This year Christians in China cannot gather in person as their churches have been closed down as the COVID-19 pandemic rebounds across the country from time to time, despite the fact that the pastoral ministry must be conducted. Each church actively explores ways of ministry in its own circumstance, and strives to take care of its followers. In addition, churches in some areas have also noticed the problems that believers may encounter in daily life and in mental health brought by the outbreaks, thus guidance and assistance are provided. Meanwhile, being a member of the society, churches nationwide participate in pandemic prevention in different ways.
Various forms of online pastoral ministries
Around the Easter season, many churches nurtured believers with different ways of sharing daily information and spiritual practices. Through the WeChat official account, daily scriptures and spiritual practices are sent to believers so that they can participate in learning.
From April 10 to 17, a large percentage of churches held meditations on the Seven Last Words from the Cross, Easter morning worship, Easter Sunday worship, etc., calling on believers to experience Christ’s Passion for us. Meanwhile, churches were praying for patients, medical staff, and social workers under the lockdown.
In addition, there are other forms of activities. Suzhou Xiangcheng Church in Jiangsu Province recorded the praise audio of the youth worship team; Linfen Yaodu District Church in Shanxi Province prepared dances and dramas; and Beijing Gangwashi Church held online worship.
Suzhou Dushu Lake Church in Jiangsu Province held a prayer meeting from 7 to 8 on Easter morning. The pastor led believers to worship and praise reflected on Jesus’ experience in the Holy Week and guided them to pray online for the country, the church and believers. The prayer meeting achieved good results as some believers took the initiative to give feedback, indicating that the whole process was very touching and their hearts were full of gratitude.
In addition to the pastoral work related to Easter, other church ministries are being carried out. For example, the seekers’ class and faith growth class. There are also daily readings of spiritual books, special sermons, special studies, etc., which guide believers to learn by means of reading, listening and watching.
Comprehensive care: living conditions and mental health
During the pandemic this year, many residents face a shortage of living materials. Faced with this situation, the church and its followers keep in close contact and learn each other’s situation. Taking Shanghai as an example, during the period of partial closure, believers who can still go out helped those who are confined at home to buy the needed materials and send them there. By the time of global static management, believers also actively communicate with each other and share the channels and methods of shopping.
While isolating at home, apart from the other difficulties in daily life, people’s mental health can not be ignored. Many residents have experienced anxiety and mental collapse after struggling to get food by means of their mobile phones for a whole day, but then have failed to buy anything. Young single believers may only worry about their own meals, and families with old people and children need to take care of the diet of a large family. Coupled with working at home, children’s noise is also a big problem for parents to overcome. In addition, there is constant negative news. Because of this, many people are in very low morale during the period of lockdown.
In view of this situation, the church has made many attempts. Some churches lead believers to pray regularly every day. Some church believers spontaneously organize themselves and set up reading clubs and sports groups.
Zion Church in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province made a detailed online pastoral plan at the early stage of "double suspension" (referring to “suspensions of the opening of places of worship and group religious activities”): recording and sharing audio scripture every week and posting it to various groups, and regularly organizing all team members to visit and care online. Pastoral staff keep on contacting believers by telephone calls and WeChat every day to know their current situation, difficulties, and expected help, and make detailed records. On April 12, the pastor found that a believer wrote in the Sunday dedication remarks: “Lord, I can't let it go. Am I dead?” Worried about this believer’s condition, the pastor immediately contacted the church staff to contact this believer. When he learned that this believer was well, everyone had a sigh of relief.
In order to help congregations cope with depression from the perspective of faith and mental health, and get out of the trouble of bad mentality, the church, together with psychologists, prepared an online lecture on how to cope with depression and maintain mental health and a prayer meeting for people who suffer from depression.
In addition, people also face the real threat of pandemic. Infected pastors share their experiences and record their daily physical condition. There are also Christians who share their experiences of transhipment and isolation in makeshift hospitals.
Anti-pandemic assistance: donations and personal participation
The following are measures of preventing the spread of the pandemic inside the church:
1. Implement the pandemic prevention policy of the church and carry out disinfection according to regulations;
2. Register the real names of believers who come to worship, check their health codes and travel cards, and take their temperature;
3. After the pandemic situation escalated, local churches were to implement the "double suspension" policy according to regulations.
Throughout the process of fighting the spread of the pandemic, some churches have provided venues for nucleic acid testing. Some churches actively contribute materials and many believers sign up to serve the community as volunteers.
Recently, Shanghai has seen the worst coronavirus outbreak. Pastor Geng Weizhong, chairman of Shanghai Christian Council, said, “For Christians in Shanghai, this Easter is different from the past. Because of the pandemic prevention and control, all churches have suspended all activities, and instead, they have taken part in anti-pandemic activities in different ways. This is a special mission given to us by God - to help each other in the same boat with the people of the city and strive for self-improvement.”
In the Pudong New Zone, where the pandemic situation is the most serious, some of the believers in various churches are medical staff, doing nucleic acid testing for residents at the front line. Some have joined the community volunteer team to maintain order for the community nucleic acid testing site. Some work as community couriers, sending daily necessities to residents. Some people distribute antigen test boxes door to door for residents. Others participated in special volunteer activities to visit depressed patients with suicidal tendencies.
Many believers in various districts of Shanghai have joined the ranks of volunteers to serve the community. Believers who do not volunteer also serve quietly. Some take the initiative to care about the needs of other blockaders when they are accused of being blocked, and send them daily necessities. Some believers share their possessions with the elderly in their neighborhoods, while others learn to soothe the negative emotions of people who encounter emotional fluctuations at home through the internet.
- Translated by Charlie Li