Thursday, 12 March 2020

Ministry in the Hot Zone

It’s been a scary and anxious week in Sydney’s leafy northern districts.

On 3 March, a 95 year-old resident of the Dorothy Henderson Lodge aged care facility at Macquarie Park became the first person who contracted the virus in Australia to die of the disease.

An 82-year-old man from the same facility has since passed away as well. Both residents tested positive for the COVID-19 virus after coming in contact with an aged care worker.

Less than two kilometres away, Epping Boys High was the first Australian school to have to close after a 16-year-old student tested positive. The school has since re-opened, but 69 students and staff who had close contact with the teenager are in self-isolation for 14 days.

A further positive test on a doctor at nearby Ryde Hospital had one doctor at the hospital suggesting that Sydney's major population centres should be quarantined to prevent the spread of the virus. ABC News even made an explainer video.

The effects of the public health response are already being felt at Epping Uniting Church.

The Church Office is closed because the Assistant is now self-isolating after being in contact with the Epping Boys’ student.

Minister Rev. Greg Woolnough says his congregation is responding positively to the challenge.

‘We’ve got pre-cut bread for our next Communion service and I’ve changed my plans for Maundy Thursday in Holy Week,” says Greg. 

“We were going to do a hand-washing service. We’ve changed that to a hand-sanitising service.”

Some community activities at Epping Uniting have been postponed for now. Greg says he’s determined to keep in touch with people even if they’re self-isolating or avoiding coming to Church.

“We live in a day and age when we can keep the lines of communication open to deliver pastoral care,” says Greg.

“We will be channelling the spirit of Matthew 25:36 but still taking all the precautions to prevent transmission.”

‘When I was in self-isolation, you Facetimed me, might be the modern Gospel equivalent.”

At Boronia Park Uniting Church Rev Seung jae Yeon made sure six young campers and their families got a full briefing on hygiene measures before they attended the Sydney Kids Camp Out in southwest Sydney last weekend.

“I contacted each family to make sure they were aware how crucial it was to prepare, and to hear their thoughts,” says Seung jae.

“I also discussed the guidance to congregations issued by the Synod with our Church Council.”

As Secretary of the UCA Korean National Conference Seung jae’s Korean community is facing an extra burden.

On 5 March, the Australian Government announced a travel ban to South Korea, due to the number of coronavirus cases there.

“This has created an extra layer of worries for Korean residents, on top of the usual fears of living as a migrant," explains Seung jae.

“The travel bans have meant that people have had to re-organise their travel back to Korea via different ports, because there are no direct flights.” 

The Australian Government has confirmed it will extend the travel ban to South Korea, Italy, China and Iran for another week.

"Let us all keep holding each other in our prayers and thoughts," says Seung jae.