Bringing people together again in church

From “lockdown since March” to “divine services almost everywhere” it’s all there. This is how differently Covid-19 is affecting the church life of New Apostolic Christians around the globe. And the solutions are just as varied.

“If the believers cannot go to church, the church will come to the believers.” This was the reaction of the New Apostolic Church this past March when a nearly worldwide lockdown was announced, which also made gatherings for divine services impossible. Within the space of a few days, the District Churches had created offers of central divine services on YouTube, television or by phone-in.

Many countries have come a long way on their way back to church—such as Germany, for example. After local services were able to resume in June, “in-person services are now being offered almost everywhere”. This was communicated by the four German District Churches in a joint announcement

For this reason, central video services will be discontinued. However, those who are still unable to attend services in their local congregation because, for example, they are at risk for coronavirus should still be able to join online services—although organised at the local level by their congregation and district.

Where congregations are still closed

The other extreme is South America. Barely six per cent of congregations are able to open their church doors, specifically in Uruguay and two districts in Argentina. Otherwise members continue to be cared for through central video offers: Wednesdays with a devotional and Sundays with a word service; a monthly youth service and a service for ministers—still without Holy Communion, however.

The New Apostolic Church USA estimates the number of reopened congregations at roughly a third. So online services continue to be broadcast in English and Spanish every Sunday. Even in Australia, not all church buildings are open again. Twenty per cent of the congregations still depend on central online offers, for example, in the state of Victoria, where people have been living in lockdown since March in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Distance rules make the churches seem smaller

In the meantime, churches in Canada have reopened. On account of limited attendance because of physical distancing, the capacity has been reduced by a third. As long as things remain this way, eChurch will continue to be offered by livestream and on YouTube. Either way there is a suitable media package available for every service that includes congregational and choir hymns so that people can enjoy some music during worship despite a singing ban.

South Africa has the same issues as everyone else. Churches there only began to reopen at the beginning of October. Not all church buildings are as big as Tafelsig or Silvertown, where 250 people can attend a divine service even with distances rules in place. So Sunday services will continue to be broadcast on NACTV. Several congregations are even transmitting their Wednesday services on YouTube. The western part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has solved its space problem differently again. Many large congregations conduct two or three services on Sundays in order to be able to cater to all the members.

This paints a vivid picture of the local conditions. Alone in Europe there is a hotchpotch of rules. Estonia has in-person services, while Norway and various Russian-speaking countries are taking a two-pronged approach: online and in-person services. Divine services in Great Britain, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, France, and Portugal continue to have online services for now. In Poland, the congregations are taking turns in broadcasting their local services—a model which is also considered conceivable within the German District Churches.

Photo: Jessica Krämer

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Andreas Rother
Divine service, Congregational life