By: Luís Samacumbi
A respected opinion leader of a Church, recently made harsh criticisms of the national leadership of his Church, because the leadership chose to hold the Ordinary General Assembly, in virtual format instead of in person or semi-in person. In his protest note, the prelate used his Church’s official documents, especially the Statute and also the Presidential Decree on the State of Public Calamity of his country, to defend his thesis on how the face-to-face meeting would have been the best decision and option even at the time of COVID 19.
That leader also said that
“…. Divine work is fundamentally face-to-face and during the difficult time of war, when the roads were inaccessible, the only alternative was airplanes. With all that it takes and huge financial costs that this exercise entailed, the magnificent meetings and presences were held successfully. “
The religious official I am referring to said he had reflected and prayed, before taking the liberty and the boldness to write such criticisms. This reminded me of the saying that “the habit does not make the monk.” Therefore, the in person services are not what makes work divine. These and other realities inspired me to write this reflection to awaken religious and Christian leaders from around the world to excel in life in the exercise of their pastoral duties and their faith in times of pandemic.
On the other hand, this reflection seeks to alert religious leaders and believers in general not to engage in deceptive and misleading theologies in the time of COVID 19. The reflection encourages the promotion of constructive and contextual theological discussions that defend Christian teaching and beliefs, to promote life with dignity on the African continent and around the world, based on practical theological beliefs.
2. Social networks before and after Coronavirus:
It is worth remembering that the Pulpit is the place within a Church where Biblical readings are given, a concept that is being challenged by the context of the Coronavirus pandemic. Social networks, at least as perceived by some Church circles in Angola, were part of what was considered unclean for Christians and were like “the stone that the builders rejected that has become the cornerstone” (1 Peter 2: 7). The emergence of the virtual pulpit, which is gradually becoming part of the new normal, arose as a response of hope, communion and socio-spatial insertion – into communities that accommodate the otherwise excluded, by the radical changes in the Church caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For a long time, some, if not many, churches resisted change and were opposed to considering or even implementing different ideas of ‘being’ church in the 21st century, getting stuck in long-established standards. COVID-19 forced the church to “make” the church differently and to rethink its future. COVID-19 forced churches to turn to electronic platforms to continue public worship, providing an opportunity to expose Christians to other forms of worship, liturgical practices and preaching than those to which they are normally accustomed.
3. What can you learn from COVID 19?
There are many lessons to be learned from the current context and modus operandi imposed by the pandemic. Among others, we could list the following:
- The COVID-19 experience should lead us: to a more appropriate understanding of the Christian mission, with a focus not on the Church, but on the kingdom of God, to understand the presence of God in the midst of a pandemic and to help us see the state of the world instead of focusing on the inside of the four walls of our Temples, to give an additional opportunity to make the Church more accessible, not only to those who are its members, but to all people;
- The pandemic appears to have opened the Church’s eyes to the realities of suffering in the world and has forced the Church to orient its activities and ministries towards the ideals of the kingdom of God, placing some traditional theological views in the spotlight;
- COVID-19 urges us to learn to learn and to rethink certain theological pre-assumptions about the Church, Church leadership and sacraments. It inadvertently raises the question of what it means to be a church (body of Christ) without going to church (place of worship). And it has questioned our understanding of the church as an institution that is generally associated with buildings, offices, organizational norms, budgets, leaders, theology, doctrine and visibility;
- I think that COVID-19 is teaching us what it means to be the invisible Church, since the Churches were not allowed to meet physically, for a period, and to re-imagine the idea of Church as a community;
- In a sense, the pandemic “flattened the curve” in the hierarchical structures of the Church, showing us that the faith survives without pastors, priests and bishops, because the closure of churches has led to the strengthening of the ‘pastor’ in each home. Someone at home had to take the lead to provide spiritual guidance for the family, awakening our knowledge to the presence of Christ as in the first experience of the resurrection – the joy, the pain of the glorious wounds, the questioning, the touch and the price.
4. Concluding Thoughts:
We can conclude this reflection by stating that the closure of churches during the emergency phase of the coronavirus pandemic forced them to function in new ways, remaining open virtually after many had resisted virtual means in the past, under the old model of functioning as we read in the introductory account of this reflection. If everything we have been learning during this time of COVID-19, for example: how to find an alternative to live transmission of sermons, worship songs, religious rites and requests for offerings and tithes, does not lead to a recognition that live transmission is not part of our new normal, we miss the Kairos moment.
The difficult times we are facing should help us to know exactly what the Church’s mission is and how we can embrace theologies that affirm life, and transform by reflecting and mirroring the kingdom of God in our midst. COVID-19 must help us to reaffirm that the Church does not live within walls; it is the people of God who, in the power of the Holy Spirit, live and yearn for the reign of God in the world. The Church as the body of Christ must embrace everyone and build up everyone’s life with hope in a time of COVID’s pandemic 19.
 Message circulated by WhatsApp in the first quarter of 2021.
 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0265378820963156 acessado aos 17 de Maio de 2021