope that the others joined the group so that you could be of support to each other. At NEWConnective I mainly provided a cozy and safe space where this could happen, offered structure, asked questions, made (appropriate) jokes, sometimes explained things, and helped you to regain some confidence and meaning in life.
But also when you came to one of our Friendshipping-events, participated in a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bias), having a board or committee training, or joined online events like Ik (b)en de Ander (about Ramadan as a voluntary quarantine month for reflection) you hopefully experienced that combination of getting to know strangers, unexpected mutual recognition, fun, and depth. And if you participated in one or more meaningful walks or sat in the Silence Room at the VU with me and others around a reflective text, you’ve also gotten a taste of connecting with yourself and others on a deeper or higher level. Sometimes we had a one-on-one conversation, more often I found you in a group, live or online.
At each new meeting, including with you, I introduced myself as a programmer and student minister. I explained to you that I was paid by the Protestant Church and loaned to NEWConnective with the mission: to seek and find space for students for their life questions, their search for meaning and purpose. God, church, prayer, Bible reading practically barely came up. But we did talk about: vulnerability, finding meaning or being found, not suffering from your own imperfection but finding yourself good enough and worthwhile as you are. And we also mentioned the value of taking a moment to look at what really matters, not always having to join the grueling rat race of having to perform more and better and always having to be ‘on’.
You might not always have realized how many valuable and cheerful moments you have given me by your resilience, your optimism, your cheerfulness, or your tendency to keep asking new questions. And also not: that I carried you with me in my heart, that I prayed for you.
If you hadn’t come, my work would have been pointless. Does it make sense now that I’m saying I am going to miss you!
Fortunately, my other colleagues will remain available and I will be succeeded by a new enthusiastic pastor. That makes it a little easier for me to say goodbye.
Thanks for everything and all the best!
P.S. If corona allows, there will be another moment to see each other live for a while, follow the socials for that!