European churches lift Covid restrictions

26-02-2022

European Union

Lennart Nijenhuis, CNE.news

Masks used to be mandatory in many churches. Photo AFP, Stringer

As the Covid pandemic seems to dissolve, several churches can organise physical services again; with all members, without a vaccination passport. However, not all European churches are ready for complete opening.

In the Netherlands, Covid restrictions have ended since February 25th. Recently, the Dutch Minister of Health said during a press conference that the country is re-opening.

In practice, the message means that whole congregations can come together to attend a church service again, Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad reports. The CIO, the Dutch advisory board for churches, advises congregations to consider giving church members the possibility of social distancing. In addition, the advisory board points out the importance of keeping basic rules, such as staying home with symptoms.

The board of the Protestant Church of the Netherlands (PKN) says in reaction to be "very glad" that restrictions are lifted. The chairman of the General Synod, Rev. Batenburg, writes on the denomination's website that he hopes and prays "that the communal activities will be started up again with enthusiasm. The church is not only the place where we meet God but also where we meet each other."

The Dutch Roman Catholic Church lifts all Covid measures. Bishops wrote in an official statement that since Friday, masks, distancing, and the restrictions concerning Communion are no longer necessary. The only rule that remains concerning Communion is that the Priest has to wash his hands thoroughly before he hands out the wafers. The use of holy water is allowed again, and churchgoers can drink coffee after the service, like before the pandemic. However, the bishops request to minimalise hand contact.

Cautious

Several churches are cautious in lifting all restrictions at once. The Evangelical Congregation Shelter in Haarlem continues to send out a live stream of the service. Churchgoer Maria Giltjes says to the Nederlands Dagblad that people who do not dare to go to church can listen at home. To strengthen the communal bond between church members, Shelter organises 'communities' where people can go for a walk together in small groups or meet each other at home.

The Netherlands Reformed Congregation (Gereformeerde Gemeente) in Dordrecht continues to allow people to sit at a distance. Several seats are kept 1.5 metres apart. The other seats are closer to each other but not shoulder to shoulder, says elder Kees de Kraker.

Switzerland

The Swiss Federal Council has lifted all Covid measures per February 17. Therefore, church services can occur without restrictions, Ref.ch reports. Church officials are glad but warn to proceed with caution.

Masks and vaccination passports are no longer required. The obligation to stay home with symptoms remains. That means that churchgoers no longer have to wear masks and can gather with an unlimited number of visitors per service. Earlier, only fifty people were allowed. If more people attended a service, the 2G system applied, so only vaccinated or recently recovered people were welcome.

Nicolas Mori, Head of Communication at the Zurich State Church, says that he is pleased that "church life can return to normal, especially concerning Easter and Pentecost." However, he emphasises that churches should keep an eye on vulnerable people and protect them. "The parishes are responsible for ensuring that no one stays away from church for fear of too close contacts."

Also, Christoph Weber-Berg, President of the Church Council of the Aargau Reformed Church, adds that "life is becoming more difficult, especially for vulnerable people. The church must take its responsibility and show these people a lot of care." He means that churches must continue to take precautionary protective measures.

The President of the Free Church Association, Peter Schneeberger, calls congregations to celebrate "God's intervention on Sunday." He says to Idea that he will now say goodbye to his "role as crisis manager for the Covid-19 pandemic." Schneeberger hopes that Psalm 85:11 will be mentioned by the 750 congregations of the denomination: "Then goodness and faithfulness will come together, right and peace will kiss each other." In a Facebook post, Schneeberger writes that churches should now celebrate the "big comeback."

Christian Kuhn, secretary of the Swiss Evangelical Network (RES), is joyful about the re-opening of churches but also expects a period of assessment. "Maybe going to church will be different from the period before the pandemic", he says to Evangeliques Info. "We can imagine that people will be missing because there have been challenging times in certain congregations."

Spain

Contrary to many other European Churches, the Spanish Evangelical Federation called congregations to organise a day of prayer as the pandemic still goes around. The Federation planned to have a plenary meeting physically but changed it into an online meeting after evaluating the current number of Covid cases in the country, Actualidad Evangelica writes. The President of the Federation, Manel Rodríguez, states in a letter that the Thanksgiving Service, planned on March 1, is also suspended for the time being. The service meant to thank the Lord for being in the final process of overcoming the pandemic is postponed because "it is evident that given the evolution of the pandemic, such service does not make much sense."

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