Every year, prisoners in the Netherlands and Dutch people imprisoned abroad are sent an encouraging Easter greeting card, as part of an Easter greetings campaign that is well known in the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN). Tens of thousands of Easter cards designed by detainees under the guidance of a preacher are bought, written, and sent to prisons by municipalities.
However, what will be different this year is that they will be sent to a central location – the service centre of the Protestant Church in Utrecht, where they will be sorted and distributed among correctional facilities all over the country and abroad. This change came about as penitentiary institutions asked if the campaign could be organised differently, as some prisons were flooded with cards, while others received almost none. There will also be a deadline extension this year due to the COVID-19.
Gerry van Wijngaarden, who visits detainees regularly, said: “For prisoners, receiving mail is one of the few connections with ‘outside’. “It is important that ‘outside’ comes into ‘inside’, it is the connecting line of the church of Christ. Jesus himself gave us the task to see to prisoners.” “Prisoners realise that they are being thought of and that there are people who empathise with their situation,” added Trinus Hoekstra.
With the Netherlands government advising cancellation of all meetings of over 100 people, the PKN recommended the same to its churches, and offered broadcasted meditations by PKN General Secretary Rev René de Reuver on 15 March, to replace church services that had been cancelled.
Municipalities have also responded with creative ways to adapt. Inspired by an Italian priest, pastors in Dieren, and in Zuidwolde are placing selfies of church members in the pews. That way, they won’t be preaching to empty chairs and benches during the live stream. Among other online initiatives, the church of Crosspoint in Nieuw-Vennep put a complete home liturgy on their website to provide people with material to celebrate in small settings. Tim van Iersel, a spiritual counselor specialising in dementia, created an online living room celebration to include people with dementia. Five-minute church services consisting of God’s Word, a prayer and a blessing will be delivered by deaf pastors for Interkerkelijk Dovenpastoraat, an inter-denominational deaf pastoral ministry.
The PKN also developed two church resources for usage in small groups, to exploring the themes of uncertainty, fear and confidence based on Mark 4:35-41 where Jesus calms the storm on the lake.8 The online Easter programme focuses on discovering hope and new life, celebrating and eating together in a small group or family.