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Home  >  Features  >  The Coronavirus Diaries: 'An Outpouring of Solidarity and Creativity'


Picture by Ella Mettler
Picture by Ella Mettler

The Coronavirus Diaries: 'An Outpouring of Solidarity and Creativity'

Wednesday November 18 2020

The Rev Catherine McMillan Haueis reports from Switzerland, which is battling a second wave of coronavirus.

Thank you, Church of Scotland, for asking how we are doing in Switzerland.

As of today, we, a population of 8½ million, have verified almost 270,000 cases of Covid-19. It has claimed 3158 lives.

After the first wave in the spring was successfully flattened by hygienic guidelines and a lockdown, we enjoyed an optimistic summer. But in the beginning of October a second wave rolled in, making the infection rate skyrocket. Geneva has been hit especially hard, but the Zurich area where I live is also a hot spot. I hear almost daily of Church members who have contracted the virus.

A week ago, we were at 10,000 new cases a day. Now it is down to 4000 a day. We hope that the new emergency measures which apply to all of Switzerland are slowing the spread. For several months, the various cantons were making their own rules. That federalistic approach was obviously not effective enough. Most hospitals still have capacity, but soldiers have been called in to assist the medical staff, many of whom are still worn out from the first wave.

The Protestant Church in Switzerland and all of the Cantonal Churches have responded to the crisis with an outpouring of solidarity and creativity, as in many other countries. At first we were in shock, because almost everything we did could no longer be done the way it had been done for decades or even centuries. It forced us to look beyond the form to the content of our message and the intention of our work.

We discovered that there are many ways to reach out and "touch" people’s lives without physically touching. And there are many ways to signalise that we ministers and lay are there to listen and to help in practical ways. Quantum leaps in the use of technology helped us to discover that we can minister to people who are shut-in or would never voluntarily step into a church building or who happen to be in another country or somewhere in the outdoors when "church" starts. While many have identified even more strongly with their own local parish during this crisis, others have discovered alternative communities of faith and forms of spirituality on the internet. The parochial barriers have started to crumble.

Since Pentecost we have been allowed to hold physical services, as long as masks are worn and social distance is kept. Now it has again been limited to 50 in a room and 15 outside, and no singing. We hold some of our services twice to allow for smaller groups, or we livestream at the same time. Some of the smaller churches have joined up in regional groups to take turns filming a church service for the entire region. With phone calls, cards and letters and talks under the window, we try to combat the isolation of many of the elderly.

Our churches are not only focused on Corona and the coming Season of Advent and Christmas and planning for 2021. We have also been setting landmarks. On November 2, 2020, our general assembly elected the first female President of the Protestant Church in Switzerland since the Reformed Church in Zurich first ordained women in 1918. Rita Famos is our new President.

Secondly, the churches are overwhelmingly supporting a bill which would hold Swiss-based multinational corporations accountable for violations of internationally recognised human rights and ecological standards abroad. This is a tough battle and the churches are being attacked for taking sides politically. The vote is on November 29, 2020.

In Switzerland we have a unique historical and theological point of reference. In 1519 Huldrych Zwingli began preaching in Zurich, setting off the Swiss Reformation, which influenced Henry Bullinger and John Calvin and birthed the Reformed tradition.

In that same year, the Plague swept through Zurich, wiping out a third of the population. Zwingli fell ill and survived near death. He came out of his crisis of call more determined than ever to translate the Gospel into the everyday lives of the people, to combat poverty and injustice and to help everyone discover the joy that Christ brings.

500 years later we pray for the same solidarity, courage, humility and joy, so that God can use us to bring about good.

The Rev Catherine McMillan Haueis is a minister in Dübendorf-Schwerzenbach, and a member of the Specialised Staff for International Relations of the Protestant Reformed Church in Canton Zurich.

The Coronavirus Diaries: reflections from Church of Scotland partners around the world

The West Bank: A Landscape of Broken Dreams
Nepal: So Many Premature Goodbyes
Malawi: We Must Hold Each Other Close
Nigeria: A Fresh Spiritual Connectedness
Egypt: 'This Is A Time To Witness God'
Guyana: The Strength of our Connectedness
South Korea: A Harsh Reality
Zimbabwe: Convenience or a Wake-up Call?
Sri Lanka: Service is the Highest Form of Worship
USA: Testing Positive
Portugal: The Mission of the Church Has Not Changed
World Council of Churches: A New Dawn is Upon us
Hungary: Physically Distant but Close in Spirit
A German in Scotland: Something New Has Already Begun
Myanmar: We Will Overcome this Hardship
Ghana: This Too Shall Pass
Brazil: The Least We Can Do
Kenya: Caring for One Another in Christ
An Indian in Germany: A Time of Enrichment
Argentina: Time in Between
Malawi: 'My identity in Christ remains unchanged'
Jerusalem: Being Rather than Doing
Malawi: No Lockdown and an Election
Zambia: 'I will never leave you... or forsake you'
Czech Republic: The Covid Cover-up
Zambia: 'All Life is Sacred'
Israel/Palestine: 'The Air is Clear'
Nepal: 'Please Pray for Us'
Malawi: Tough Dilemmas
Italy: 'Together, We Will Get Through It'