Material dimensions redefined?
Religion and Materiality I
It is a rather new phenomenon: the PopUpKerk, initiated by Rikko Voorberg (1980) in 2013. This ‘pop up church’ claims to be non-religious (in the institutional sense of the word), non-traditional and ever-wandering. Religiosity is said to be never an argument and the ultimate goal of the church attendants is to ‘squeeze reality’ – or even, truth? – ‘out of tradition and the hearts and minds of the participants.’ This church, however, has a ‘dogma’ of 10 theses:
- Everything happens around a set table. All our actions come from and return to the table, which is filled with thing brought by all the participants.
- There are no final answers. Each conclusion is the start of a new journey.
- We concretize each good plan. No matter how small or crazy it is.
- We never pay for space. Our reciprocal service should be evident.
- No church without non–believers. Without non-believers, our church will stop.
- No retorics of self-help. We’re talking about other worlds here, not our personal egos.
- A PopUpKerk is embedded in the surrounding area and network. And tries to do best for this area in its city or village.
- PopUp-thinking may never be limited to Christian tradition. Early Christianity is a starting point, not a goal.
- A PopUpKerk consist of no more than 30 people.
- A PopUpKerk is a church, no more, no less. We are no part of a religious tradition, but try to be church as in the early days: slightly anarchistic, radically humanistic, and grassroots like tares.
The PopUpKerk is known for having a very minimal ritual life, no strict ‘sacred space’, and an emphasis on sincerity (in conduct) as these ‘Ten Commandments’ indicate. In that sense they remind of the ‘Friday Apostolics’ in Zimbabwe Engelke writes about. The theology, or theoretical identity, of this church seems very open-minded, and its materiality seems very unimportant. But what is more to say about these two aspects?
First, the apparent disregard to matter results in an emphasis on sincere reflection and conduct: the ‘commandments’ are about answers, mental journeys, plans, believing, and, strikingly, non-believing. Then there is a sense of altruism: concretized plans, reciprocal services, no self-help, embeddedness in the geographical or social context, and ‘radical humanism’ (indeed, Voorberg is an activist in the care for refugees). Furthermore, the church claims to be as the church in Early Christianity, using, in my perspective, some anachronistic terms to justify their rather postmodern system of beliefs. However, in this light the PopUpKerk still appears as quite a cliché Protestant endeavour (dressed in hippie-like vocabulary): focused on breaking with (a) tradition, emphasizing the internalization of faith, and avoiding strict-religious rituals and idolatry. The report of a visitor makes this extra clear:
I enter a very open and light space, and the attendees are focus on relationships, as it seems.
The Holy Supper is delicately interwoven in the service, which basically is a meal, starting with breaking the bread, and ending with toasting with wine as a thanksgiving for live.
After lunch and a short mindfulness session, we rewrite a fragment of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. […] The words of Jesus now gain all attention. […] Do these people believe? I wonder what the answers of the people themselves would be, but here are nobody is labeled here, what a relief!
So, there is a focus on the words and minds, but, on the other hand, a deal with the material going on here. The first commandment was already about a set table, there were actions (not just plans), there is space (but not very strict, and quite ‘in the world’), and special attention to embeddedness in a physical context. Echoing the churches of Early Christianity, the service is draped around the Holy Communion, but the PopUpKerk is rather extreme in demonstrating the ritual as a mere sign (with a certain randomness and meaningfulness at the same time). The relations with matter all seem to be subordinate to the humanistic ideals of this church.
This is all very much how the PopUpKerk presents itself. It would of course be way more interesting to research the more complex relations with matter. In or around their services, what would certainly be inappropriate? Spitting out the bread, would that be acceptable? Which religious texts or interpretations are frowned upon? Which types of spaces do they prefer, and why would that be? The visitor calls the church a ‘no-performance church’ – but what are, perhaps, the actual ritualized patterns in the behaviour of the church members? Do they have specific conceptions about what counts as ‘matter’, just as the Friday Apostolics in Zimbabwe would not categorize honey as matter. There will be tensions or discrepancies between the self-presentation, or belief and practice, of the church on the one hand, and traditional Western (Protestant) conceptions about what a religion, a church, the material is on the other hand. Analyses of these tensions and mechanisms will provide a deeper and richer understanding of new phenomena such as the PopUpKerk.
 Voorberg (my translation).
 ‘True Christians, as [they] now say, do not need the Bible because they apprehend the presence of God “live and direct” – in the persons of prophets filled with the Holy Spirit ; in the congregation’s song; and by living according to the tenets (mutemo ) of faith. Presence comes via a strong sense of here-and-now embodiment. This theology is complemented by a minimalist ritual life. The Apostolics wear simple white robes; they meet under the open sky; they maintain no altars or other focal points of religious observance […].’ See: M. Engelke, ‘Material Religion’, The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies, ed. R. Orsi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 222.
 Engelke, 221-222; B. Meyer and D. Houtman, ‘Material Religion – How Things Matter’, Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality, eds. B. Meyer and D. Houtman (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), 1, 7.
 J. Wolsheimer, ‘De ‘no-performance’ kerk waar klein het nieuwe groot is’, Eeuwigheid, dwars maar recht (2014), visited 3 May 2017, available via http://www.eeuwigheid.nl/de-no-performance-kerk-waar-klein-het-nieuwe-groot-is/ (my translation).
 Meyer and Houtman, 5, 10.
 Meyer and Houtman, 12.
Engelke, M. ‘Material Religion.’ The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies. Ed. R. Orsi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012: 209-229.
Meyer, B. and D. Houtman. ‘Material Religion – How Things Matter.’ Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality. Eds. B. Meyer and D. Houtman. New York: Fordham University Press, 2012: 1-23.
Voorberg, R. ‘Dogma’. Info | PopUpKerk. 2017. Visited 3 May 2017. Available via http://popupkerk.nl/info/dogma.
Wolsheimer, J. ‘De ‘no-performance’ kerk waar klein het nieuwe groot is.’ Eeuwigheid, dwars maar recht. 2014. Visited 3 May 2017. Available via http://www.eeuwigheid.nl/de-no-performance-kerk-waar-klein-het-nieuwe-groot-is/.