European churches struggle with vaccination for Christmas services


European Union


People sit at marked places to keep distance as they take part in a small church service at the St. Marien church in Dortmund, western Germany. Photo AFP, Ina Fassbender

German immunologist Harald Renz advises churches to work with compulsory vaccination for the Christmas services in church, PRO reports. Across Europe, churches struggle with Christmas services amidst a pandemic.

With such a so-called 2G system, only vaccinated people or those who recently recovered from Covid-19 are allowed to enter. Renz finds it irresponsible that some churches do not require a QR-code. “Good ventilation, plenty of space, a mask requirement and at least 2G are the most important measures”, he warned. A survey shows that the majority of Germans is in favour of the implementation of a 2G system in churches.

Churches struggle

There is no uniform national set of regulations for churches in Germany. Churches struggle with whether to allow also “recovered” for the entrance, in addition to online services.

According to sociologist Anna Neumaier, churches want the Christmas service to be open to everyone. However, if they implement a 2G system, they will exclude the unvaccinated. Choosing a 3G system, on the other hand, will exclude vulnerable groups who are afraid of infection.

Many churches offer digital church services to not exclude anyone, regardless of a QR-code. For them who do not go to a service, two Protestant organisations in Northern Germany developed a booklet that contains a Bible reading from Luke 2 and Christmas carols.

A priest celebrates an outdoor "Christmas Vespers" mass outside St Mary's church (Marienkirche) in Berlin on December 24, 2020. Photo AFP, John MacDougall

In the Catholic Archdiocese of Freiburg, church visitors do not have to show a test or proof of immunity against Covid-19. According to the archdiocese, church services are part of the essential services of general interest, such as grocery stores. Access should therefore be possible for all people. Religious events in the state of Baden-Württemberg are exempted from the curfew for unvaccinated people.

Sweden forces churches to require vaccine pass

Stanley Sjöberg, a Swedish pastor, begs. Christians to get vaccinated. “It is irresponsible and outrageous that some people refuse to get vaccinated and thus cause unnecessary illness, infection and costs”, he writes in Dagen. The pastor calls unvaccinated people “irresponsible moralists who expose their fellow human beings to infection.”

Swedish author Annica Bergman pleads for a Covid pass in church) for vaccines for churchgoers. “We all want to celebrate worship and exercise our faith. At the same time, I do not think that any of us want to cause cluster infection. I believe and hope that we all do what is necessary to minimise the number of people who fall ill again this year”, she states in Dagen.

In Bergman’s opinion, people should get vaccinated to protect others. “It is not reasonable that other worshippers should have to take responsibility and stay at home due to the risk of possibly ending up next to an unvaccinated person in the pew.”

Inconsistent rules

Sweden introduced compulsory vaccine passes for indoor events with more than 100 attendants. Churches are not exempted from this regulation. Some religious communities oppose the decision of the government. “We are no longer prepared to take the consequences of the inconsistent rules that have applied during the pandemic, Archbishop Antje Jackelén says.

Archbishop of Sweden Ante Jackelen (R) and chaplain Lars Astrand (L) hold a mass in Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden, 25 November 2020. Photo EPA, Pontus Lundahl

Jackelén: “We will continue to protest against vaccine passes. We are annoyed that church activities are compared to sports events and concerts, which are incomparable. People’s religious practice is fundamental and must be protected in another way.”

Jacob Rudenstrand, Secretary General of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance, argues in Dagen that the Swedish state does not have the right to control churches regarding the vaccine passes. “A worship service should not be combined with an individual ID check of worshippers. One should not have to be controlled by the eye of the state when approaching God.”

The church should not separate the vaccinated from the unvaccinated, priest candidate Anders Magnusson states in Kyrkans Tidning.

In his opinion, the church should not hinder people in “partaking of God’s love.” Instead, he proposes to follow regulations of social distancing so that vaccine passes are unnecessary.

Free to choose

Churches in the Netherlands seem to agree with Magnusson’s line of thinking. Churches are free to choose whether they want to use vaccine passports for attending church services, but almost no church chooses to do so.

In the Dutch village of Eelde, however, a congregation uses the vaccine passport. “It works well and relaxes people”, said the pastor of the protestant church Kaj van der Plas, to Dutch daily Trouw.

According to Van de Plas, the pass works well. “This way, we can make a service safe.” That is, however, not the only reason for using the passports. “We think that, when 3G is obligatory for hotels and restaurants, it should also be used in churches. We do not want to use our exceptional position as a church.

Churches in the Netherlands do have an exceptional position; although there is a nationwide lockdown, there are currently almost no limitations in Dutch churches. Officially, the Dutch government has no mandate to enforce Covid measures within churches since church and state are separated. Although most churches limit church attendances, some do not or do it less strict. That sometimes leads to frictions in Dutch society.

A Dutch health worker demonstrates on a Sunday before a church in Barneveld. The sign says "We work for you as well. Stay at home for us." Photo ANP, Remko de Waal

When a church in the village of Staphorst chose earlier this year to let around 600 people, dispersed over three buildings, attend church services, several politicians reacted strongly. Lilian Marijnissen of the Socialist Party thought it was “inexplicable”. Geert Wilders, party leader of the right-wing PVV, agreed. “In restaurants, there is a maximum of 30 guests, but 600 people are allowed to gather in a church?”

Jaap Smit, chairman of CIO, an intermediary organisation between churches and the Dutch government, thinks that churches should “not abuse the freedom of religion”. According to him, most churches work according to health advice from the government. However, especially in conservative churches, some churches keep ignoring health advice.

“Freedom of religion means that you make a responsible translation of the measures for the outside world to your ecclesiastical world,” said Smit in Dutch daily Trouw. “You can’t just talk about freedom. That comes with responsibility.”



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