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Communities in Times of Corona-virus

by CCB Europe

Gerard Swüste; Mariënburg Magazine; February 2021

Open to each other, but with appropriate care

Since March the corona virus seems to be determining the life of our society. In what ways have our independent communities of faith been dealing with these new circumstances? What strategies did they develop to maintain connectedness and sharing? The network of 2of3Bijeen has been gathering answers to those questions from a number of communities.

“During the entire period of March-September we felt quite disabled”, writes Tamme Wiegersma of the Haagse Dominicus, and the initial comments from the other communities were no different from his. Some communities have been suspending both the sunday services and all activities on weekdays. Some chose to have services without sharing bread and wine, and without singing. The ecumenical grassroots group Leeuwarden relied on reduced singing by appointing only one or two members to sing behind a microphone at a safe distance, supported by the other members humming along with them. The grassroots group Venray says they had a year of stay-at-home: due to meetings being suspended, the text parts of the prepared services were sent to members’ homes in printed form, while for the musical parts members were referred to YouTube. The communities consider it their duty to respect the corona rules. At the Pepergasthuiskerk in Groningen floor markers were installed at the required interval of 1.5 m distance. “Even so, many members remain somewhat worried about their safety”, says Pieta Ettema, which is in fact not surprising considering their advanced age. For similar reasons, the ecumenical grassroots group Maastricht decided to suspend the services altogether. The Young Church community at Roermond continued their weekly meetings as long as they were allowed, and when these no longer allowed, the services were being streamed from an empty church. “In the church there was nobody except the ministers and the streaming technician. That was very strange. That emptiness. A member of the community said: now there is more space for the Holy Ghost”. The Amsterdam communities known as the Dominicus and the Ekklesia likewise relied on technology: they produced a weekly podcast. The monthly services of the West-Frisian Ekklesia were also streamed. Since September, churches were allowed 30 attendees, but at times even that small number was hardly reached; apparently, members considered it safer to attend the service at home. The Antonius community of the Lombok city district in Utrecht reports that the restricted liturgical services have kindled an awareness of how you can stick together as a community while still respecting the corona rules. “Even though this may be valuable, attending restricted services does not really feel like natural behaviour”, writes Yosé Höhne-Sparborth. “But now that so many people feel attracted to libertarian opinions that encourage them to put their individual freedom first, it is a relief that the churches are emphasizing the value of connectedness. Hopefully, we will be able to maintain that when the Corona distress has gone”.

From the ecumenical grassroots community of Apeldoorn, Kees Posthumus writes that the services have been suspended from the beginning of April to the beginning of October: “In the summer we had an outdoor service in somebody’s garden. Also, we have been putting audio-services on our website, which were received with enthusiasm. The texts were pre-recorded. The music was initially added by inserting video links, and later by having soloists from our community sing accompanied by one of our pianists. At Easter and Pentecost we distributed seasonal presents to keep up the morale, such as a candle accompanied by an inspiring text”.

Stay in the loop

All communities are aware that due to the suspension of services, or the reduction of the allowed number of attendees, extra care is need to keep everyone in the loop.

Roermond: “Connectedness is still being supported by the pastoral group. They are individually communicating with people, in person or on the phone, whenever possible. However, in some situations, communication at a distance cannot replace the value of physical presence. In particular, the care of Alzheimer patients suffers when isolation measures are in force. Marga de Groen of the West-Frisian Ekklesia has been sending the regular attendees a weekly email containing a spiritual text. At the Dominicus in Amsterdam, people reacted with happy surprise when they received a telephone call, and according Juut Meijer people are showing more readiness to be mutually supportive – which is good news. Mirjam Rigterink, minister of the Ekklesia Amsterdam, is asking herself how to maintain pastoral relationships when people are not seeing each other for such a long time. “On Sundays we are now having a virtual meeting where we talk over coffee, but relatively few people are taking part in that. As a minister, it worries me that I have only a vague idea of how people in the community are doing. I know that people are calling and visiting each other. But I also know that zoom-sessions are only a make do solution, because so many people have a strong dislike of them”. In the Pepergasthuiskerk Groningen the new newsletter, supported by extra bulletins for urgent messages, has become very important. The ecumenical grassroots group at Maastricht runs phone call circles and has mutual pastoral care. Additionally, they published five inspirational brochures. “But”, say Rob Bos, “our grassroots group has had to put in a lot of extra work to deal with corona”. The Haagse Dominicus has put its faith in the triple approach of studying, connecting and building, and Tamme Wiegersma thinks that in these times there is a need for that more than ever. It would seem to him that in these times people have a stronger awareness of what it means to be a community.

Kees Posthumus of the Apeldoorn ecumenical grassroots community writes that meetings in small groups are taking place, but that not everyone is able or willing to take part in those meetings. “But people do not go off the radar so easily, although keeping them involved takes some effort. We remain in contact with vulnerable members through cards and flowers, and practically everyone is a member of one of the smaller networks within the larger group”.

New ideas

The Haagse Dominicus developed a corona proof way to break and share the bread. During the service, every attendee – at 1.5 m distance – sits next to an empty seat. On the empty seat he wil find a printed order of service, a small goblet of wine and a small tray with a piece of matse bread. In this way you can take part in breaking and sharing the bread while standing in front of your appointed seat. The Young Church community of Roermond has created a development team called “House of the future”, to deal with the future consequences of advancing age among its members. From the Antonius community at Utrecht, Yosé Höhne-Sparborth reports: “Now that we no longer focus on breaking bread during the services, we tend to give more thought to solidarity with all people who are suffering food shortage. And we are looking for different ways, also in the liturgy, to designate our community of faith as a part of society in our neighbourhood and city. Sometimes a minister may seek words of consolation and encouragement that the liturgy provides, and then again he may challenge the community to reinvent itself, often in relation to the scripture readings of a particular Sunday. Thus the liturgy becomes a means to usher the community along in these difficult times. This is coming to fruition now.” From the grassroots group Venray Riky Schut reports that through private initiative small living room and garden meetings are being held, based on the distributed material. At Easter, the Amsterdam Dominicus held a zoom meeting with young people from the age of 12 who would normally be contributing to the Easter Vigil service. “They really enjoyed seeing each other. Being friends, we had a lot of social catching up to do, and afterwards we went on to do more regular zooming with the kids.”

Of course, there are worries about finance, which we will not elaborate here. But above all there is the power to carry on and be creative, and the insight that difficult times such as these may lead to new and unexpected opportunities.

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