Coronavirus in Europe: Beyond online church services
Christians face the challenge of acting creatively as millions enter phase of confinement. “It might shape some of the future offers of our churches”.
MADRID · 17 MARCH 2020 · 16:20 CET
“Emergency” and “alarm” were some of the words most heard in Europe as tens of millions started to adapt to a time of movement restrictions and confinement.
“We are at war”, said French President Emmanuel Macron in a televised address on Monday. “Measures that have never been seen before in our country” were announced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte underlined that “nobody should feel abandoned”, and Spanish President Pedro Sánchez told the population that “all of us have a mission”.
ONLINE GATHERINGS: THE MOST COMMON SOLUTION
As events unfolded in France, Christians of a church in Lyon were “setting up a daily Skype call to catch-up and pray for our town and one another”, Tim Kyle said on Twitter. “We have set up a Youtube solution for the Sunday service”.
In Prague, Czech Republic, evangelical congregations also “used videoconferencing as a way to meet up virtually”, said James Araucaria, a solution that allowed people in other places of the country to join in. “We’re planning to use this for other events this week”, he said.
Similar online tools were used in Belgium, says Herman Spaargaren.
“WE ARE THE TEMPLE OF GOD”
In Greece, most Protestant churches “informed attendees to be wise and stay home if it is necessary”, says Nico Spies. A church encouraged all members to “stand in common prayer from 7pm to 9pm as families in our home”, and to send “prophetic words and testimonies” to encourage one another. “It is not time to give up our spiritual life, because we are the temple of God, whether we to go to a church building or not”.
“Talk to someone you haven’t talked to before. Our neighbours may ask us to pray for them”, church leaders said. In the weeks ahead, children should not be left alone with mobile phones and parents should find ways of “bringing the reality of God into our families”.
CREATIVITY THAT “MAY SHAPE THE FUTURE OF CHURCHES”
In Germany, despite some who “go panic buying” and “politicians taking advantage of the situation to blame others”, most people are trying to understand the times and “look out for each other”, says Evi Rodemann.
“I love how people, especially younger ones, distribute flyers in their streets or house blocks and offer help to the elderly and lonely, offering to go shopping and watch out for each other. There is a lot if willingness to go the extra mile”.
Churches are asking people to stay connected, but from home. “One pastor, in quarantine and now suffering mildly under coronavirus, has offered to produce a list with church services going online for Sunday, within a few hours he collected more than 200 church links and the response and sharing was huge”.
Other groups use platforms such as Zoom or Skype to “read and discuss the Bible together”. Christians are “getting creative”, believes Rodemann, and “better learning how to use the means” available. “It might actually shape some of the future offers by our churches. A lot of experimenting and a lot of fun is involved as well”.
As the virus expands, the key is “not to share the fear but pointing to the One who calms the fear”.
SHARING THE HOPE OF THE GOSPEL
Jetteke Noordzij, from the Netherlands, is taking time to walk “giving a small pot of narcissus bulbs to the elderly - a sign of hope and the fact that death has been conquered by Jesus - and to offer help in shopping”.
One elderly man, she explains, reacted emotionally to her invitation. “He was a surviving Jew of the holocaust and this lockdown brings many feelings and memories up. ‘Last time this happened the next step was to send us away and most never came back’, he said”. Jetteke prays that the man “will find the Messiah” and that the coronavirus crisis “will somehow become a venue for the Gospel in Europe and the world!”
Edith Vilamajó, writing from the United Kingdom, says she and others are also “asking ourselves how to speak in way that would lead people to search for Christ”. The challenge is to “be positive, constructive, in the midst of so much news and opinions”.
Many are criticising the government, she said, but the challenge is “how to show solidarity, altruism, generosity, no matter what our views are”. “It is time to pray and share the love of Christ with those around us. Let’s also pray that God revives His people”.
Volunteers in many areas of society may be needed soon, and Christians are called to be useful, she thinks. “Let’s pray for unity, respect, mutual understanding, let’s pray for our authorities, medical staff, the most vulnerable... We take refuge in Psalm 91”.
MORE TIME TO READ THE BIBLE
Travel restrictions and the suspension of church gatherings will free up time for many. “This is a unique opportunity to pursue God in the Bible, especially since we are not meeting together”, says Peter Mead. “Maybe for the first time in our life we are feeling: ‘Actually, I need to know God more’”. “Why not starting with the New Testament?” he told people from his local church in a video message. “What can we see about the character of God, the person of Jesus, the work of the Spirit, that is relevant for us, in this unique times?”.
Prayer initiatives have been started all over the world. The World Evangelical Alliance shared their own prayer (read it here). It starts with these lines: “Our Almighty Father God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, as Your children living in every corner of the world we come before You today to intercede for our nations, almost all of which are currently affected or under threat of the COVID-19. We praise You that You neither slumber nor sleep and You are watching over our lands and our peoples, especially in perilous times such as these”.
“Our help comes from You. We cry out for Your mercy and protection against this virus. We declare that You alone are our refuge—our place of safety. We pray that You protect our peoples from this deadly disease and rescue our lands from this dangerous trap”.