COVID-19: Challenged to a new spiritual language and more efficient diakonia
Dealing with the pandemic in the Lutheran Church in Chile
(LWI) - The Lutheran Church in Chile (ILCH) has responded to the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic by switching from in-person church meetings to online versions, using several tools and platforms to do so. And it has aided those who lost their jobs and others in need.
“Lutheran, Evangelical, and Pentecostal Christian churches work together in an ‘Evangelical Service Platform’ (Plataforma Evangélica de Servicio),” said Alexis Salgado, Bishop of the “Here, we exchange ideas and coordinate measures to meet our Christian responsibilities in church and society during the pandemic.”
In Chile, the pandemic began in March. It reached its peak in June, nearly causing the collapse of the public health system. “Since June, a general testing strategy complements the measures taken to respond to the pandemic,” Salgado explained. “However, the lifting of lockdowns raises fears about new outbreaks and keeps the authorities and the population on edge.” By 31 August, the World Health Organization (WHO) had recorded 408,009 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 11,181 deaths among Chile’s population of about 19 million. Currently, between 1.000 and 2.000 infections are recorded daily.
The Lutheran World Federation’s (LWF) COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund and financial support from the German National Committee of the Lutheran World Federation (GNC/LWF) have supported the church in implementing measures to respond to the economic and social impact of the pandemic.
Nourishment for body and soul
As the pandemic developed, many Chileans worried about their health as much as they did about their economic situation. Many jobs were lost; small and medium-sized enterprises had to close down. Some people managed to keep their jobs at the cost of reduced salaries. Due to pressure from social actors, people were allowed to utilize ten percent of their accumulated pension funds.
“Government support in form of financial and food aid was slow; families had to share food, and there was even talk of hunger,” said Salgado. “What alarmed us was that also lower-middle-class families faced this situation.” In response to this, communities undertook food collection campaigns, and the ILCH distributed food boxes among low-income groups in Santiago, and also in Valparaíso, Valdivia, La Unión, Osorno, and Temuco.
However, there were additional challenges to be met. “The loss of face-to-face contact for all age groups in our communities during the lockdown hit us hard,” Salgado recalled. “The internet had been a ‘distant friend’; now, pastors had to acquire new skills quickly to be able to reach out and to preach the gospel.”
They made encouraging experiences: New doors opened as a wider audience viewed the online church services. “We saw increases in the number of participants multiplying by three or four,” said Salgado. Also, members who had moved to other cities or even abroad joined. “People had more time, and there was a spiritual hunger.”
The pastors’ meetings have benefited as well: they are less time consuming and cheaper since travel costs fall away when meeting online in a video conference.
Our society challenges us to speak a new language, and it may have needs that are different from those the church thought it has.
“Still, not everything has been good,” Salgado summarized. “Much of our work depends on personal contact.” Communion among the brothers and sisters has been sorely missed, along with activities that involve larger numbers of people.
“We hope that this experience helps us to diversify our outreach in our communities,” Salgado said. “Our society challenges us to speak a new language, and it may have needs that are different from those the church thought it has. We are called to be more empathic and efficient in our diakonia.”
The Rapid Response Fund, launched in April, supports many of the communion’s member churches that are particularly vulnerable during the global health emergency. Upon approval of a project application, a church can receive a grant of up to EUR 5,000 from the global fund supported by LWF’s member church partners around the world.