Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Amsterdam--Red Lights and Churches

Amsterdam—July 24, cont.  Red Light District and churches

VIEWER WARNING: If your kids are reading this blog and you are not quite ready to have a discussion with them on this subject, you will want them to skip this post.

After leaving the “Our Lord in the Attic” church, we went past the Old Church. This is the original city church, dating back to the 1300s. We will come back to it tomorrow, because closing time has already past.

We walked around the church a bit, just taking in the interesting shapes and structural features of this medieval structure. One fact was impossible to miss: this old church is in the heart of the Red Light District.

Amsterdam has taken a pragmatic approach to prostitution. Street prostitution has been made illegal. In its stead, legal, licensed (complete with tax number) prostitutes operate within the bounds of tiny cubicles that line the narrow alleyways branching off the main street. Honestly, the sight of so many of these doors is an overwhelmingly sad and tragic sight. Enough said about that for now.

More to the point of this brief reflection: the presence of this and at least five other churches in this part of town raises some questions in my mind. I mean, some of the most obvious of the prostitutes’ cubicles share the alley with the back of the Old Church. When you walk out the "back door" of this ancient cathedral, you are looking into the doorway of half a dozen of them. Barely 200 yards up the street is “Our Lord in the Attic”. St. Nicholas’ and the four other Catholic churches that serve this parish, desiring as they say “to provide pastoral and diaconal work . . . for the marginalized”, are within blocks.

My questions? The churches have been here a long time. Did they slow the incursion of prostitution and drugs into this area for any length of time? Did they try? What did they see as their role? What was the reaction of the congregations to the advent and eventual legalizing of these activities?

What impact did the culture exert on the churches? Did the “world” finally “win” . . . did the churches simply cave to the inevitable? Did they redefine their roles in the neighborhood? Will these churches eventually cease to exist in this place, becoming interesting but lifeless museum pieces?

What is the role of these churches today? Are they in exactly the right place, where depravity and debauchery are on full display, in order to bring a safe, sanctifying, saving grace to the place . . . or should they relocate (not an easy prospect in light of the giant cathedrals they have constructed)? Do they reach out to men and women who are desperate, lonely, and afraid . . . or just hope these people will find their way in? Can these people even find a place in the church? Do the churches really make any significant difference in this place? If so, what does that difference look like? What should it look like? Is the world too strong, the brokenness so pervasive, that the churches will likely never be able to turn this part (or for that matter, any part) of the city back toward moral and spiritual well-being? Should they even try?

I would ask the same questions of our church . . . or any church, anywhere.

I am taking a bit of a risk here, attaching a few photos of the "cubicles" to which I referred above. I just wanted to give you a sense of how this looks. The photos are taken at an angle so that no occupants are visible. The sight of these "shops" evokes even now feelings of both shock and sadness for the women who, for whatever reason, are caught in this tragic and painful place.

This is the "back door" of the Old Church. Across the alley, on the right, prostitutes occupy the cubicles day and night. I marveled at the casual ease with which families with kids wander these streets.

This is the view across the way from the front door of the church. What is not easy to see is the "coffee shop" behind the trees. At this coffee shop you can buy much more than a latte.

There are customers at these doors even in the afternoon.

Down a narrow alley, just off the main street. Proverbs 5:8 comes to mind (actually all of chapters 5, 6, and 7.)

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