Thursday, 07 May 2020

Reaching out amid COVID-19

Written by Rebecca Beisler

As we experience an easing of restrictions, one thing the coronavirus pandemic has made clear is just how connected we are to each other.

Our responsibility for and dependence on one another has become critical to our own safety and wellbeing, in our families, in our communities, as a nation and as a global human family.

The realisation that “we’re all in this together” in the words of Ben Lee, has rung true. It has applied to doctors and hospital cleaners, grandparents and babies, new immigrants and Indigenous Australians, people of all faiths and none.

For many, COVID-19 has been shattering – creating uncertain futures, anxiety, stress and isolation. Even with governments taking extraordinary steps to keep the economy going and the population healthy, people are still falling through the cracks without any safety net. Many of us have felt alone and frightened.

Across the Uniting Church, this has prompted a call to action. UCA leaders, members, congregations and communities have been sharing their gifts of compassion and service beyond the church to support those who have no one else. 

There have been many expressions of this missional outreach. From virtual soup kitchens for international students, to providing spiritual support for anyone in need, to rallying together to advocate for temporary visa holders and asylum seekers, whose dire situation is attracting increasing attention through media articles like “Starved out of Australia: The workers without money or food”.

Many in the UCA have stepped up to advocate for those left out of the support packages, especially temporary visa holders and migrant workers.

Sydney Alliance Lead Organiser David Barrow said the UCA had shown extraordinary leadership on the issue.

“Rev. Dr Raymond Joso has chaired a national coordination group on the issue with over 70 organisations, while Rev. Alimoni Taumoepeau from Homebush-Strathfield Uniting Church is leading work on undocumented workers. Korean Presbytery leaders have been calling their local MPs,” said David.

Others have led work on securing energy bill deferrals and facilitated community conversations.

The Sydney Alliance called a special meeting to connect UCA members responding to mission opportunities in the community.

“The meeting came about recognising that the UCA sees itself as leaven in the community and that our work as disciples doesn’t finish at the church walls (or our own zoom windows),” said David.

Ibero-Latino National Conference Chair Rev. Esteban Lievano said Brazilian and Latino churches had become drop-in points for international students who had lost jobs and couldn’t earn enough to provide for themselves.

“Other international students are selling all their belongings in order to afford the extraordinary air fares to Latin America at this time,” said Esteban.

The Southside Uniting Church in Brisbane organised a care package full of groceries for a young Brazilian couple who were stranded in Brazil when restrictions came into force. The couple waited out the 14 days in isolation in Melbourne before hiring a car to return to Brisbane as flying was too expensive.  

In NSW, Rev. Dr Amelia Koh Butler, chaplain at Western Sydney University, transformed her usual soup kitchen into an online cooking class. In its initial stages she was packing and distributing ingredients for 1800 meals to support 150 international students in need.

Amelia shared with Insights Magazine how COVID-19 had created a missional opportunity for the UCA to focus on some of the key practical needs in our community.

But as well as the immediate needs of income or food, Amelia said many were also hungering for spiritual and relational connection.

“People welcome us building community at the moment,” said Amelia said.

This has led some to think about how the Church can create spaces or resources to offer spiritual nourishment. Geoff Boyce from Pilgrim Uniting Church in South Australia, formerly multifaith chaplain at Flinders University, has designed a service especially for those beyond the Church.

“I had been thinking about those who have lost their jobs or those struggling at home, and asked myself, how can we serve non-church goers, those who see themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious?” said Geoff.

He describes the weekly service shared via YouTube as “inspiration, encouragement and hope drawn from the world we live in.”

“So, it is for the world, using the imagery and language of the world, but supporting those values and virtues the world has in common with the church.” Find out more here.

Others are sharing resources for spiritual practices intentionally thinking about how they might be helpful for people outside the Church.

Rev. Rod Pattenden from Adamstown Uniting Church in NSW found his posts on social media gained traction with a much wider audience.

“In this time of isolation, everyone is looking for ways to de-stress and find connection, whether they are part of a Church or not,” said Rod.

“In these new circumstances, I think the church has much to offer. The Church after all is a place where we are invited to discover what it is to be human.”

One of his posts is a 90-second clip on being “Grounded” which introduces ideas around meditation and relaxation.

Rev. Sally Douglas from Richmond Uniting Church in Victoria is sharing resources for “praying in real life”.

“Prayer is often spoken about in the church, and beyond the church, however, people can often feel anxious about how to pray,” said Sally.

“There are incredibly rich resources for prayer in the Christian contemplative tradition, and as people within and beyond the church look for ways to explore deeper meaning during this crisis, I think it is important to create accessible ways for people to engage with authentic, life-giving prayer practices.”

As we navigate our way out of the COVID-19 crisis, one thing that will remain is how the Church is called to share its faith for the common good of all.

We give thanks to God for all those who have taken up the call to mission, to be people of hope in our world right now.