NOTE : this article was first published near the beginning of the pandemic. It is worth a revisit with some updates added!

Freedom to meet is a basic human right in Western democracies. A freedom that has come under great pressure around the world for most of this year. Many cities and regions are still under the restrictions imposed by governments because of Corona.

For months now, churches no longer meet in weekly worship services. We have become completely virtual thanks to live streaming of worship services and other Church meetings.

At the moment, many countries are gradually coming out of the lockdown step by step, at least in the Netherlands. Terraces, schools, IKEA’s, etc. are open again. We can go to the hairdresser and the physiotherapist again. And we can go on holiday again within Europe, except countries or regions under code ‘orange’.

Back to normal life. Back to live church services. We long for it!

But will it return to normal as we were used to before Corona? Or should we learn to live with social distance as the new normal? That is still the question for the cultural sector and for churches. 

As the church in the Netherlands we can now meet indoors with limited numbers, with a maximum of 100 people. Some churches meet outdoor where more people are allowed. But all meetings – indoors or outdoors – at a distance of 1.5 meters from each other. And for the time being not yet singing, not drinking coffee after the service, not shaking hands or hugging. Because that is all corona-unsafe.

We are waiting for a vaccine, then we will return to the order of the day before corona. Without limitations, without distance, full life again! But how long will that take? And what if a second wave of Covid-19 or a new Covid-20 enters the scene? What is necessary to ensure our own safety and that of others, especially the vulnerable people? And how much freedom will this cost me? A difficult dilemma!

Freedom and safety… We want both, but in practice there is sometimes tension between the two.

Then I think of the wave of public demonstrations that took place around the world following the violent death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

I see the dilemma in the situation: the right to freedom of public demonstration and the importance of staying safe during a pandemic. That people were willing to risk their own safety to make a stand for freedom – this is something I understand and respect greatly.

We continue to search for a balance between freedom and safety. Sometimes freedom is at the expense of safety and sometimes it is the other way around. What helps and inspires me in this, is how Jesus dealt with it. It is not only about myself, but also about the other person. Love your neighbour as yourself! It is not only about my freedom and safety, but also about someone else’s. And Jesus has gone very far in this. He gave up his freedom and safety to give us all freedom and safety.  

Jaap van de Poll, 

Pastor Emeritus of VEZ Church Zwolle Netherlands, Member of Cinnamon Network Netherlands Board and Cinnamon Network International Leadership Council