COVID-19 and Clergy

New Normal for Ministry

St. Paul’s Little London Cure includes St. Paul’s in Little London, St. Mary the Virgin in Negril, St. Silas in Mount Airy and St. Helena’s in Sheffield. All four churches in Westmoreland have different contextual features for mission and ministry. This posed challenges during the COVID-19 lockdown and continues to impact our operation. Most members in the four churches are over 65 and many over 80 years.
The more rural the community, the stricter the observance of the orders given by the Government. Members could only be reached by phone, and only a few were able to access the Services that were distributed through social media. The number of shut-ins has increased because while members go to the doctor, pharmacy and supermarket in faith, they are reluctant to attend church.
All Bible Study groups were suspended for weeks and could not be resumed because of challenges with technology. On the other hand, I was able to continue teaching the Confirmation Class by forming a WhatsApp group.
Hospital visits were very challenging because of entry and age restrictions.
I was also able to visit one member who celebrated her 100th birthday and serve Communion.
Our Outreach Ministry was bolstered by donations from the Chamber of Commerce and Service Clubs, and our Wardens and active members assisted in the preparation and distribution of care packages and Gift Certificates to needy members in the Cure and the wider community. This initiative also required much driving around and shopping for shut-ins, even out of our own pocket.
I was not fearful as I moved around, but I tried to be careful as I carried out the scheduled activities of the Church. It is challenging, but somehow, God provides new hope for each day of this new normal experience.
Rev. Veronica Thomas
Little London Cure

Opportunity to do Church Better

For many of our members, in the Meadowbrook/Merrivale Cure, especially retired persons, church is not just about worship, but about fellowship. COVID-19 took away the only social outlet in which they were routinely involved.
Even though we have been able to stream Services, Bible Study and other activities, and even though participation has been far greater than when these were conducted on a face-to-face basis, we recognize that we are not reaching some of our membership. This is not restricted to older persons; and identifying these members has been a challenge. Now that our churches have reopened we have to determine the number of persons who can attend Services each week and how to effectively and lovingly communicate this.
With respect to our Outreach Ministry, we have seen an increased need, but the available resources have been reduced. Our soup kitchen has ceased to function because of people’s fear of contact with the disease. We’re now also trying to identify our congregants who now need physical, financial and mental support.
In these times of restrictions, keeping in contact with as many of our members as possible is a Christian necessity. We have been emphasizing an ‘each one reach one’ programme through which members are asked to call persons in their fellowship groups, other ministries, or those who used to sit near them in church. We have also asked members when they make contact to enquire whether the person is able to link electronically and to offer assistance wherever possible.
COVID-19 has created challenges, but it has also provided opportunities to do church differently and better. The lessons learned and the initiatives which have worked – such as the use of social media and other communication channels – should be adopted full-time.
Rev. Paul Sharp
Supplementary Priest
Meadowbrook//Merrivale Cure

Bringing God’s People Closer Together

My response to the virus was initially very slow. When the services stopped in March, for about 2 weeks we had no alternative method of meeting. WhatsApp became the method of communication in the Falmouth Cure; and we established three groups, one for each church. Approximately 70 % of our members signed up in the group for their church.
Then we decided to film the Service at St. Peter’s on Saturday afternoon and upload to YouTube for viewing early Sunday morning. Streaming of mid-week Services from Christ Church and St. Stephen’s followed, but the Sunday Service attracted much better viewership. The response to Bible Study online was also very tepid.
What is encouraging is the sharing that takes place on WhatsApp. The health status of members, their problems and joys, prayer requests, and the names of persons in hospital are made known and prayers are offered, as required. Birthdays and special events are also posted. I think this is a good way of keeping in touch and establishing relationships with members who usually would not speak; and I believe it brought us all closer together.
The down side is that now that our churches are opened for Sunday Services the attendance is low as many persons are in the vulnerable age group and have to rely on public transportation. Therefore, we continue to upload Services; and we certainly will continue to use Social Media in the “New Normal” environment.
Rev. Father Basil McLeod
Falmouth Cure

The Church is Always Present

When the Government announced in March that the number of persons gathered for worship should not exceed ten, we suspended public worship in the St. Gabriel’s Cure. We operated with the understanding that although the doors may be closed, the Church – the Body of Christ – is not closed because we, the people of God, are the Church and where the people of God are the Church is always present.
The pandemic opened the opportunity for us to accelerate completion of our multi-media system. We set up a WhatsApp group for the two main congregations – St. Gabriel’s, May Pen and St. James’, Hayes. This facilitated communication between the Rector and members – sending out devotional and inspirational messages. Homilies were also recorded and posted to the Groups on Sunday mornings. Our WhatsApp Bible Study Sessions attracted members who would not normally attend, and also engaged participants from overseas. We are now at the stage where Worship Services are streamed live on Sundays; and we are working to recommission our website.
With the assistance of business persons in our congregation who provided care packages on a monthly basis, we maintained the programmes spearheaded by the Outreach and Social Concerns Committee for less fortunate members of our congregations and the neighbouring community. The Women’s Auxiliary also made masks for the children of St. Monica’s Home in Chapelton. Telephone contact with members, especially the elderly and house-bound, continues.
The Harvest Thanksgiving Festival at St. Gabriel’s is negatively impacted but we are exploring alternatives. The budget of the Church is adversely affected. The Church Hall, which is an income generating centre has not had any business since February. We have revised our budget; made downward adjustments to the remuneration of staff; and are curbing expenditure. We know that in time of crisis we are not alone because our Lord reminds us all the time that he is with us and will not leave us or forsake us.
The Venerable Winston M. Thomas
Rector, St. Gabriel’s Cure

How have you been coping?
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