A woman in the audience at one of Anne van der Meiden’s lectures asked if he could please do it in Dutch. He always gave his lectures in Twente in Twente. He asked how long she had lived in the area. “Thirty-eight years,” was the reply. “Thirty-eight years? You should be ashamed of yourself,” says Van der Meiden, stoically continuing his lecture in the regional language.
“Typical Anne”, says comedian Herman Finkers (66), friend and fellow lover of the Twents. Van der Meiden, born in Enschede, was a lecturer in mass communication and professor by special appointment of public relations, liberal preacher, publicist and theologian. But in Twente and the surrounding area, he is mainly known for his more than fifty years of preaching in the regional language, and for his Bible translation into Twents. Van der Meiden passed away early this month, the day before his 92nd birthday.
“Anne said very often: “A Biebel is ammoal by whom to speak”, said Finkers. “You shouldn’t take it literally. He has had problems with that in more orthodox circles.”
Van der Meiden was originally a Christian Reformed Church, but in 1954 he made the switch to the Reformed Church. “Within those liberal Protestants – a bit of an elite club after all – he was a strange duck in the bite,” says Wim Berkelaar (60), historian and Protestantism expert at the Free University (VU). “He was indeed a professor, but at the same time a real people’s man.” Van der Meiden spoke in the same way with the Queen – he married Prince Floris in 2005 – as with the postman, Finkers also says. “The first one, just not in Twents.”
A member of several churches, Van der Meiden was a great advocate of bringing together all kinds of believers and non-believers. It was he who introduced the Netherlands to the Orthodox Reformed in plain language. His book Blessed are the people from 1968 portrays the ‘black stocking church’, which is often hidden from the masses. Berkelaar: “As a communications man, he was able to express in crystal clear terms what they thought.”
Van der Meiden studied theology and communication sciences. “An uncommon combination, appropriate to its idiosyncrasy,” says Berkelaar. Van der Meiden is the ancestor of the public relations profession in the Netherlands, and the first to hold the special chair at the University of Utrecht. His classes drew students in such numbers—sometimes more than 1,100—that the university had to hire a church to accommodate everyone. People liked to listen to him, including his sermons. Finkers: “When he stood on the pulpit, you as a listener thought: he knows.”
Anne van der Meiden was by no means strict and dogmatic. Annemike van der Meiden (61), one of his four children, describes him as “extremely sweet”. “And he always had a joke ready, in every situation he found a way to breathe in.” His natural dominance didn’t detract from his gentleness, says Finkers. “He would have made a good Sinterklaas.”
Van der Meiden gave his paternal qualities a 6.5, says his daughter. Because he was such a hard worker.” Van der Meiden wrote about forty books, but his translation of the Bible into Twents, the Biebel in the Twente sproake was his magnum opus. “I was full of admiration,” says Finkers, who was a member of the project’s guidance group. “A whole team of translators and experts has been released for each book on the new Bible translation. He did it all on his own.”
“At one point he did an early morning game with the neighbor,” recalls his daughter. “Then after a while he was already sitting behind his desk at half past four.” His never-ending interest in others and innate antennae for people who were struggling made up for a lot for his children. His daughter: “He came into his office at the university, gauged the atmosphere and picked someone. “Come with me.” Then there was coffee, they cried, and they could continue.”
In 2017, Van der Meiden suffered a brain haemorrhage. “Since then, it has been more difficult to keep communication going,” says his daughter. “And that’s what he liked best. Operating the telephone became complicated. And he was unlucky that his children lived in the west, they couldn’t be there every day.”
Also read this interview with Herman Finkers about the Twente film in which he plays a leading role: ‘Easy success is annoying. Especially when they laugh at everything except the punch line
Van der Meiden was not afraid of death, he said shortly after his brain haemorrhage, in an interview with Tubantia. “Death itself is a certainty. I can make no more of it.” He remembers his grandmother’s words. “When it came to heaven, she always said in that beautiful Twents: ‘Who will still stand to take a look.’ No pastor, pastor or theologian has ever surpassed that.”
Van der Meiden spent his last months in the Krönnenzommer nursing home in Hellendoorn. He also remained light-hearted there, says his daughter. “In the dining room, after dinner, he thanked the hostess who had made the dinner so excellent. And could anyone take him home?”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 19 June 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of June 19, 2021