Internationally famous for its Mediterranean sea, generous sunshine and natural as well as cultural wonders, the southern city of Antalya is also worth mentioning as a "center of cultural blends." Substantially contributing to this is the Saint Paul Cultural Center, located in the Kaleiçi district
Nearly 13 years ago, Mrs Bultema could only carry out her Sunday prayers within the confines of hotel rooms. Now she and the other Christians living in Antalya have a cultural center, which also serves as a church to the city.
Although the coastal city of Antalya welcomes millions of tourists every year Ğ a number that reached 9 million in 2008 Ğ as well as being home to a great many expats, the city had no renovated church, until a short while ago that is.
Established in 1996 under the motto: "For the good of Antalya and the glory of God," Saint Paul Cultural Center is a multi-faceted community center that serves both foreigners and Turkish residents living in the city.
Also a library
Renate Bultema, the wife of the Pastor James Bultema, warmly welcomed Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in the Paul’s Place caf of the center, where you can enjoy various coffees, tea or even smoothies while reading a book.
The Saint Paul Cultural Center also houses a library of approximately 2,500 books. In the library, where books are loaned free of charge, there is a wide selection of books Ğfrom picture books to guide books to help tourists plan their time in Turkey.
"As the only English-speaking community center in the city, St Paul Cultural Center is here to serve Antalya. Besides offering religious services to all those who want to participate, the center also holds English conversation groups, which give the chance to practice one’s English with the native speakers in a comfortable and friendly atmosphere", said Mrs Bultema.
"We also aim to set a coordination among the international community, or foreign expats living in the city. Our ’Monday Morning Monkeys,’ a weekly activity for international mothers, has been specially designed for this. We meet on Mondays from 10.30 a.m. to 11.30 a.m., and share important information that can be useful for everyone", she said.
The Bultemas came to Turkey at the beginning of the 1990s. For the first 5 years they lived in Istanbul, where Mr Bultema served at the Union Church of Istanbul.
In 1996, the couple decided to move to Antalya to start an international church in the city. At the beginning, they met in various hotels because they had no regular venue in which to gather. Then the Antalya Municipality offered them to build a cultural center, which can also operate as a church. They bought the land in Kaleiçi and built the Saint Paul Cultural Center.
Regarding the difficulty they faced during this time in Turkey and Antalya, Mrs Bultema said they did not have any major problems during the foundation and settlement processes, and the Turkish people welcomed them.
’Catholic or Orthodox, everyone is welcome’
Highlighting that Antalya was an open city and that it would be more difficult to start such a cultural center in the eastern or Black Sea regions of Turkey, Mrs Bultema further noted: "Whether Catholic or Orthodox, everyone from all nationalities and backgrounds is welcome to our center".
The Saint Paul Cultural Center is also visited by Turkish people who have at sometime or other in their lives decided to convert to Christianity, as well as those who just come and participate in the services out of curiosity.
Murat, 34, is one of the frequent visitors to the church. Although Murat was willing to talk to the Daily News, he requested that his surname not be used. When asked why Murat said: "There is no need for that," without going into any further detail.
This may be because Murat and those others like Murat felt it necessary to behave in a prudent way because there have been cases where Christians living in Turkey have been targeted by certain fundamentalist Islamic or nationalist people or groups.
One such case was that of Andrea Santoro, the pastor of Santa Maria Catholic Church in Trabzon, who was shot dead during mass in 2006. Known only as O.A., the convicted 16 year murderer was caught, and sentenced to years in prison.
Born to an Orthodox Greek mother and a Muslim Turk father, Murat made "the decision of his life," and converted to Christianity nine years ago. Now he works in the Kaleiçi district.
"I was born in Germany. I grew up in the middle of the two cultures, which has made me question the religions all my life", Murat, who carries a necklace with a cross, said.
Although in some corners of Turkey, some unfortunate events have happened in the past, Murat has never been subject to any verbal and physical assault in the Antalya because of his religion. "It is never hard to be a Christian in Antalya. The local residents are quite open-minded, always showing respect. I and those others like me have never been ’the others’ here," he said.
Murat thinks that what matters most for all religions is to love people. "I think the people around me understand that I love and respect them, so they accept me as I am. I have many Muslim and Jewish friends with whom I live happily. They never question me, or attempt to change me."
"If one wants to understand Christianity, it is enough for him or her to look at the Bible. The core of Christianity is in the Bible, not in the politics", Murat added.
’I really feel at home here’
The fragile point of being an expat in Turkey and of a different religion shows itself once more in the case of J.B., a British expat living with his family in Antalya. Just like Murat, J.B. requested not to be named.
J.B. and his family came to Antalya five years ago on holiday whereupon they decided to spend the rest of their lives in the city. Although he has concerns about living in Turkey as a Christian family, he was soon free of his doubts.
"It is really nice for us to be able to live our religion freely. To be honest, I had doubts about living in Turkey, as an expat having a different religion. Above all, Turkey is a Muslim country. I could not anticipate the reflections of being Christian and living Christianity free in a Muslim city," J.B. said.
J.B. believes that he has been stripped off all his doubts during his time in Antalya. "The Saint Paul Cultural Center offers much more than one can expect from a church. We visit the center from time to time, attend the services, meet new people, make friends and have a good time. I really feel like home here", he said.
I do appreciate that the Antalya people and the municipality support the foreign expats in this pursuit, he said.
The service times at the Saint
Paul Cultural Center are:
English-speaking Sunday Service at 11:00 am
Turkish-speaking Sunday Service at 1:00.pm
Russian-speaking Sunday Service at 5:00 pm
Further information about the Saint Paul Cultural Center and its services can be obtained from www.SPCCturkey.com or phone: 0242 244 68 94.