Historic Scottish church in Rotterdam celebrates 375 year milestone

Rev Derek Lawson, the current minister, outside of the Scots International church

A Scottish congregation that has been meeting in Rotterdam for the last 375 years will celebrate the milestone in a special service on Sunday.

The Scots International Church in Rotterdam was founded in 1643 and originally grew out of the large number of sailors, soldiers, merchants and dyke-builders who had come to the Dutch city from Scotland.

The first minister Alexander Petrie came from Rhynd, near Perth, and led the fledgling congregation from 1643 until his death in 1662.

The first minister, Alexander Petrie

The congregation initially met in the warehouse of a wine merchant until foundation stones were brought from Scotland in 1695 to build the first church building.

That building stood until the Second World War, when it was destroyed in bombing. It was a difficult time for the congregation, says Rev Derek Lawson, who has been based at the Scots International Church since coming out of retirement in 2016.

'There was virtually no contact with Scotland during the Second World War,' he explains.

The church building was destroyed by a bomb in 1940 and there was a real risk that the congregation would not survive the War, he says.

But the congregation and local Rotterdam merchants pulled together to raise enough funds for a new church, and it was dedicated in 1952 by the then Moderator of the Church of Scotland General Assembly, the Rt Rev Johnstone Jeffrey.

The current Moderator, the Rt Rev Susan Brown, will preach at the anniversary service.

She said: 'It is a congregation which, over the years, has continually reviewed and renewed its role and vision and as such offers vibrant testimony to the faith that undergirds all it does.

'May they continue to be a blessing to all who walk in through their doors – people of all nationalities.'

Special guests at the service include the former minister of Scots International Church from 1963 to 1972, the Rev John Russell.

The Scots International Church today

He said: 'We loved our time here.The Manse was our first home - we arrived on a cold winter's night to a warm welcome 13 days after marriage.

'When I was appointed in 1963 I was given the task to reach out to the large English-speaking population drawn from Britain, the Commonwealth and the United States and many other nationalities living throughout South Holland.

'In my ministry this outreach was carried out and the congregation became truly multinational, a tradition that has continued throughout successive ministries.'

While the original church catered mostly to Scots, today's church members include expats from around the UK and around a third of the congregation is Dutch, although the services are conducted in English.

'Historically we've had a lot of Americans and Canadians but now also people from Asia and Africa,' said Mr Lawson.

'The English Language is the common denominator – it may be their second, third or even fourth language.'

Scots International Church is one of 16 Church of Scotland based overseas.