‘These have been stressful times all round; stressful for the clergy as we have been on such a steep learning curve particularly technologically’.
The Ven Cheryl Toth, Archdeacon of St Cuthbert’s in Qu’Appelle Diocese, Canada, was speaking about the impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic. "For many the challenge of isolation has been considerable. The pandemic broke into the early stages of a complex and demanding process where five parishes in Regina are merging into one so we found ourselves learning new ways of operating. At a Diocesan level it has been inspiring to celebrate an expanded Ecumenical Covenant completed under social distancing; not just with the Archdiocese of Regina, but with all the Evangelical Lutheran, Anglican, Ukrainian and Roman Catholic dioceses and eparchy in Saskatchewan. Bishop Rob Hardwick described the process: "It was a holy moment indeed. Quiet filled our virtual spaces before we were led by the Holy Spirit, in repentance and in thanksgiving, in intercession for the Church and the world"".
The Revd Canon Dr Marshall Guma, Convenor of the Matlosane Diocesan Covid-19 response Team, spoke of the future implications of the pandemic: "The Financial implications are considerable as we have seen a big drop in giving and we are encouraging and marketing electronic giving where possible. We are seeking to promote digital communication much more widely. We are aware of the danger of people who are Covid-19 positive being ostracised in their communities and so we are pursuing an education programme to counter this. Finally we are seeking to develop and promote a more family centred church so that our worship can continue even when our churches are shut.
Matlosane Diocese is part of the Province of Southern Africa From Bishopscroft Chapel in Capetown he recited the following midday prayer in twelve of the languages used within the Province, including Afrikaans, and I hope we can join in this prayer too:
God bless the world. Give her wisdom and time. Grant us relief and release, Be with those who are ill and bless the carers fighting this pandemic, For Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
From his online homily for the Fourth Sunday in Easter, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba provided some revealing cultural insights: "John's theology suggests, and we in Africa confirm this, that life in its fullness, the abundant life, is never a life lived in isolation. It is communal, it is always about ‘we’. In South Africa, many voices in the Church prefer not to use the phrase 'social distancing', but rather to call it 'physical distancing' and instead talk about 'social togetherness'."
A perspective from Northern Germany is provided by the Revd Christa Hunzinger: Europe Secretary Centre for Global Ministries and Ecumenical Relations: "Three and a half years ago the Synod identified Digitalisation as a priority for the coming years. However it was not until this was forced upon by this pandemic that we suddenly discovered video conference calls, zoom and on line worship. On our recent ‘Justice Sunday’ we incorporated video from our International partners, including Terry Bloor in Lichfield, and this was very powerful. We have had Hoffnungsläuten (Bells of Hope). At 12h00 noon church bells have been rung by different denominations, in cities, towns and villages; everyone is invited to stop and pray using material on-line or sent via Facebook. Bags of Hope have been offered outside churches with cards to write on or take away and packs containing bread, grapes and a candle have been available for any who wish to take them away."
The Ven Terry Bloor adds: "The relative safety of the outdoor world has prompted Pastor Bernd Lohse to promote the concept of pilgrimage to supplement indoor and on-line worship within the Nordkirche. Describing the practice as 'praying with the feet', Bernd suggests that any walk through nature can be turned into a pilgrimage. A play on the German word ‘Ziel’ makes ‘destination’ and ‘objective’ one and the same – walking with and toward God. Offering up our hopes and anxieties whilst walking helps bring a 'clarity to the inner landscape of our soul'. We all need a healthy and hopeful perspective right now. Please pray for those already developing this technique and for those who might begin. Such pilgrimage can be undertaken with others as long as social distancing can be maintained!"
From the Diocese of West Malaysia, the Revd Matthew Chay, priest of All Saints Church in Kuala Lumpur and Coordinator of the Diocesan REACH (Relief Emergency and Crisis Help) describes the early days of the Movement Control Order:"For the first three weeks my family suddenly became the team producing the worship on line – thank God for them! - with my son playing the piano. Then our young people and others stepped in to help us out and we were able to involve others and develop our on line presence and outreach".
Revd Stephen Soe, vicar of St Paul's church in the city of Penang at the northern tip of Malaysia also reported in mid May: "The Malaysian Government imposed the 2020 Movement Control Order (hereinafter MCO) on the 18th of March 2020, and since, we have had 3 extensions from the initial MCO. During this MCO, all activities but essential services (food, water, electricity, etc.) are prohibited which include religious meetings and gatherings. Up to this date, there has been 6779 cases recorded, 5281 cases recovered and an unfortunate 111 cases of death resulted from the Covid-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, credits must be given to the Malaysian Ministry of Health for orchestrating one of the most effective and efficient response to this Covid-19 outbreak." The MCO was relaxed but not removed on 10 June.
In Penang, all meetings, including Sunday services, fellowships and talks have since been conducted using online platforms, mainly Facebook Live and ZOOM Meetings. "We are fortunate to have a tech-savvy group of church members serving together, using video recordings for Praise and Worship, Sermons, and all kinds of fellowships" says Stephen. "We started our online Alpha Course for the year of 2020 on the 1st of May 2020 and we are glad to record a number of 105 participants! Online meetings have broken down the invisible barrier of attending church in a concrete building, which lead to more new participants exploring the activities of the church, and more importantly, of the Christian faith.
"The church has organized a project called the St Paul’s Church Manna Food Packs to help the less fortunate in the community to cope with the loss of job which eventually leads to the loss of their income. Up to this date, we have received a total donation of RM47,500 (nearly £9000) in cash and food supplies from our members and other organizations. We have distributed the donations to over 1000 families, spreading across the northern region, from foreign workers in Penang to the indigenous people (Orang Asli) in the state of Perak. I am convinced that Christians being radically generous to our brothers and sisters in need – yes locally, but absolutely also abroad in the places of greatest need – is a powerful witness of the good news to the unbelieving world. It has been a trying time for the world, and our lives might never be the same after this pandemic. However, it is precisely now, that hope is what the world needs, to guide her out of the valley into the light. Charity starts with helping the people around you, and by helping them, you are portraying the love of God to the world.
Matthew also spoke of the impact on vulnerable groups: "In this time the migrant workers have been especially vulnerable, relying on daily wages and jobs which are no longer there and also living in close proximity where social distancing is not possible. So our REACH programme has sought to provide food and medical resources".
Closer to home, just across the Irish Sea, Revd Julia Cody, vicar of Perton, has passed on this prayer written by the Archdeacon of Cork and which comes from the growing partnership and friendship between the church at Perton and the church of the Carrigaline Union in the Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross:
Creator God, not limited by time or space; your Son worshipped in synagogue and Temple, and your Spirit came in power on the disciples as they met in the Upper Room.
By that same Spirit, guide us as we prepare to reopen the churches in this parish/diocese.
May they be places of safety, where all feel your welcome, experience your love and are equipped in your service.
We pray for those who through age or vulnerability will continue to worship at home,
that together we may all rejoice in your goodness and know your blessing,
until we can offer unceasing praise in your heavenly kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.