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POST-COVID-19: Pastoral Care Reflection and Action
By Rev Dr. Li Hau Tiong (Advisor for Community Outreach Ministry)
Nov 2020

Human’s fear of COVID-19 has caused estrangement and hostility between peoples, races, and nations, and this requires the power of love to stitch it all together.

Tens of millions of people worldwide have been infected by the plague of the century - COVID-19, causing a global catastrophe. More than 500,000 have since died in the misfortune, and the death toll is still on the rise. Although Taiwan is one of the few countries that outperformed others in the prevention of this wave of pandemic, the hidden issues of family, society, and culture have now been exposed. Humanitarian rights of migrant workers, domestic violence, discrimination against medical personnel, infected persons and those under quarantine, xenophobia, as well as rising hostility towards China are some examples that surfaced. In addition, will the measures taken by the government and society during pandemic prevention create a sense of alienation between people? Is the people's enthusiasm for participating in community public affairs affected? Has the interaction or closeness of family members diminished?

What will the society look like after the implementation of the "anti-pandemic new life"? Will the border control policy weaken the worldview and competitiveness of our people? The above are common issues faced by the Taiwanese society as well as the entire global community. We need to tackle them with caution and find solutions to address them.

Challenges and Responses of the Singapore Church

Like other religious groups, the Christian Churches are also affected in this wave of pandemic. I have been assigned to The Presbyterian Church in Singapore (hereinafter referred to as PCS) as a missionary teacher since March this year. During this period, I experienced the most stringent circuit breaker isolation measures implemented by the local government, which included safe distancing, mandatory wearing of face masks, real-name management, and working from home. In addition, except for the consumer goods industry (supermarkets, markets), other non-essential businesses were closed; all public places, churches, and temples had to cease physical activities too. How did the local church cope with the challenges of "lockdown"? How to turn a crisis into an opportunity through the power of faith? How to continue with the witness mission through the church? In the post-pandemic era, what are the church's "advanced deployment" actions and theological reflections? I will present a general overview to serve as reference for the churches in Taiwan.

1. Local Church – Digitalization

The most direct impact to the church was the complete cessation of physical worship. According to government regulations, the number of church worshipers should not exceed two people; pastoral care, fellowship exchanges and other activities had also been greatly hampered. Secondly, community ministries (especially care for the elderly) had come to a halt. Faced with these challenges, the church was compelled to adopt "digitalization": online worship services, computer-produced videos, online gatherings, care services through video platform and other types of ministry to replace traditional pastoral approaches. Among them, the hardware equipment setup, operating skills training and the design of software with faith-related content were tedious and complicated in rolling out, but the church adhered to the principle of "learning by doing": pastors, elders, deacons and church staff were gradually able to get things started after a period of time. Since March, a local church has mobilized young people to teach the elders to use their mobile phones to shop online, order meals and participate in online worship services, with the church subsidizing part of the Internet usage expenses. In addition, they also encourage their children and grandchildren or trained caregivers to assist the elders to use 3C products to participate in church and community activities. This pre-emptive ministry has greatly enhanced the church capacity to care for the elderly. The church is currently planning to extend this service to the elderly in the community, especially those living alone and the disadvantaged.

Even when face-to-face interaction was impossible, some pastors offered online courses on faith-related topics and organized more in-depth intellectual forums or group gatherings with youth members. I have been invited to host three continuous panel discussions on "Values of Faith" and "Situational Ministry" since June. This shows that young people of our church have a high level of interest and demand for theological and religious topics.

2. Witness in Suffering

The community ministries run by most churches were forced to stop. For example: senior care, youth placement and family service work were all affected. However, a crisis is also a turning point. Three churches of PCS have been invited by the government to join the work of caring for the homeless. Affected by the pandemic, the number of homeless people has increased dramatically. The three churches opened unused church spaces to provide temporary shelter for short-term homeless people. One of the pastors described this as a ministry that builds up one another: whilst the needs of the disadvantaged are met, Christians also learn the lesson of "being a disciple." During the border closure period, many workers from Johor Bahru, Malaysia, who commuted to Singapore, chose to stay in Singapore to earn a living, but they were left homeless. Fortunately, local churches also opened their space and dormitories to accommodate these commuting groups of people. These are good testimonies of the Christian community amidst the plague disaster.

3. The Ministries of PCS – Localization

Apart from the transformation of the local church's ministries, the PCS also initiated an update of organizational functions. During the pandemic prevention period, the PCS staff accurately grasped the measures and laws of the public sector and disseminated them to the local churches quickly; not only did they serve as an information provider, they also became a platform for sharing resources, such as raising funds to relieve the plight of food shortage among the pastors in Nepal and allocating medical supplies donated by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan to local churches and institutions. In addition, a "New Normal Discussion" group was organized, inviting pastors of local churches to share their church’s response to the pandemic and discuss the direction of ministries in the "post-pandemic era." During the group discussion, most pastors mentioned the need for theological reflection, including topics such as " Ecclesiology", "Eschatology", "Missionary Mission", "Sacramental Theology" and "Indigenous Theological Development", etc. The pandemic has brought about an "opportunity" for church renewal. Generally speaking, this wave of pandemic has promoted the connection between the PCS and the local churches and has also facilitated the exchange of pastoral experiences and theological concepts among the pastors of the churches.

Due to the stricter pandemic prevention measures by the Government, the churches in Singapore have passively transformed and adopted modern digital equipment and technologies to meet various challenges. At the same time, they have also launched faith-related forums to reflect on and discuss counter-measures in the post-pandemic era. These experiences may serve as a reference to the universal church body.

Christians’ Reflection and Action

Under the current impact of the pandemic, the focus of social attention is mostly on medical, technological, economic, and political issues. However, as far as Christianity is concerned, theological reflection and practice are the keys to enabling the church to witness God's love and salvation beyond adversities.

1. Facing Disasters

Humans’ attitudes towards disasters are often fearful and awe-stricken, and COVID-19 is no exception. When faced with disasters, some Christians often ask: "why" do such things happen? Some even blame it on men’s “sin” and God’s “condemnation” or judgment. The former is no doubt a subject that human-beings need to reflect on – wrong-doings must be corrected; as for the latter, God’s sovereignty must be respected, and men should not speculate. If God is love, the occurrence of suffering may be a reminder for the world to turn over their minds and lifestyles to maintain the sustainable management of the created world. The church may need to pay more attention to what God wants us to do at this time to witness the love of Christ.

Taiwan's performance in this wave of pandemic prevention may be regarded as exemplary, for not only does it effectively curb the spread of the virus, it also activates warnings, shares pandemic prevention strategies and medical resources. According to the analysis of domestic pandemic prevention experts, this stellar performance is the result of the painful lesson of combating SARS in 2003. In other words, it is the experience and results of struggling and learning from suffering; it is a process of resurrection-that is, the core of Christianity, a model of theology from the cross to the resurrection. Therefore, in the face of disasters, we should strengthen our faith, and eventually develop tenacious vitality.

2. New Variables of “Globalization”

For a long time, the theologians from the north and the south hold different views on globalization issues. Scholars in the poorer regions of the South believe that globalization will increase the power of Western colonial rule; whereas scholars in the North see it as an inevitable trend that will help human economic and technological development. This plague has brought new variables: the transportation system of the global village has contributed to the spread of the virus, causing tens of millions of people to be infected; and digital technology has become a tool to maintain the operation of society. What is the objective of "globalization"? What is the difference between the universal (unity) movement and the global movement? Could "globalization" be another construction project of the "Tower of Babel"? What is the role of viruses, bacteria and other creatures in the globalization movement? The pandemic has also spawned various issues such as racial discrimination, xenophobia, antagonism between the rich and the poor, and the rights of migrant workers. These issues are gradually tearing the human community apart. How can the church, which claims to be a messenger of peace, respond to, and face these problems?

3. POST COVID-19 – “Compassion Movement”

Karen Armstrong regards "compassion" as a good way to alleviate human suffering and actively promotes the "Charter of Charity." Benevolence is a kind of compassion, a practical action of empathy and sympathy. It is often translated as "compassion" in the Bible, while the Hebrew word has the meaning of "womb", which is the place where life is born and protected. The "Benevolence Movement" is a caring action for all human-beings and creatures: when suffering comes to the world, no one can stay out of the way, because we are part of the world community. For Christians, this is the "Jesus Movement" or "God’s Kingdom Movement" – the unity and salvation of God's family (universality). People's fear of COVID-19 has caused estrangement and hostility between peoples, races, and nations, which require the power of love to stitch them together. The model of Jesus' "sacrificial love" is the model that the church must follow. Whether it is the suffering of the local community or the needs of the universal community, it is the mission of Christians and the responsibility of all human-beings. Facing the post-pandemic era, let us practice the basic command of "kindness", which is also the teaching of Jesus' heavenly parable: "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me!" (Matthew 25:40)

This article was originally published on The New Messenger Magazine website on 9 September 2020 and reproduced with permission.




 
 




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