|Written by Rev. Elder Cecilia Eggleston, Moderator, Metropolitan Community Churches – 11 March 2020|
News about the corona virus, COVID-19, is everywhere. As the virus moves from one country to another, governments and other organisations are making decisions on what to do next and how to contain this disease. Advice about no handshaking has even affected royalty. Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, greeted people with “Namaste”, palms placed together, at a church service this week whilst his son, Prince Harry, “elbow bumped” with a guest attending the gathering.
We know that poverty, discrimination, lack of access to healthcare all play a part in letting disease flourish. The corona virus will have far more impact in countries like Iran, where the healthcare infrastructure is poor. In Brazil at the moment, there is a severe outbreak of dengue fever, a mosquito borne disease, with similar symptoms to flu. It can be very serious and may be fatal. Rev. Cristiano Valerio writes:
According to data from the Ministry of Health, until February 1, 2020, 94,149 cases of dengue were registered in the country. So far, 14 deaths have been confirmed The age group above 60 years concentrates half of the deaths confirmed by dengue.
Some of our siblings have already had the disease, so far we have not had any deaths among ICM members in Brazil, but Pastor Célio, for example, was hospitalized with Dengue for a few days and is now recovering at home.
The fact that the corona virus is spreading to wealthier, western countries from China makes it more newsworthy than the huge outbreak of dengue fever.
It has been said that viruses do not discriminate, but people do. Racially motivated attacks against people of Chinese origin have already been reported, as people seek someone to blame, or use the virus as an excuse to act out their hate and fear of those who are different from them. Prince Harry’s mother, Diana, was instrumental in changing public attitudes to people who are HIV+ or have AIDS at a time when there was so much misinformation and hostility. In 1987, she shook the hand of a man with AIDS on a hospital visit. This was such a dramatic moment in the story of those affected by AIDS. In MCC, HIV influenced our worship, as well as radically changing our denomination. We started lighting an AIDS candle and changed our practice in how we shared communion – using intinction, rather than sharing a cup, to make sure that those who had weakened immune systems were less likely to pick up other infections. In a time of real personal and organisational loss and grief, MCC was at a time of its greatest growth, according to Rev. Elder Don Eastman. We grew because our deepest call, to offer inclusive love and work for justice, answered the world’s greatest need.
Disease is part of the human landscape. Jesus healed some people but did not cleanse the world of illness. Disease can create fear, distrust and even greed, as people close in on themselves, rather than sharing what resources they have. At this time of great uncertainty, we need to be sensible and take appropriate advice to take care of ourselves and others. It is also an opportunity for new ways of being in community and serving those who will be isolated at this time. Many of our congregations already live stream their services, some have bible study using Facebook. Perhaps a new ministry could be born at this time. It may also be a chance to show solidarity with a community who are being stigmatised, as well as looking after those who will experience economic hardship if they are unable to work. This may include some of our pastors, who will not receive a stipend if worship services stop for a while or if attendance drops and offerings are below budgeted need. As we continue to hold the world in prayer, we know that God is greater than any virus. We know that we can minister and serve in any circumstance. We know that these days will pass and life will continue. Amen.
God of our bodies,
We call out to you at this time of great uncertainty.
We want to protect ourselves, our families and our communities.
We have access to so much information, yet it is not always easy to know what to do for the best.
We pray for those who are working to relieve the suffering of all those affected by disease.
We pray for those in positions of power and responsibility, that they may act wisely.
We pray for those who are ill now, those we know and those in other places around the world.
We commit to continue our struggle for justice, so that all may have good access to the things that aid good health – clean water, proper sanitation, a healthy diet and safe shelter.
God of our bodies, Show us how we might use this time of uncertainty to bring hope, love and joy into the lives of those around us.