The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland activities in exceptional times
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and its parishes are supporting and walking alongside people in the current exceptional situation no less than in normal times. People are unable to gather as usual. Many are working remotely, and those over 70 years of age are advised to stay at home. Many industries are at a standstill – restaurants, for example, will be closed until the end of May. This has led to widespread lay-offs and redundancies, and at the same time financial difficulties. In these circumstances parishes are adhering to new ways of working in different areas.
Due to the corona epidemic, meetings of more than ten people have been prohibited in Finland until the end of May. This means masses and other services cannot be conducted in the normal way. In these exceptional circumstances most parishes are posting video and audio worship and devotions on their own websites and social media channels. Internet use has generally increased.
Morning and evening devotions and worship are available on Finnish radio. They are broadcast live, but Yle Radio makes them available on a service that allows them to be listened to at the most convenient time. The same service offers worship on television. Compared with the corresponding period in normal circumstances, there has been a significant increase in both television and radio audiences for worship and devotions, especially at Easter.
Church ceremonies in exceptional circumstances
Restrictions on gatherings also apply to church ceremonies, baptisms, weddings, and funerals. A maximum of ten people may be present at church services. Parish workers agree the arrangement of ceremonies with families and relatives. However, for pastoral reasons the closest relatives of the deceased may attend funerals even if the ten-person limit is exceeded. A relative often takes care of the funeral to allow other loved ones to attend the service.
The church’s counsellors are ready to listen
The insecurity and loneliness brought about by the exceptional circumstances have increased the need for counselling. The nationwide Church Online Councelling is intended for those who need spiritual or personal support. The on-call officers are volunteers and church workers trained in confidentiality. Assistance is also offered through a chat service in which discussions can take place in confidence. Anxieties can also be eased through a net service. Counselling assistance has been added in many parishes, and parishioners can still reach parish workers by phone and through electronic channels.
Diaconal work focuses on seeking people out during the corona crisis
Parish deacons work all over Finland with volunteers, organisations, municipalities, and companies – even during the corona crisis. Diaconal workers are involved in people’s daily lives, and encounter remains at the heart of their work, although its practice has been changing in recent weeks. In the diaconal field special emphasis is now placed on work to seek out and find people, as well as responding to acute emergencies.
In reaching out to people and supporting them, particular attention is paid to those who were disadvantaged or at risk of being ignored even before the corona crisis – those living alone, those with mental issues and those being rehabilitated from substance abuse, the poor, and people with memory problems or disabilities.
In many parishes everyone over the age of 80 has been phoned to find out how they are coping and to ask what kind of help they need. Contact in itself is emotionally significant when broader questions about well-being and everyday life are asked. Those involved in the parishes’ friend and neighbour services have in turn been instructed to call a friend to prevent loneliness and hear about their need for assistance.
The need for financial assistance will increase in the future because of redundancies and growing unemployment, for example. Parishes’ financial assistance currently focuses mainly on food aid.
Confirmation classes held partly through distance learning
Confirmation classes are very popular in Finland. In 2019 77.4% of all fifteen-year-olds and 92% of 15-year-olds belonging to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland participated in them.
Most young people’s participation in confirmation classes includes a confirmation camp at a parish camp centre somewhere in Finland as an essential component. Days at camp consist of devotions, lessons and time spent together, an evening programme, good food, singing and laughter – and sauna, of course.
At its meeting on 15 April the Bishops’ Conference decided that if the exceptional circumstances continued into the summer of 2020, contact teaching in confirmation classes would be postponed until a later date. Confirmation classes must therefore include in all cases an intensive period in the form of a camp or day school when the exceptional situation has ended. Distance learning will be used as a support measure as required. A distance learning handbook has been prepared which provides, among other things, options for organising distance-learning confirmation classes and tips for securing young people’s inclusion, community, and prayer life, even in the new situation.
Hospital chaplains support patients, loved ones and caregivers in emergency situations caused by the coronavirus
Finnish hospitals employ about 120 hospital chaplains and some hospital deacons, who support patients and their loved ones in facing illness that requires medical intervention. Illness is a source of anxiety for patients and their loved ones alike. During the corona pandemic, being sick in hospital is more difficult, because visitors are not allowed. Many feel lonelier and turn things over in their minds.
Hospital chaplains visit patients by invitation. They meet staff in their own office at the hospital. Encounters may also take place by phone or remotely.
For now, the number of hospital chaplains has not been increased. Special pastoral skills are required in the work of a hospital chaplain. If additional resources are required, parish clergy who have previously served as hospital chaplains may be called on to work in healthcare units. If necessary, those who have recently retired may be asked for their support.