Prayer, Presence and Provision in the Pandemic

Prayer, Presence and Provision in the Pandemic

The second day of USPG’s conference, For Such A Time As This, began with a session on the theme of Prayer, Presence and Provision in the Pandemic.

This session opened with uplifting worship music from the Voice of Praise choir from St Mathew’s church in the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe. We then heard a challenging bible study from Canon Delene Mark, the CEO of HOPE Africa (the social development programme of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa).

Canon Delene Mark spoke powerfully about loving our neighbours, saying “During the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been many people’s instinctive reaction to protect ourselves and our families first, only considering others once we are safe”. Delene demonstrated the difference between the familial love shown in 1 Corinthian 13 and the costly love highlighted in 1 John 3, which underlines how “our wellbeing is directly linked to the wellbeing of others, that everyone is our neighbour and that we should reach out to them with love and compassion”.

Delene asked attendees to think about “who we have ignored during the current pandemic, and how we have justified this” before exploring how the concept of “good neighbourliness” was used to create division and rationalise injustice in apartheid South Africa. Delene said, “The idea of good neighbourliness has actively excluded people by suggesting that different kinds of people should be separated. The chaos in Palestine, Trump’s advocacy for a wall along the US-Mexico border and the treatment of migrants by Western nations have all been explained away by dividing people into us and them”. Delene contrasted this approach with the work done by the Anglican Church in Southern Africa, which has twinned wealthy and less affluent communities from across South Africa during the pandemic. “Many people in South Africa are currently demonstrating what it means to be a good neighbour, by cleaning up the streets and helping each other during our current period of civil unrest”, Delene added. She concluded by saying, “Good neighbours reach out with love and compassion. Are we walking by our neighbours in need or are we actively seeking to help our neighbours?”

The Rt Rev’d Jacques Boston, Bishop of the Diocese of Guinea in the Church of the Province of West Africa, emphasised that we could not yet talk about “post-pandemic” as many countries across the world are still experiencing the devastation brought by Covid-19. Bishop Jacques said, “We are still fighting against the pandemic. We do need to think about how life will look after the pandemic but for now, we must focus on surviving the pandemic”.

Dr Yap Wei Aun, from the Diocese of West Malaysia in the Church of the Province of South East Asia, spoke about the importance of “looking within, looking around and looking forward” in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. He said that “Covid-19 is a virus that takes away our very breath; this stands in stark contrast to Genesis 2:7, in which God makes us living beings by giving us the breath of life”. Dr Wei Aun commented on the losses Covid-19 has inflicted but also of the barriers it has helped us to break down regarding technology and different ways of fostering community. He concluded by urging those in attendance to focus on “the ministry of restoring relationships” as “the pandemic has pushed many away from God, and separated Christians from their fellow believers”.

Attorney Floyd Lalwet, Provincial Secretary of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP), echoed the notion that the pandemic has caused great loss but also provided new opportunities for the Church. “Covid-19 forced the ECP to focus on local communities, meaning that we reached out to people who lived nearby whom we had not been able to reach before. We have opened our churches and community buildings to those in need, rather than closing our doors on the vulnerable, as we believe that church property is community property!”

The final speakers for this session were the Venerable Dr Rosemarie Mallett, Archdeacon of Croydon, and the Venerable Alastair Cutting, Archdeacon of Lewisham and Greenwich, both based in the Diocese of Southwark in the Church of England. In conversation with each other, they discussed “thinking beyond the church building”, the global interdependence of the Anglican Communion and the importance of lament and reconstruction for the post-pandemic Church.

Attendees asked questions exploring the difference between church responses to Covid-19 and other pandemics such as HIV and Ebola, cultural changes within religious institutions during Covid-19, and the ability of the Church to “give more, share more and love more”. The Rev’d Paul Gurnham drew the session to a close with a prayer from the Anglican Church in Melanesia.

Speakers included: Canon Delene Mark, the CEO of HOPE Africa, the Rt Rev’d Jacques Boston, Bishop of the Diocese of Guinea, Dr Yap Wei Aun, from the Diocese of West Malaysia, Attorney Floyd Lalwet, Provincial Secretary of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, the Venerable Dr Rosemarie Mallett, Archdeacon of Croydon, and the Venerable Alastair Cutting, Archdeacon of Lewisham and Greenwich.

To read more about the other conference sessions and to watch the recordings visit the links below.

Solidarity and global mission in the Age of Covid

Racial Justice: Recovering Spiritualities, Restoring Justice

The Cry of Creation: Creativity in the Church