MCSA Guidelines during 21 Days of lockdown
25 March 2020
Dear Fellow Methodists
Warm Lenten greetings to all of you!
I write this letter to you in the wake of the declaration of a 21 day National Lockdown in South Africa, from 26 March to 16 April 2020, declared by His Excellency, the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa . Similar national lockdowns have also been announced in Namibia and Swaziland, accompanied by successive declarations of States of Emergency in the rest of the countries of the Connexion- with their attendant restrictions on gathering and movement in concerted efforts to curb the potential threats of the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. The numbers of infected people are rising at alarming rates worldwide, dictating that stringent and swift measures be taken by respective and responsible governments. We join our governments in urging all Methodists to restrict their movement in an effort to save lives. These developments have had a direct impact on our work and worship practices.
As a result of the lockdown, the Methodist church of Southern Africa has taken the following decisions in accordance with the government declaration that:
- There will be no gathering for worship services on Sundays or any other day. All people will be required to stay at home in strict observance of State guidelines. In the past week, many people worshipped God in their homes in compliance with the health threat we are facing. Ministers are called upon to ensure that creative methods are used to maintain worship and prayer within our communities. We are asked to continue to worship, pray, and minister to our members in their homes.
- It is important to understand that this time of lockdown will be hard and curb civil liberties to a great extent. Providing pastoral support and meeting counseling needs will be a challenge as the need for both grows. However, we encourage ministers to remain at their posts because our calling demands that we be present with the people in times of crisis. Video and telephonic pastoral care will be a practical option to re-assure and encourage our members; and an opportunity to reinforce our presence for those in need of pyscho-emotional support. In the SACC meeting, it was resolved that government is to be approached to add ministers to the list of those who offer “essential services”- considering the various issues that will arise which could need ministers at this challenging time. Meanwhile, let us be present and available as ministers in practical ways which do not flout the national effort. In special cases, requiring a minister to be away from the circuit- dispensation must be sought from the Bishop.
- All other services events like weddings, unveiling of tombstones inter alia, must be suspended until after the lockdown.
- In cases of funerals, each country in the Connexion has its own directives and guidelines spelt out by respective government communiqués. In South Africa – during lockdown- permission is to be sought from Police Stations for funerals to happen following strict protocols. Ministers will need to obtain
permits from local Police Station Commanders to gather people for funerals ensuring that the stringent rules of hygiene and numbers of mourners are adhered to. 5. The Coronavirus will have a great impact on the most vulnerable among us like the elderly, the orphaned, the sick, the unemployed and the children of the poor. Lockdown will have a cascading effect on various social classes in one of the most unequal countries in the world but we are encouraged not to forget the most vulnerable in our country and to find creative and practical ways of supporting them. My thoughts are with those who live from hand to mouth for whom lockdown means even more difficult access to food. To the landless, waterless and those squashed in shacks- social distancing and hand washing are luxuries they cannot afford. Government does not have a magic wand which will, in 21 days, care and protect these exposed groups effectively without the solidarity of those of us in the community with the ability to act in the interest of the common good. As a church in solidarity with the poor- we dare not forget the vulnerable. Leaders of groups i.e. classes, cells, organizations etc. are encouraged to identify such people among us and put plans in place to care for them. In the midst of this crisis we must hear Jesus say, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat… I was sick, you visited me…’ (Matthew 25: 35ff. )
- The Mission Unit Director is in conversation with Synod Mission Secretaries working on Crisis Groups who will follow up on these special needs of our most vulnerable members. Superintendents should get in touch with their Synod Mission Secretaries for details.
- We encourage societies where necessary, to open our buildings as places to be used to meet the needs of the poor. The various government departments have indicated the need for space to set up things like food kitchens, testing centers etc. There will be need of course, to clarify responsibilities and liabilities as per L&D 10.33.8.
- This will be a time for ecumenical cooperation as we, as people of faith, try to respond to the question: “What does it mean to be church at this time of Covid-19?” Let us avail ourselves and be part of efforts in our different localities, villages, informal settlements, towns and cities where we are.
At this time of questioning and fear, hear the words of Paul to the Romans: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans… the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God”. (Rom 8:26-27)
Even as we face this unknown pandemic – let us be encouraged that we are not the only ones praying- God the Holy Spirit is also interceding for us according to what God wills. Let us do good! Let us do no harm! Let us stay in love with God!
Rev Purity Malinga.