In the wake of the current world pandemic, women and children and among the most vulnerable categories. We need women’s voice to help us discern which actions will help protect women and children when the entire world is under threat. As a female pastor working with young mothers at Cornerstone Edication center, I have shared with them through cellphones on how to be church, in the times we find ourselves in. I am sharing with them on how not to be misled by fake news which is circulating on social media on exploitation of those in schools, of those offering false healing should someone contract Covid-19. Here too, I have a message emphasizing on alternative religious practices that will help protect the over 80% of adherents to various denominations who are women from being misled. I believe God wants protection of all creations from illnesses and sharing this will help pass the message across. As a pastor, I believe in equal access of information, because information is power. And what a way to share this empowering information through technology. Monolpoly of information only by men is now a thing of the past with high chances of access to cellphones at the grassroots, and mostly women. Exploiting alternative digital platforms for doing church with technological advancement will ensure we have church in the midst of world Covid-19 crisis.
But what is this corona virus? Where is the likely source?
Coronavirus disease (covid-19) was first reported from wuhan, china, on 31 December 2019. the global number of confirmed cases of covid-19 surpassed 100 000 by February 2020. the outbreak of this respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus has now been detected in more than 100 locations internationally (both in developed and developing nations). the virus has been named “sars-cov-2” that is said to have caused “coronavirus disease 2019” -abbreviated “covid-19. The sars-cov-2 virus is a beta coronavirus, like mers-cov and sars-cov. The deadly corona virus can be transmitted from animals to humans. These viruses have their origins in bats. bats are bats are mammals of the order chiroptera; with their forelimbs adapted as wings, being a nocturnal mouse like animal flying with a pair of membranous wings (patagia). The group is divided into the megachiroptera (fruit bats) and microchiroptera (insectivorous bats). Bats get little attention by humans in parts of the world but in china, bat soup is one of the delicacies.
Effects of corona virus (Covid-19)
The covid-19 has a multidimensional effect on the globe as it is. the biggest question we are sitting with is what does it mean for all our institutions? transport system is one institution that was hard hit. travel bans were issued in wuhan and other cities of china. later other carriers also cancelled their flight to and from china. it is religions, economical social, educational, economic social and political.
Since the outbreak of the deadly corona virus, social boundaries or bubbling has become evident not only with or from strangers, but also people you know well. The disease affects the core of humanity- human beings are social beings. The outbreak calls for paradigm shifts, because the disease is different. readjustment includes remaining sanitized in your individual and social or communal space. the threat to the spread has seen many schools and colleges closed, only to continue with exploitation of virtual engagements for meetings and classes (i.e. Zoom). Departments or ministries of health and disease control and diplomatic relations worldwide are issuing new guidelines to curb the spread of covid-19.
WHO has termed covid -19 to be the first world pandemic ever recorded. the impact of covid19 is to the globe cannot be underestimated. to say people are hysterical or panicking is lack for a better word. it is scary, it is threatening, it is devastating, and it is fierce. when reports of its impact were reported in China, it did not seem to be a massive threat at the beginning. but with time, many people succumbed including the wise whistle blower people did not want to listen to. the medical dr. who saw a strange strain of virus that was multiplying so fast and threatened humanity. it is unfortunate that days later, he succumbed to the virus. as china internally struggled to address the virus, many nations responded by removing /recalling their citizens from china.
A Church is an organized community of believers who congregate together to affirm their faith in Jesus Christ and pay allegiance to one true God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of heaven and earth. Church can also refer to Christians in a city, (or region) whether they assembled in one place or in several places for religious worship and can also be an ecclesia. Membership of these churches range from 20-over 3000 in either rural or urban congregations.
The church has communal life centered around common Christian values and religious activities led by a priest together with other church leaders and the laity. Churches have doctrines, rituals and practices that are communal in nature. A church organizes herself with organized communal meetings every weekend. While we have churches that meet on Saturdays for their church services, majority of the protestant churches have Sunday as a day of worship. Those Christians who meet on Sunday and Saturday gather in a church hall, sing, partake of the communion, hear the sermon, receive new members in the baptismal, or confirmation class. They also meet in small groups for fellowship where they read, they do bible study, and welfare activities. Churches also have district group meetings /fellowships or visitations with the sick or those in prison. In all these meetings, proximity, shaking of hands, hugs and brotherly kisses accompany the social interactions. The presence of Covid-19 calls for a paradigm shift in the how doing church worldwide-observing intentional social distancing and halting of the regularized religious practices. This also involves revision of religious rituals that have healing and comforting significance to congregants. In so doing, it is best for members of same churches to be helped to understand that the meaning attached to the familiar rituals remain the same amid the changes. Washing of hands and or use of sanitizers is one extra requirement governments are impressing upon churches leaders to provide for their Christians’ use at the church halls. Cessation of greetings or a new way of elbow greeting is also encouraged to help stop the spread of covid-19. What then does this situation mean for some church services?
The celebration of holy communion has great significance to the church, breaking the bread, and taking the cup, is done in remembrance of the body and blood of Jesus, broken and shed for humanity. Holy communion table consist of the holy sacraments-bread and wine. Other traditions use wafers for bread and fruit juices in the place of wine. Bread is held before it is broken by the celebrant. When those partaking the holy communion come, they stretch their hands to be served with a piece of bread or they hold and cut a small piece from the larger loaf. In the context of Covid-19, it posses the risk of passing on the virus from an infected celebrant or person serving at the table, to the next person coming for the bread and wine, and eventually to as many people as the infected celebrant or the infected person serving the sacrament. The people drinking from the same cup also have high chances of contracting the virus if any one member who is drinking the wine of juice is infected with Covid-19 virus.
In the wake of Covid-19, some churches decided to shift to one person handling the bread and serving all members but even then, if the person handling bread is infected with the Covid-19, the virus will spread to all or most of those partaking of the communion. As for the wine, provision of individual small cups would assist minimize the rate of infection, again if sanitation was kept right from preparation stage. The contextual reality of COVID-19 calls for use of individual bread, hygienic handing of all cups and plates during and after the service. This was yet to be realized, when the government termed unlawful congregations of more that 250 and most churches have round about that figure or even below.
PASSING PEACE & GREETINGS
Passing the sign of peace is a Christian tradition in many protestant churches, including the catholic tradition. Ministers and congregants may greet one another in the name of the Lord when the time comes to pass the peace of the Lord to one another. This is done with the reference to Jesus’ words in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do, I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” To fully appreciate the depth of this promise, we must remember that He said this just before He was betrayed to His death by a close friend. The Peace is a powerful declaration of heaven on earth. It is declared in the hope of the resurrection even as it is already being fulfilled among us. It comes after the proclamation of the Gospel, before the fellowship of the Table. In the context of Covid-19, handshake, hugs and close chats are challenged as we embrace social distancing that involves minimal bodily contact during the passing of peace and yet, it is a key component of liturgy. Churches also have other sessions of greetings at the end of service where the liturgical team shakes the hands of congregations, including hugging or exchanging of brotherly kiss.
The reality of Covid-19 therefore means a paradigmatic shift of sharing peace, greeting and hugging to waving, bowing or knowing the head to the other person passing the peace or greeting, while keeping the bubble (boundary) or social distance from the person you are passing the peace onto verbally may be adopted. it is common to see women hugging and with the current pandemic, women have to be empowered to communicate the same hugging message without the physical hug to keep safe.
Healing practices and how to do appropriate pastoral care
In any healing activities in the churches, women and girls form the majority of the care-seekers who need to be empower in the context of Covid-19.
Pastoral care giving in churches of the sick in hospitals or homes calls for the ministry of presence, by the bedside. When the patient or sick congregant stretches a hand to greet the pastor, chaplain or congregant, it is received well, and in return, the visiting caregiver stretches a hand and greets the patient. Some denominations too visit and offer sacraments of anointing, holy communion and baptism while members of their churches are sick. Covid-19 calls for a paradigm shift in terms of proximity, sharing of the cup and the spiritualization of diseases. Time is of essence when handling covid-19 and any delay may further increase the spread of the pandemic. Alternative treatment which may not the vicious spread to the virus puts the member at risk of succumbing to death.
Divine healing? Healing practices are done by some ministers in African churches (A.I.Cs) who claim to have instant powers to rid off the incurable disease from people if they believe or meet the set requirements. The preachers make certain claims, based on their interpretation of the Scriptures to tell people seeking healing what God says about their condition. They tell members that if one falls sick, then the sick members does not have sufficient faith, and as a result, the sick has opened room for the devil to torment his/her body and the only way to rid of the evil powers is through believing that the person is healed or denying the evil powers the chance to torment him or her, and to accept the rituals of praying, laying of hands or anointing with holy oil , fasting and reading and interpretation of scripture to see what the Lord is saying about the sickness.
The healing is often done in public religious space in the presence of many people, with some members in the caregiving team assisting the pastor when the patient is about to fall or rolls on the ground, begins foaming from the mouth. With Covid-19, all those close to the person being healed, including the minister stand the risk of being infected with the virus. Others organize individualized private healing sessions following their own ritualized activities for healing, but both involve coming together and this includes physical contact of the caregiver and the care seeker. While I do not dispute that there is divine healing, and that spirituals resources have healing efficacies, Covid-19 gives us an opportunity to learn on how to give effective ministry to people who come to us. This entails the effectiveness and relevance of the person of the minister as the world wrestles with the pandemic. I am sure God who created all people including scientists who minister through bio-psy-cho-socio-spiritual methods gives us the opportunity to a appreciate scientific ways of handling clinical conditions like corona virus through lab tests, treatments and blood transfusions and use of blood supplements depending on the of members of our congregations. This also includes observance of hygiene practices like washing of hands with soap, and sanitizing, non-handshake greetings, and coughing in the elbow and self-quarantine.
Standing in the gap for all the people of God.
All people, Christian and non-Christians are equally affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Interfaith approach to ministry in the being and doing functions of ministers are greatly demanded. Reaching out with a pluralistic, caring attitude to support humanity with love and understanding, to help process all that is going on is highly needed.
Staying in touch through social media not to send alarming and distorted messages, but to assure, comfort and pray for all affected in these different times is something that is needed. The minister is therefore expected in the context of the pandemic(Covid-19)to promote holistic healing and wholeness, guide the care seekers to make the right choices, sustain them in the struggle, edify them, help interpret the situation, comfort, express compassion and give hope. The pandemic has caused trauma to those infected and those that were laid off or repatriated, or whose businesses and governments are struggling, and appropriate pastoral care and pastoral counselling to help the world adjust to the new phenomenon is highly expected of ministers today.
Doing ministry in changing circumstances demands paradigm shift in information sharing, traditional and cultural ministry practices that may stand in the way of healing and wholeness. Alternatives, including digital platforms for some ministries could help have church ministries until the situation improves. Observance of healthy guidelines given by ministries of health and government many helps reduce the spread of the dreaded Covid-19 virus. Similarly, revision of communal activities and rituals, education of members on the meaning and offering effective love, care and compassion to ailing humanity is greatly needed in the face of the world pandemic-Covid-19.