This weekend I was supposed to be in Frankfurt am Main for a few lectures at a meeting of the AWA (Adventistische Wissenschaftlicher Arbeitskreis). Due to the Corona crisis, this event was cancelled, just like a series of other activities that filled my calendar for the next six to eight weeks. Well, it is how it is! And maybe some of these events can take place at some later date. But, to be honest, I am irritated by the fact that, for the time being, a lot of preparatory work seems to have been in vain! However, compared to the misery and setbacks that others are currently experiencing, I realize I have no right to be upset and I should rather be grateful that I can sit behind my desk and write this blog.
Besides all the negative Corona news there are fortunately also many good things to report. In many countries we see men and women in politics and in various sectors of society, who show real leadership. The Dutch prime minister and the ministers dealing with aspects of the crisis, as well as people in education and health care, deserve our greatest admiration.
But there are also many smaller things that confirm Rutger Bregman’s thesis that ‘most people are OK’ (see his book with the same title, published last year). It is also nice that people call others and want to know if everything is going well. Within the small Adventist church in Harderwijk, which also includes the church members who live in Zeewolde, a lot of elderly people were called in the past few weeks and people kept in touch with each other through various aps. A few days ago someone rang our doorbell. The secretary of the residents’ association of our building with 32-apartments, with mostly plus-60 residents, came to bring us a fruit basket, and wanted to know if we are doing well. Our son urged me and my wife several times last week from Sweden (where he lives) to be very careful, because, he said, ‘You belong to group that is most vulnerable! Our daughter was worried about us, too. And even though there’s nothing wrong with us so far, their concern warms our hearts.
It’s also great to see how many good initiatives are being started to help one another. And to see all the creativity that is emerging to provide on-line education to children who presently can’t go to school and how people are working very creatively in all kinds of ways to expand the capacity of the health care system. It is also good to see how restaurants and other eating places are finding new ways to remain in business in spite of all the problems they face.
As someone who has always been (and still is) closely connected with church life, I do wonder what impact the Corona measures will have on the church in both the short and longer term. What will it do to people, who have always relied on their weekly church attendance, if they are unable to attend a divine service, perhaps for some time? Will there be many people who, when the crisis is over, no longer feel the need to attend church physically? Will they get so accustomed to virtual church attendance that they will continue to get their spiritual nurture while sitting on their couch?
Undoubtedly, the crisis also has a major impact on church finances, both locally, regionally and nationally. Will members remain faithful in their pattern of giving? And what, if there will be a recession, with a lot of unemployment, which will result in substantially lower income for the church? Hopefully people will realize that even during a crisis the church must pay salaries and pay its regular bills. In the meantime, many expenses are avoided because people are forced to use digital technology, to hold meetings without traveling to a particular locality. In the future, this may become the norm rather than the exception dictated by this crisis.
On Thursday, March 19, it was decided that the World Congress of the Adventist Church, that was planned for early July in the American city of Indianapolis, will be postponed until May 2021, and that this Congress will then be greatly slimmed down. The good news is that far-reaching plans are now also being made to make future world congresses much more sober events. That is good news. The five-yearly world congress had gradually grown into a huge circus, and no one has any idea how much it really costs. It is true that the world organization has a budget for this, but in addition to that, enormous costs are incurred all over the world by church entities and individuals to be able to take part in the congress.
It is a disappointment for many that the changes in the church which many are eagerly hoping for, will not happen for another year. In any case, the Church will have to make do with its current leaders for another year. But who knows: perhaps this interim period will strengthen the sense that change is needed to ensure that the Church remains relevant, also in the post-Corona era.