World Vision holds webinar about role of church during a pandemic

 

While the country is confronted by possibly the most massive and challenging threat brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Filipinos can be affected not just physically but spiritually as well. The difficulties can be overwhelming and lead some people to hopelessness and despair.

In the Philippines, which is considered the most predominantly Christian nation in Asia, the church could play a relevant role in helping people to respond and cope with a crisis of this magnitude.

“The fight against COVID-19 is not only a fight for health, but a fight for our souls. This is also a spiritual battle. And the church needs to be in the forefront,” shared Rev. Joey Umali, an acclaimed Christian and Filipino author and broadcaster.

In a recent webinar entitled “The Role of the Church during COVID-19 Pandemic” organized by World Vision last June 19,  Rev. Umali, who also currently leads the Faith International Society of Hope for Empowerment and Renewal (FISHER), and Rev. Father Emanuel Mijares of Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue Ministry of the Diocese of Kalibo, discussed about how the church can be a spiritual guiding force in the midst of the persisting crisis.

“Even with all the uncertainties brought by this pandemic, the mission of the church is unchanging: that is to proclaim the Good News. We should never be cowered by fear and inactivity [from] this dreaded COVID-19,” said Fr. Mijares.

He recognized how online masses and services can provide churches an “even bigger platform” to share God’s word.

Rev. Umali added, “This COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do our ministry. While our mission and vision as a church remains, the way we do them has radically changed.”

 

Online and offline church

Due to limited mobility and the need for physical distancing, the church can still make its presence felt and extend support to communities. The gift of presence is one.

“Nothing beats face-to-face presence. Yes, movement may be limited, but there are plenty of ways that church can serve its people. Open the church as a sanctuary to those who are stranded and in need of a place to stay. Welcome them, feed them,” suggested Rev. Umali.

Umali also cited how visits to people who need counseling and spiritual advice could be another form of support, but church workers should be mindful of the minimum health standards.

The webinar also  highlighted the power of social media as a way of reaching out to congregations. However,  the speakers were quick to warn against the negative impact of the digital space.

“In a crisis like COVID-19, we see a prevalence of fake news. It is easy to peddle lies because they are easily accessed through social media. We should not promote divisiveness, instead, we need to be messengers of hope. We need to be messengers of truth,”  Rev. Umali reminded.

Fr. Mijares added, “This pandemic taught us how to be interdependent, to have mutual cooperation. We need to discern together how to improve our role and service towards our communities and our society, and the world in general. We need to be a beacon of light in these dark times.”

Rev. Umali also mention about the significant shift of view from “church-building” to “community-building”.

“We need to invest our efforts more on people, not on improving the physical structure of the church,” Rev. Umali said.

Fr. Mijares calls for the church to unite during this unprecedented moment in the country’s history, regardless of religious or political affiliations.

“We need to act as a body.  Since we all suffer together, we could rise from this together.  We realized, more than ever, that we are all in the same Fatherhood of God, even though perhaps belonging to different ideologies or political affiliations, different religion or different religious groups, or even different ecclesial groups and realities,” he said.

The webinar was part of World Vision’s engagement with churches as active partners in responding to COVID-19.Earlier this month, a webinar attended by at least 100 participants, tackled how children can be protected from any form of exploitation amid the pandemic.

World Vision also published a brochure entitled “Gabay para sa faith leaders sa panahon ng COVID-19” (Guide for faith leaders in the time of COVID-19), which promotes the vital role of the church in helping their congregations and communities to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. The ecumenical material, written in Filipino, was designed to consider the different religious groups or denominations.

Last May 17, many churches also participated and supported the online benefit worship concert dubbed, “Songs of Hope”. The church worship groups who joined the initiative included Christ Commission Fellowship (CCF) Exalt Worship, Favor Church, Living Word Churches, Union Church of Manila, Victory Worship, and Victory Christian Fellowship (VCF) Katipunan.

“We believe there is power in corporate worship, especially as we get to do it as one united Church, lifting up the name of God in the middle of our circumstances. World Vision’s efforts to bring us together in these times remind us that we shouldn’t give up on worshipping together, even as we continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our communities,” shared Liz Claudio, Cielo and Peejay Pabalan of Favor Church.

World Vision’s celebrity ambassadors and  supporters including Ogie Alcasid, Christian Bautista, Quest, Joyce Pring, Iñigo Pascual, Tippy Dos Santos,  the Perkins Twins, Sitti Navarro, Janina Vela, and Pastor Rommel and Susan Guevara also joined the Song of Hope initiative. The amount raised was used in the continuing COVID-19 Response, which has now reached over five million individuals across the country.