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The bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland issued a letter of instructions to parishes on 16 March 2020 about how to hold church services during the coronavirus epidemic.
The bishops agreed that, for the time being, worship will be organised as service of the word only and streamed live from churches so that parishioners can watch them online. Each parish will use the means and equipment they already have to stream the services. Parishioners can follow the service online to be the congregation.
“Day by day, people are growing increasingly worried about the coronavirus spreading. In this situation, the Church must help and support people by spreading a message of faith and hope. The Church will continue to pray for the nation and the whole world, even – and particularly during these difficult times,” said the bishops.
Church services and other ceremonies are not only at the heart of the Church’s spiritual life, but it is also the statutory duty of parishes to hold them under the Finnish Church Act.
“In light of the epidemic and the Finnish Government’s restrictions issued on 16 March, it is clear that we must now ensure that we fulfil our statutory duties in a way that best safeguards the wellbeing and health of citizens,” the bishops state in their letter.
The bishops recommend that the main church in each parish be kept open for private prayer after online services. A priest or other parish worker will be present for discussion and spiritual guidance. According to the bishops, allowing people to come to a church for a moment of silence and prayer is very important for the nation’s resilience to crisis. The bishops highlight that these are not public gatherings.
The bishops’ instructions also state that special arrangements will apply to other services and ceremonies for the time being. Parish workers will discuss arrangements for christenings, marriages and funerals together with the families involved. According to the instructions, a maximum of ten people may be present at these services or any other gatherings. For funerals, blessing the deceased at the grave will be preferred.
All other weekly parish activities are cancelled until further notice. Whenever possible, parishes should offer their activities online.
The bishops encourage all Christians to pray especially for the ill and for those afraid of falling ill.
“In our prayers for intercession, the Church remembers especially healthcare workers and others who hold great responsibility in this time of crisis. The Church also continues to pray for the President, the Parliament and the Government of Finland, as well as other decision-makers. Our intercessions encompass all countries and all nations during this global coronavirus pandemic.”
In collaboration with Finland’s national broadcasting company, Yle, the Church is also offering TV and radio broadcasts of church services, radio broadcasts of prayers, and the devotional TV show Pisara broadcast on Yle TV1.
“At times like these, when people are worried about their loved ones and concerned about their own health and livelihood, the significance of such devotional programmes grows only greater,” said Anna Simojoki, executive producer at Yle Radio1.
“For Yle Radio1, broadcasting church services and prayers is always an important part of the public service we provide, but even more so during a crisis.”
There may be changes made to the church service and prayer broadcast details in future. All the devotional programmes mentioned above can also be accessed online.
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