Church leaders explore the possibility of reopening congregations

Online is not everything. How can we resume divine services and congregational life during the coronavirus crisis? Locally and very slowly and cautiously, is the answer of the European Church leaders.

In times of assembly bans and stay-at-home orders the offers by the Church have had to be severely reduced. Divine services are currently taking place online only. And even pastoral care can only be done at a distance.

But ministers and members have found ways to look after their brothers and sisters. Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider and the European District Apostles are impressed with the many good ideas people that have come up with.

The Church leaders are also aware of the desire of the faithful to once again have personal fellowship and regular divine services with Holy Communion. Whether, and if so, how it will be possible they discussed this week via video conference. The official website of the Church,, reports on this.

Depending on local conditions

The Church is aiming at cautiously reopening its doors under strict rules. The procedure follows the regional and national guidelines and can therefore vary. In France or in Switzerland, as well as in numerous other countries in Africa and the Americas any service gatherings will be prohibited for some time to come yet.

At present, the District Churches are working on guidelines. “They will adhere strictly to the directions of the respective public health authorities,” says. The focus will be on the familiar hygienic and physical distance protocol. “Members who have weakened immune systems or who display symptoms of illness are asked to refrain from attending the divine services in person for the time being.”

Under strict requirements

The European District Apostles discussed the following key issues:

  • For as long as it is impossible to offer regular divine services everywhere on a congregational level, online services should be made available in parallel. Where national governments restrict the number of visitors in a church building, several divine services will have to be offered in succession.
  • The celebration of Holy Communion will only be possible under strict conditions. The concrete guidelines are still a matter of discussion. In any event, it will be mandatory for ministers to disinfect their hands before dispensing the wafers, and they will also have to wear a face mask.
  • Classes such as Sunday School, religious instruction, and confirmation can only resume once public school operations have resumed in the respective region. Pre-Sunday School can only be offered once kindergarten resumes in the respective area.

Changes to the divine service itinerary

Society is currently in a critical phase, Chief Apostle Schneider says. “Nevertheless, I am glad that the opportunity to resume divine services is very cautiously and slowly moving back into reach.”

He has also had to change his personal divine service itinerary. The divine service and the session of the District Apostle Meeting originally scheduled to take place in Buenos Aires in Argentina on Pentecost will likely be postponed to the latter part of the year.

This coming weekend the Chief Apostle would have been in South Africa. Instead he will be in our church in Strasbourg in France to conduct a divine service in the English language, which will be streamed to large parts of Africa. In South Africa, the service will be broadcast by the Church’s own TV channel NACTV, and in Zambia it will be broadcast on ZNBC TV 1 and Radio 2.

Symbolic photo: Oliver Rütten

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Andreas Rother
Congregational life