What Next for Church in Pandemic?
The Church must have taken note of the experts’ current position on the coronavirus pandemic, as encapsulated by Prof Shabir Madhi of the Wits University’s vaccinology department:
- About two-thirds of the South African population will be infected with Covid-19, and about a third will be symptomatic. Among these, about 10% will need to be hospitalised while roughly 5% (mainly, the elderly and other immune-challenged persons) will die of the disease.
- This pandemic active lifespan will be about three years.
- A vaccine will be first available no sooner than in six months, and it will reach the wider community much later for “wealth is health”.
- Lockdowns will not be sustainable for too long. The unemployment rate will skyrocket and health services like the immunisation of children and the constant supply of chronic medication will be heavily compromised with multiple fatal ramifications.
- Cabin fever and instances of suicide, domestic violence, depression, among other effects, are already having adverse societal effects.
- The best way to traverse this quagmire is through best-hygiene practices: social distancing, handwashing, surface-cleaning, constant screening and PPEs. In brief, the solution lies in personal responsibility rather than enforcement and lockdown.
Consequences for the Church
What does this mean for us, as the Church?
Weeks ago, we prophetically “locked down” our churches following not just the government regulations but the expert advice backing it.
Now that the expert advice has developed from lockdown to personal responsibility, how can we be prophetic? How can we, as a moral compass, assist this new cause to “save lives and preserve livelihoods” through inculcating the value of personal responsibility in our people?
Hitherto, the Church has been “on maintenance mode” regarding Covid-19, and rightly so. But is the next step now not “Divine Renovation: From Maintenance to Mission”, our fundamental ecclesial vocation, so well expressed by Fr James Mallon?
Is silent adherence to government regulations prophetic while the health experts are giving a different counsel, frightening as that counsel seems?
Are we discerning new but genuine—faithful to Scripture and Tradition—ways of being Church (for example, sacraments, worship, fellowship, witness, ministry) while also strictly following the guidance of the health experts?
Is the model devised by the government and Church of the hardest-hit Italy — the seat of our primal see — not a pointer of what we could consider, obviously with relevant contextual adaptations?
The governments and the churches of our neighbours with whom we share the bishops’ conference—Botswana and Eswatini—have resolved to permit public worship at various dates this month, with proper restrictions as advised by the health experts. Other countries, such as Burkina Faso, Senegal and Ghana, are doing the same (Agenzia Fides, May 13).
It is commendable that the South African Council of Churches (of which the SACBC is a member) is consulting and seeking counsel around these matters, as The Southern Cross reported last week.
Indeed, ecumenical and interfaith effort is the way to go. Denominational and faith narcissism can only be self-destructive for “a house divided in itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:25).
Fr S’milo Mngadi is a priest of the diocese of Mariannhill.