I am sure you are wondering how DMC is responding to the State of National Disaster declared by the President in an effort combat the spread of COVID – 19. The Bishops of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MSCA) held a teleconference yesterday and have given us helpful instructions and advice to follow. The DMC Exec met tonight (Tuesday) to discern how best to respond. I will offer you the information we have now, and we’ll keep you informed as the days progress.
First, though, let us “set our minds on things that are above” (Col. 3.2). That might take a little effort. I know my mind is racing as I sort through masses of data, attempting to discern how we should most faithfully respond. The many unknowns and “what if’s” tempt me to worry. However, as I turn my thoughts to “things above”, I realise that the Kingdom of Heaven is in no trouble at all. The Kingdom is safe and secure, it cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:28).
And we know the Good News – Jesus has opened for us the Kingdom of Heaven! We who are in Christ are perfectly safe. That’s why Jesus so often commands “do not be afraid” (Jn 14. 27b) and “do not worry” (Mt 6:25). As I turn my mind to things above, I hear Jesus the Good Shepherd call me by name (Jn. 10). He walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps 23:4).
If you feel anxious, uncertain or overwhelmed, my prayer is that, even now, you would know the Father strengthening “you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Eph. 3:16).
Turning our thoughts to things above enables us to take hold of the truth that we are secure in the Kingdom. It does something else that is really quite wonderful. Having set our minds on things above we see things on earth with new eyes. Jesus reminds us that we who belong to Him are called to be salt and light (Mt 5:13f); a people of hope and healing who shine most brightly in times like this (Eph. 5:8).
Our Methodist tradition offers three simple rules to help us faithfully live as “salt and light”:
1) Do no harm
2) Do good
3) Stay in love with God
We know that Sunday Worship helps us to “stay in love with God”. That’s why the Presiding Bishop, after consulting with our Synod Bishops, has encouraged us to creatively find ways to continue the discipline of Sunday Worship, provided careful precautions are taken.
Do No Harm
Precautions are necessary so that we “do no harm”. I spoke with Dr Philip Botha, a physician based at Tygerberg Hospital who specialises in infectious diseases. Dr Botha is also a member of DMC. I learned from Dr Botha that the “community of infectious disease specialists” recommends that Faith Communities suspend worship gatherings for a period of four weeks. So, for the time being, there will be no Sunday Worship Services at DMC (Sunday evening fellowship gatherings are also suspended). Other planned events (like the wors roll sale) will be postponed.
Here is the rationale behind what might seem to some of you an extreme measure: 5% of those who are infected with the Corona virus will require critical care. If the rate of infection is not contained, our health care systems (State and Private) will be overburdened and some patients will not receive the care they need.
We encourage those of you in small groups to continue meeting where possible. You can “do no harm” by avoiding small group meetings if you have a respiratory tract infection or if you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.
Most of us are going to find this desperately difficult. However, there are many opportunities to “do good” and to build community in other ways. DMC, via our Webpage and Social Media presence will provide material to help you worship at home. We’ll offer short videos of Worship Services and the audios recordings of sermons as we usually do. Here is a wonderful opportunity to develop a healthy life of prayer and worship at home. We won’t be able to take up the offertory, but we encourage you to continue the discipline of giving through “EFT”.
Not everyone has access to the internet so we will also print “hard-copies” of our newsletters, sermons and worship material. We’ll be encouraging members to pop these in one another’s post boxes.
Perhaps we know someone who will be homebound for one or another reason? That’s an opportunity for us to “do good”. We could deliver food to a homebound neighbour or give them a friendly phone call. My wife, Sarah-Jane, told me a wonderful story of someone who did just that for a friend in self isolation. He left groceries in the driveway and had a conversation through a closed window.
It is also likely that some of us employ people (domestic workers, gardeners, labourers etc.) who travel via public transport and who live in areas where the lack of services makes frequent hand washing difficult or impossible. We encourage all members to make plans with employees that minimize risk (for both them and for yourself) without leaving people fearful of a catastrophic loss of income. We do good by showing grace, offering generosity and thinking creatively in the Spirit’s power.
Finally, let us allow these challenges to deepen our discipline of prayer. Here are two little prayers I find meaningful from “My Personal Prayer Book, by Geoff Quinlan (currently on sale for R40 at the help desk/church office):
Lord Jesus Christ, I bring before you the sufferings of our world; the necessities of the homeless, the sighing of prisoners, the pain of the sick, the longings of the poor and destitute, and the helplessness of the aged and weak: comfort and relieve them according to their needs and give to me a loving heart and a ready hand to help; that serving the needs of others I may show my love and gratitude to you, who for my sake died and rose again (St Anselm).
Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ went about doing good and healing all kinds of sickness and disease among the people: continue his gracious work among us in hospitals and nursing homes; and send your blessing on all who labour to prevent suffering and to forward your purposes of love; through Jesus Christ our Lord (SAPB)
Thank you for taking time to read this note. Please feel free to send me any questions or comments via email (email@example.com) or simply call the office (021 976 0589).
For those of you with more time on your hands and who are interested in Church History my colleague Prof. Dion Forster posted this on YouTube:
Martin Luther’s approach during the plague “Black death”, which killed 60% of Europe’s population:
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
 Traditionally rule 3 is “attend to all the ordinances of God”. Ordinances refers to those disciplines through which we open ourselves to God’s grace – worship (especially Holy Communion), prayer, Scripture reading, fellowship in small groups etc.
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