By Fredrick Nzwili*
The leader spoke from Nairobi, during a webinar organized by the All Africa Conference of Churches, World Council of Churches (WCC), and World Association for Christian Communication.
“Many of our people have now been reduced to a basic existence, struggling just to survive,” said Mwombeki, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic “has brought into sharp focus the whole issue of global digital justice.”
COVID-19, he said, has demonstrated that access to the internet is a matter of pure survival for the people. During the COVID-related shutdowns, he said, "people with access to the internet were able to continue working from home, connect with their church ministers and worship, even purchase goods and services from the comfort of their houses.”
But, he emphasized: “Unfortunately, in Africa, this group is a small minority.”
Participating in the webinar, Dr Stephen Brown, editor of the WCC Ecumenical Review and a member of the board of directors of the World Association for Christian Communication, said the pandemic has completely changed the landscape for churches, with the pastoral support of the churches and their leaders needed more than ever.
According to Brown, offering pastoral support for the church had become difficult, with lockdowns and isolations making traditional face-to-face pastoral care, and gathering worshippers for daily, or even weekly services, almost impossible.
“In this situation, churches have turned to digital forms of communication, and ministers have often had to have a crash course in becoming Zoom pastors,” he said while highlighting several challenges including that not all pastors and church leaders are digital experts.
African Churches turned to digital communication and services in early 2020 after governments announced lockdown and curfews to tame the spread of the pandemic. But with about 18 percent connectivity, it is feared that millions are believed to be disconnected from any ministry.
In South Africa, the churches turned cellphones, emails and even phoned church members to stay in contact, according to Rev. Dr Bukelwa Hans, a pastor from Uniting Presbyterian Church of South Africa.
“We had to create WhatsApp groups so that everyone would feel they belong to that congregation,” she said. “The greatest challenge was the issue of the sacrament. It had to be done remotely…we had to devise a way to connect with our people. We had to ask families to have the elements of the communion.”
According to Rev. Jehoshaphat Calys-Tagoe, a priest of the Anglican Church in Accra, Ghana, COVID -19 was a wakeup call for the churches.
“Some of the challenges the church faces now in the post-COVID period are because we didn’t strike when the iron was hot. We waited to recover post-COVID before we started making inroads,” he said.
He called for digital awareness, digital literacy among church leaders and church investment in IT.
“Whether COVID-19 goes away, the world is rapidly changing towards IT and if the church does not grab it as a relevant platform for its mission, the church is missing out,” said Calys-Tagoe.
*Fredrick Nzwili, freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.