Dr Rob Hay, head of Learning and Ministry Development in the Diocese of Leicester in the Church of England, presented some ideas from UK based on 600 stories collected from people in the Anglican Church. The pandemic challenges the church to rethink its message, he said. “Does it clearly articulate the hope of life after death? Before COVID-19, for some Christians, the church meant only a building. Now it has become more human, a community of believers.”
Gu Jingqin, representing the China Christian Council, noted that, after the COVID-19 outbreak, the China Christian Council provided information channels for churches, and also collected funds for hospitals, neighbourhoods, seminaries and congregations. “Great signs of solidarity and fraternity have been shown,” she said, but she also noted that hurtful racism was exacerbated even more during COVID-19.
Gertrude Fefoame, a member of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, speaking about the challenges faced by persons with disabilities, reminded forcefully how not all in Africa have access to technical equipment for online meetings. However, the new situation has also enabled many of those who would normally not be able to join meetings or go to church, to participate virtually. “Connectivity in this sense has increased,” she said.
Rev. Philip Woods, associate director for strategy, program and recruitment for Presbyterian World Mission, said that around a quarter of PCUSA mission co-workers had decided to return to the USA. He deplored that more than 2.5 million people have died from COVID-19 in the world, noting: “An unjust, inequitable world is not well placed to deal with global crises. Any crisis will exaggerate underlying characteristics as it challenges the fabric of society.”
Rev. Dr Carlos Emilio Ham-Stanard, rector of Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cuba, affirmed that mission has been understood as witnessing service, in particular to the most vulnerable and excluded in the times of the pandemic. Churches are learning to use technology to worship and build capacity, but also to struggle for a more just world in which the “digital divide” can be overcome.