Asia: Strengthening communion relations in time of pandemic
LWF Asia leaders meet online for prayer, fellowship
(LWI) - Appearing online after a long recovery from Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Bishop E. Vijaya Bhaskar of the South Andhra Lutheran Church in India, expressed gratitude and thanks for the prayers of his fellow bishops from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Asia region and the LWF Communion Office during his recent hospitalization.
The online fellowship meeting, “Being Church in Times of Pandemic,” was a means of using technology to care for the leaders who are normally caring for others even as they face their own personal challenges and stressors.
“This was not another webinar or virtual workshop they needed to lead, rather it was a space for leaders to worship together, to share each other’s burdens, and to pray for the church and the community,” said Rev. Dr Philip Lok, LWF Regional Secretary for Asia.
Joining the online meeting with a cup of coffee in hand, agreeing to respect privacy, to listening and to being fully present, were the only regulations for the leaders – there were no further obligations. The leaders showed their commitment to “be present and nobody turned off their cameras,” Lok added.
The online fellowship meeting was the first of its kind. Before COVID-19, the bishops met once every two years, in-person at the “Asia Church Leadership Conference.”
In contrast, these online fellowships will take place twice a month during the pandemic, offering a different space than the in-person gatherings to “talk about the current situation related to COVID-19, and other common concerns."
Leaders were met with encouragement and each with a personal greeting from the LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge who expressed great joy in seeing Bishop E. Vijaya Bhaskar among the thirteen church leaders from Asia.
A space for leaders to worship together, to share each other’s burdens, and to pray for the church and the community.
The 90-minute online gathering gave each leader time to share whatever they wanted, and the realities on the ground in their context, recognizing that each country is at different levels of COVID-19 outbreak and restrictions. The Asia bishops were able to share ideas and share some “good news,” as well.
Intentionally coming together online for a “less formal” purpose - with no lectures or sermons - put the bishops at “ease,” said Lok. “This was an important space because the leaders seldom find spaces like this to speak to peers,” he emphasized. “They could relax.”
The informal online fellowship opened with prayer, singing hymns and meditation on a Scripture passage.
The LWF Asia region has 55 member churches and in order to keep the fellowship “intimate” the online meetings will be held in phases. The next fellowship will take place 22 October 2020 and an online Christmas celebration is being planned. Lok said that “the bishops have never been together for Christmas.”
In 2021, Lok said he will incorporate issues related to self-care inviting experts to talk about relationships, physical exercise and rest. “Despite the lockdown and travel restrictions, communion building is still happening, is still active and alive in the communion through initiatives like this one,” Lok encouraged.
“LWF church leaders in Asia have found new ways to strengthen their communion relationships.”