July 2021 #4 — Flooding. Churches highlight work-life balance to EU Presidency. Evaluating the impact of Covid

News in Brief.

Flooding in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Last week saw devastating flooding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Over 150 people died and many have lost their homes. Church leaders offered prayers, and Belgium held a day of national mourning. In Valkenburg, the Netherlands, the church of Saints Nicolaas and Barbara was badly flooded. The church dates from 1200 and is situated on the banks of the Geul River. Sandbags failed to keep the water out, which seeped through the floor as well as coming through doors and walls. The priest, Herman Jansen (86) was the last to be evacuated from the church, which has suffered damage to its floors, heating and sound system, and to one of its paintings of St Nicholas. In the days following the flooding, local people from Valkenburg turned out to help remove debris and clean the church.

Churches meet with incoming EU Presidency. Last week, a delegation of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC) met with Iztok Jarc, Permanent Representative of Slovenia to the European Union, to discuss the priorities of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. In their joint contribution, the delegation highlighted the way in which the pandemic had exposed vulnerabilities in health and social care in our societies, and called for a coordinated EU approach to improving the care of vulnerable groups. The Churches’ delegation also called on the EU to note some of the negative impacts of working from home during the pandemic, and called for better protection of work—life balance, noting that the blurring of boundaries between work and home life strengthened calls for a common day of rest. Another issue raised by the delegation was the need to protect religious freedom; and they called on future EU policies to give consideration to the way in which they will impact on religious expression. The delegation also reminded the EU Presidency that churches represent 380 million people in the EU, and the delegation asked the Presidency to advocate for the participation of church organisations at all stages and levels of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Church organ transplants. Whilst perhaps too early to call this a significant trend, the Reformatorisch Dagblad reports that there have been several instances recently of organs from churches in the Netherlands being relocated to churches in Poland and Romania. Faced with falling congregations and the sale of church buildings, a number of Protestant churches in the Netherlands have made arrangements to see their organs dismantled and used in churches in Poland and Romania. The move is supported by church organists, who have often played the instruments for decades, and are keen to see the organs continue to be used.

Anglican Centre, Rome appealing for funds. The Anglican Centre in Rome, founded in 1966 to help facilitate joint projects for education, ecumenism, and mission between the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church, is appealing for donations in the light of a significant fall in income during the pandemic.

Series: Evaluating the impact of Covid on churches. Measuring digital growth.
The impact of the Covid pandemic on churches was significant and multifaceted — church services, the gathering of church groups, social outreach programmes, training, funerals, marriages, hospital and prison chaplaincies, the opening of historic church buildings, all had to be rapidly and radically rethought. How do we begin to measure the impact? Research is beginning to emerge from a range of perspectives that offers insights into different aspects of the impact of Covid on churches, some of which highlights important questions for churches  as they consider the months and years ahead. This article is the first in a series on research that examines the impact of Covid on churches.

A number of articles and studies have noted the apparent success of churches in moving online. The Economist in March this year wrote that “God had a good lockdown”, that the church was “winning” in projecting itself during the pandemic, and the Church of England’s online services were “attracting the sort of online numbers more commonly associated with rock stars”. When the pandemic hit, the Church of England’s Communications team moved quickly to stream online services; a year later, they had streamed 55 online services, which had been watched 3.7 million times. The Church of England’s Communications team also worked on equipping individual churches to go online themselves — running online training sessions on streaming, simplifying the copyright process for music, and providing a range of other resources online for churches to use.

This picture was repeated across Europe, as the central church organisations invested in streaming services online, and providing other services such as music channels, radio programming, and prayer phone lines. Many individual churches also moved their services online, reflecting considerable resourcefulness and determination by clergy and church members.

In Germany, the Protestant Church (EKD) responded quickly to support the move online. The EKD’s Digitisation Department set up a platform “Kirche von zuhause” to assist parishes and congregations with advice, tools and webinars on how to continue church life without physical worship. In all, 6.5 million people were reached through the German Protestant Church’s digital worship formats, an increase of 287 percent compared to regular pre-Covid worship. A survey of 900 German EKD parishes found that 81 per cent of churches surveyed had moved to online services, and 72 percent of the congregations that had only started online services during Covid wanted to continue.

It certainly seems the case that moving online helped churches to reach more people than they did previously. A survey conducted in the UK for TearFund found that a quarter (24%) of UK adults said they have watched or listened to a religious service during lockdown (on the radio, live on TV, on demand or streamed online).

These figures paint a picture of significant resourcefulness by churches in moving online so quickly. As Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, head of the Council of the Protestant Church in Germany has written, “We have seen an incredible creativity, both in digital and non-digital formats. This is the Holy Spirit at work”.

Next week we look at some of the challenges and difficulties that moving online has presented for churches.

Spotlight on Santiago de Compostela, picture of the Cathedral

Spotlight on Santiago de Compostela

In recognition of the feast of Saint James this week, we are taking a closer look at the splendid churches of Santiago de Compostela.

First, the reason pilgrims have made their way to Santiago for centuries, Catedral Basilica de Santiago de Compostela, built over the tomb of Jesus’s apostle, James.
The first shrine at the site was built in the eighth century. After the church was destroyed, construction on the present cathedral began in 1075. The cathedral has seen many additions over the centuries, reflecting contemporary trends in religious art and architecture. On special days, a giant incense thurible — the Botafumeiro — swings across the main altar. The cathedral is the end point of the St James pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, and as such provides services to pilgrims, including Pilgrim’s Masses, the Pilgrim’s Office, and the hearing of Confessions.

There are other smaller but notable churches in Santiago de Compostela:

The Church of San Francisco (Rúa de San Francisco), founded by Saint Francis of Assisi, and home for the last 800 years to a community of Franciscan monks. The monks run a cafe, restaurant and hotel at the site.

Church of San Paio de Antealtares (Praza da Quintana). Founded originally as a Benedictine monastery, it later became home to cloistered nuns. At 8pm (7.30pm on Saturday and Sunday) you can hear the nuns sing vespers in the church.

Church of San Martiño Pinario ( Plaza de San Martiño). This church is home to a large Benedictine monastery and seminary. The facade of the church features patron of the monastery, Saint Martin of Tours, giving his cloak to a beggar. The church houses a museum of religious art and two cloisters provide lodging for tourists and pilgrims during the summer.

St James verse "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed."

Saint of the week.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

This week the Lutheran, Protestant, Anglican Communion, and the Roman Catholic Church remember Saint James. James was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and one of the first disciples to follow Jesus. Saint James was the first Apostle to become a martyr by being beheaded by Herod Agrippa in the year 43 in Jerusalem. His body was according to some narratives, taken by sea to Galicia, and was buried in a forest, where the Cathedral is now located. Spanish tradition holds that Saint James preached the Gospel in Spain after Jesus’s death, and whilst at Caesaraugusta on the banks of a river, he saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary. This is considered by Catholics to be a unique Marian appearance, having occurred while Mary was still living. James returned to Judea, where he was executed four years later.

Coming up this week.

Organ Recital, American Cathedral Paris. On Friday 6 August, 7—8 pm the American Cathedral in Paris will hold an organ concert performed by William Buthod, who currently serves as Minister of Music at Holy Trinity Parish in Decatur, Georgia, USA.

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