AMSTERDAM, Netherlands On Friday, Dec. 12, three protestant churches in the Netherlands approved a merger, to be in effect May 1, 2004. The Dutch Reformed Church, the Calvinist Reformist Church, and the Lutheran Church will unite to form the Protestant Church of the Netherlands after 40 years of diplomatic efforts.
The Reformed Church represents around 15 percent of the 16 million Dutch population, followed by the Calvinist Reformist Church at 7 percent and the Lutherans at less than 1 percent.
The synod of each church approved the merger in large majorities in each of their general conferences; approval requires a two-thirds vote of the Dutch Reformed and Calvinist Reformist synod and three-fourths of the Lutherans.
A commemorative service to be broadcasted next Sunday morning has been planned for Friday evening. The service, to be held at a Roman Catholic Church on Utrechts main square, will be attended by the leaders of all three churches as well as the Cardinal Adrianus Simonis and Queen Beatrix. The Queens presence signifies the approval of the royal house on behalf of the Dutch Reformed church.
While the new Protestant Church will permit gay marriages and women pastors, they will not force any local congregation to accept them unlike most of the other churches in the Netherlands which require approval.
Conservative members of the Dutch Reformed Church viewed the merger with "great apprehension," but decided that unifying the church was more important, chairman Arie van der Plas was quoted saying by the Dutch broadcaster NOS.
Other ultraconservatives however, are likely to break away from the new merger because of the acceptance of gay unions.