At the end of May 2020, social life in the Czech Republic is slowly awakening – after three months in a state of emergency that has paralyzed large parts of life here. Even if the pandemic of Covid-19 is far from over, it can begin to be assessed. What has the corona virus changed? Will there be any long-term changes that this virus will require of us? Many questions can only be answered temporarily or not at all. In this article, I would like to limit myself to a few observations in connection with the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren (ECCB). How did the ECCB deal with the crisis?
The first cases of Covid-19 were discovered in the Czech Republic on March 1, 2020. On May 31, 2020, the statistics in the Czech Republic read as follows: 9,233 people were infected by the coronavirus, 6,546 people have since been cured and 319 people have died from the coronavirus. 2,368 people are currently struggling with the disease and 123 people are being treated in the hospital. Of course, these numbers change every day, but one can say that the statistical balance sheet can be viewed favourably in the Czech Republic, even if there are significantly lower statistics, such as from neighbouring Slovakia. Certainly, many factors contributed to this relatively favourable result: the relatively quick action of the Czech government, the excellent work of the staff in the healthcare and social institutions and a mostly disciplined population, which essentially adhered to the strict measures and restrictions of life. The scenarios with shockingly high numbers of deceased people from Italy, Spain, the USA and Great Britain, which were regularly presented in the Czech media, certainly contributed to the high acceptance of the restrictions. No, there shouldn’t be anything like that in the Czech Republic! And there were no such scenarios here.
„During the Corona crisis, we became aware of what really matters in life and in our church,“ said Daniel Ženatý, the Moderator of the ECCB, in a conversation about the experiences in this crisis. With regard to the reaction of the ECCB to the corona crisis, I would like to mention three dimensions of what is important to us as a church:
– That we proclaim God’s Word for all people and cultivate community in our churches.
– That we accompany people who need and want it.
– That we also help people who need help in a very practical way
That we proclaim God’s Word for all people and cultivate community in our churches
As part of the state of emergency, which was announced on March 12, 2020, services in churches were prohibited. So the churches had to come up with new ways of preaching, without gathering ‘under the pulpit’. In addition to the possibility of sending a printed sermon to parishioners’ households, this was above all the opportunity provided by the Internet. One can rightly say that the corona virus has forced the churches to use the possibilities of the Internet. Worship services were broadcast online in many different formats: from the YouTube worship service that went out to members of the church to online worship services via Skype, Zoom, or any other platform in which the members of the church actively participated and shared with each other what they could, even if they were not allowed to gather in church for worship. Some pastors have told me that there were many more people attending a service than was normal in the church itself. A pastor said:
„There are usually thirty to forty people at worship, while sometimes three hundred people have heard my sermon online in the past few weeks. That is why we will continue to record the sermon and broadcast it on Sunday morning, albeit in a simplified form. And then the sermon is in the archive of the church’s homepage, so that you can still hear the sermons at any time.“
This pastor also sees these digital opportunities as a great missionary opportunity if the parishioners spread the invitation to listen to the sermon. Martin Balcar at the Central Church Office of the ECCB has a similar view:
„The homepage of the EKBB (www.e-cirkev.cz) has become much livelier. Every day we have a new word of hope from a pastor of the ECCB. And over the week there are about 500 people listening to these words of hope, short sermons of five to ten minutes in length. We have noticed that many people who are not members of our church also listen to these messages.“
The prayers, which are written every day by a layperson for the ECCB homepage, also find a good response. And there is a lot more to read, listen to, and watch, on the homepage. “The intensive use of the Internet for preaching has brought the church to the 21st century,” says Pavel Hošek, Professor at the Evangelical Theology Faculty of Charles University. It would be very desirable that this digital dimension of ecclesiastical activity be maintained and strengthened, even if services, Bible studies and other events can now take place in the churches again. But it is a good idea that some online sessions continue to be digital in order to save a lot of time and effort on the road or in the train. Of course, it is also important that we be aware that many older people in particular do not have access to the Internet and do not want to have it. And it is also important that digital communication can never replace personal human contact. The personal encounter from person to person is fundamental for human coexistence, even in the digital age.
That we accompany people who need and want it
For some people, the strict contact restrictions were a huge problem that deepened their loneliness. Congregations reacted to this by setting up a telephone service: pastors and members of the parish regularly called other members of the congregation and at least visited and accompanied them by telephone, listened and probably gave some good advice. Visiting is nothing new in the Christian community. Jesus certainly encourages us to do this, but perhaps some of these telephone visits may also be preserved in the future as an opportunity to have time for one another when that time is limite
That we also help people who need help in a very practical way
Practical help for elderly and sick people was certainly a speciality of the Christian churches and Diakonia in Corona times. Many citizens’ initiatives have called for help. And many have helped. The first big relief effort was the sewing of mouth and nose protection, the so-called roušky (literally: veils). It was a real wave of aid that quickly overcame the huge shortage of mouth and nose protection that became mandatory from one day to the next, always and everywhere, apart from your own home. Congregations also participated and sewed this mouth and nose protection for church members and for others. Now you can buy it in various forms everywhere, but it was completely different at the beginning. Many offered to shop for the elderly and the sick, to walk the dog, or to provide the help they need. Many congregations in our church have organized this too – and not just for their own congregation. The ECCB Diakonia also offered their help and is still doing so, be it through a central helpline, which you can contact with any problems, and from where specific help is then conveyed or organized. This offer has also been accepted by many people in the wider community, not just from our church. When it comes to assessment, there is always the hope that this great willingness to provide human solidarity in society as a whole will continue after the crisis.
The unpredictability of the corona virus has surprised everyone. After a few difficult and painful months with the Covit-19 virus and disease, epidemiologists, doctors and scientists from a wide range of disciplines can say a lot more about the virus and its behaviour. But much is still very unclear. It is important to study carefully the complexity of the effects of this virus. The damage the virus has done is huge. The economic and social consequences of the measures against the virus will be felt for a long time and will result in victims of their own. The path to a “new normal” is not easy. The virus will certainly keep us busy for a long time. The churches are well advised to participate critically and in solidarity in shaping this path, in accompanying people affected, in discussing what is necessary and desirable for individuals and society. We should also get involved in the discussion about the lessons from this crisis and take the opportunity to look for a new lifestyle that is more careful, and more careful with the earth’s resources. At European and worldwide level, we should also rethink the opportunities and dangers of the globalized world, thinking that needs to happen especially among the churches. And let us also think of the people who live in hunger and poverty, suffer from injustice and war, or refugees.