A Pastoral Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Posted June 15, 2020
Wearing Masks, Washing Hands, & Maintaining Safe Physical Distance
Posted June 17, 2020
Many countries around the world continue to see a general decline in the number of new Coronavirus infections. However, countries in the southern hemisphere are now seeing a general increase in the number of new Coronavirus infections as well as new COVID-19 cases and in the general COVID-19 prevalence numbers as the rate of transmissions in many places outpaces recovery speed. The longer this pandemic lasts, the more pressure on various governments to respond to other challenges, the most significant being economic challenges. These competing demands on governments means that governments may prioritize public health needs less and less and economic needs more and more. Few governments will adopt a balanced approach that prioritizes and integrates both at the same level.
The false dichotomy between public health versus the economy will be an increasing part of the political discourse the longer this pandemic lasts. The deep political polarization in the United States that continues to be present even in a time of crisis is seen in the hasty decisions by many states to reopen the economy too soon and without having proper pandemic containment measures in place. In Canada where political polarization is generally set aside in times of crises, we have seen a better handling of this pandemic by federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal leaders. It has been hard to tell in Canada which leader is of which political persuasion. However, as this pandemic drags on, the political colours of our leaders will emerge and decisions will be made based more on political agendas than the health needs of the population in these pandemic times.
Government leaders are not the only ones that are experiencing pandemic fatigue. The public is increasingly weary as this pandemic prolongs its course, and it is a normal sentiment. However, we need to remember that even though COVID-19 cases are decreasing, a letting down of the guard by both governments and the public has potentially dangerous consequences. While governments are running out of cash and focusing on rebooting struggling economies, the public is running out of patience as a result of being confined in homes in addition to other challenges. We are eager to reclaim our lost freedom to move around and socialize with others. This is leading to increasingly concerning lax attitudes, which in turn explain at least in part, the rise in new cases in certain jurisdictions both in the United States and Canada.
Pandemic recovery needs a strong partnership and collaboration between governments, health authorities, researchers, and the public. The role of the public is of paramount importance. The public plays the most important role in overcoming a pandemic as we have learned from other pandemics, the most recent being the Ebola pandemic. The role of the public is often in helping stop the transmission by engaging in key measures, actions, and behaviours. In the case of this COVID-19 pandemic, we need to continue practicing safe physical distancing (2 metres of 6 ft), engaging in rigorous hygiene (e.g. washing/sanitizing hands properly and regularly), and wearing face masks when we are in the presence of other people outside of our same household family.
Wearing face masks is growing in importance as the summer season tempts us into activities that put us in closer contact with other people, and as pandemic fatigue leads us to let our guards down. Wearing a face mask, continuing to maintain safe physical distance with others, and washing and sanitizing our hands regularly are simple acts that make a difference. These simple acts are our contribution to the fight against this pandemic. Without these acts, the journey will be much longer. With them, the journey will be challenging, but shorter, and safer for all.
RE-OPEN SASKATCHEWAN – GOVERNMENT PLAN
Posted April 23, 2020
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and the province’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr Saqib Shahab just unveiled the government’s “Re-Open Saskatchewan” plan. It appears to be a thoughtful and careful plan that leaves room for making more restrictive adjustments if we were to see a spike in new COVID-19 cases. So far, the people of Saskatchewan and the government have done a good job responding to this pandemic. The people of Saskatchewan are a thoughtful people, often measured, pragmatic, and reasonable when making decisions. We are also a people that for the most part, rely on evidence to guide us. As a result, the government’s approach which may be understandably perceived by some as rushed, appears at least for now to be measured, reasonable, and guided by evidence that is overwhelmingly positive. Saskatchewan is in an enviable position in Canada and in the world. Having said this, what we are dealing with is a threat that we are still trying to understand. The downward trend in the number of new cases is good news that may be short lived. However, based on what we know today which has been a trend for over two weeks, proceeding in the manner as laid out by the province today has built-in mechanisms that will allow us to make necessary and timely adjustments should we see a sudden spike in new cases.
As far as churches are concerned, if everything were to proceed based on the 14-day cycle that allows the government to track the COVID-19 curve, June 18 would be an important date for churches to pay attention to. Assuming the current decrease in new cases holds, the government would allow public and private gatherings of up to 30 people potentially starting June 18. Some congregations especially in rural Saskatchewan have an average worship attendance of 30 people on a given Sunday. In larger congregations, strategies such as having one or more worship services with a maximum of 30 people in total at a time in the sanctuary would be acceptable under the proposed plan. Congregations need to understand that having a gathering of up to 30 people assumes that the rules of physical distancing will still apply and adequate measures are to be put in place for a minimum safety distance of two metres between individuals, with no physical interactions between individuals. This also means that other safety and hygiene measures such as sanitizing surfaces, door knobs, etc. will be strictly adhered to in order to safeguard the health and safety of people.
It is not clear when the lifting of long-term restrictions will take place, which will allow for everything to be back to full operational capacity. Data will be instrumental in guiding our health authorities as they advise our government officials on actions to take. One thing is certain, we need to continue to be cautious and abide by all the pandemic measures currently in place. Wearing face masks becomes increasingly important especially as the weather warms up and more and more people leave their homes to enjoy the nice warm weather.
Pastor Ali Tote
Radio Interview of Pastor Ali Tote about COVID-19 Pandemic
Posted March 26, 2020
Posted March 25, 2020
Maintaining our Health and Wellness during the Pandemic
These pandemic times have forced us to live in confinement in our homes with a serious disruption not only to our lives, but to our lifestyles as well. Many are now working from home and retirees have given up their leisure activities outside of their homes. Children are not going to school, and there may be a shortage of ideas about what we can do to not only be sane, but to maintain our health and wellness.
In these pandemic times, we are to resort to the creativity God has given us to make the most out of these unusual times. Sure, we are concerned about a number of things from employment to retirement savings, from our health and safety to that of our loved ones, from handling the new disruptive reality to wondering what the future holds and if or when things are going to get back to normal. In everything, we turn to God in prayer, but also, let’s not forget, in thanksgiving.
Confined in the walls of our homes most of the day, our thoughts can wander endlessly, our spirits can get bogged down in catastrophic scenarios as we idly watch hour after hour the cyclical and depressing news about the pandemic. Our sedentary bodies consequently are affected as we absorb the unending news negativity. Our mental and physical health are both affected in these trying times. With the sedentary lifestyle forced upon us by the physical confinement necessary for these pandemic times, we may find ourselves gaining weight, and growing increasingly impatient, negative, and depressed.
As a result, we need to engage in life-giving things which include doing things that enhance our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. It is essential to set a daily routine that includes appointed meal times instead of snacking all day long. Maintaining a routine as close to what we normally do in the limited space of our homes is essential. Given that we may not be as physically mobile as we normally are, we need to eat smaller food portions. Engaging in physical exercises such as walking safely in the limited space we have, stretching, doing push-ups and weight lifting if it is safe, and using electronic or video exercise games such as Nintendo Wii or Microsoft Kinect, etc. The point is not spending our time sitting on the couch all day long.
While it is important to follow the news, we should avoid watching endless news cycles about the pandemic. This distorts our view of reality and reduces our ability to see life from a bigger lens. Find things that take your mind off of the pandemic. In these challenging times, it is important that we find things that give life and engage in them. It may be knitting, reading, cooking, writing, baking, playing games such as scrabble, puzzles, working on that project that we have always wished we would complete, trying new things, new recipes, etc.. All these things will lift our spirit up. Let’s not forget to nurture your relationship with others.
Connecting with others, especially the people in our circle who may be vulnerable is a worthwhile endeavour. Let’s make use of the telephone and social media to reach out and engage others. Let’s engage in nurturing activities such as scripture reading, prayer, and faith sharing with other people over the telephone, FaceTime, Zoom, Webex, and other such social media platforms. Let’s reach out to one another in these ways to overcome the challenges of confinement and isolation.
Let’s remain healthy and well through healthy eating, daily exercise routines, engaging in things that gives us life, and connecting with other people. Let’s center ourselves in Scripture, relying on God the source of all hope who is by our side to support us in our journey through this pandemic so that we can be filled with a sense of purpose, peace and hope in the midst of the many challenges facing us.
Pastor Ali Tote
Posted March 24, 2020
Fighting the Pandemic with Physical Distancing NOT Social Distancing
When AOL Instant Messenger was launched in 1997, we did not anticipate that it was the beginning of a new social media trend that will revolutionize the way we engage each other and communicate with one another. Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger soon followed in 1999 with Windows Messenger joining them in 2001. This evolving transformation of the way we communicate with each other took place at a critical time in my personal life. I had just moved to Canada in 1998 and the emergence of these new media helped significantly cut expensive overseas phone bills. I needed to be in touch with family members, friends, and especially with my future spouse with whom I was struggling to maintain a long-distance relationship due to the high cost of phone calls. These different Messenger communications with my girlfriend at the time helped bring us together. We eventually got engaged and later got married, thanks to the use of social media. Social media brought us closer to each other by catalyzing our love for each other.
The social media of the late 1990s and early 2000s seems stone-aged compared to the sophistication of today’s social media. Hundreds if not thousands of people are able to connect instantly with one another through novel social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, smartphone text messages, Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Google+, Zoom, Webex, FaceTime, etc. Entire university courses and programs are being delivered using sophisticated social media engagement tools. Politicians have made excellent use of social media to connect with citizens. Medical exams and procedures are being performed thanks to some social media’s finest tools. For some of the ills of poor social media use, we have a significantly greater number of benefits demonstrating how good social media use has enriched our day-to-day lives. Social media has helped bring people and communities together. Social media has reduced all sorts of barriers, not the least of which has been physical barriers. Social media has increased our ability to socialize. Social media has also increased the diversity of the ways in which we socialize. Social media has bridged cultural, racial and geographic boundaries. Social media has effectively reduced physical distances between people and communities.
As we live in the golden age of social media, why are we using the phrase social distancing in our combat of the COVID-19 pandemic? It is clear that we need to stay away and self-isolate as we seek to slow down the evolution of COVID-19. We all should be ensuring that we are all observing pandemic measures by staying away from other people and keeping our physical distance from others. That is not social distancing! It is physical distancing! We are not to socially isolate ourselves from other people, quite the opposite! We are to physically isolate ourselves from other people not only in order to keep ourselves safe, but also to keep other people safe.
As we physically distance ourselves from one another, this is the moment when now more than ever, we are to socially engage each other, not socially distance ourselves from one another. We are to make sure than as we physically isolate ourselves from each other, that we are using all these social media tools starting with the telephone, to call, facetime, text, message, and engage one another more now with the pandemic than we did before. We are call not to socially distance ourselves from others, but socially engage while maintaining physical distance.
Failure to acknowledge the difference between physical distancing and social distancing may have irreparable consequences on the way we engage one another post COVID-19 pandemic. We have ample examples in the Bible where people who were sick were not only physically abandoned and isolated by their communities, but were also socially cut off. By reaching out to the outcast and the quarantined as in the case of the young man born blind in John 9: 1-41, or the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4:4-42, Jesus shows us how engaging others in love is paramount in bringing healing and wholeness to the vulnerable, the outcast, the quarantined, and in the end, to the community.
Let’s urge others including the media and authorities to review their language around distancing and stress that what is needed is physical distancing and social engagement. Both actions are needed to successfully combat his pandemic. We need to engage in the physical distancing that secures our health, while socially engaging one another for emotional, moral, spiritual, and social support needed to successfully curb this pandemic.
Pastor Ali Tote
Posted March 23, 2020
Worshiping in New Ways: The Mystery of the Body of Christ
Churches across Canada decided to close their sanctuaries for worship starting March 22 for many denominations. The Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada issued a joint letter encouraging congregations to suspend public worship as an extraordinary measure to help slow down the pandemic. This letter met a positive response from pastors and congregations. Suspension of public worship has not meant that the people of God are not worshiping.
Congregations are reconnecting more deeply with the primary definition and essence of what it means to be a congregation, or the body of Christ. The body of Christ and the congregation are not primarily defined physically. They are the body that identifies with Christ, belongs to God, and is led by the Holy Spirit. Physical gathering certainly enhances that innate sense of community and belonging.
However, the church is first and foremost the people regardless of where they are. In these pandemic times, the church is reconnecting with gathering in spirit but not physically, gathering digitally or remotely using means such as the internet, the phone, and other media to worship, study, share the word, and reach out to one another and the community. Let’s be faithful and intentionally connect with God and with one another during these pandemic times. Let’s pray for all affected by this pandemic, especially the gravely-ill, healthcare workers, first responders, families who have lost loved ones, leaders of all levels of government, people in developing countries already ill equipped to handle any kind of pandemic.
Let’s continue to gather as a worshiping community to lift our voices to God in thanksgiving and prayer, and to receive the hope from the gospel that strengthens us for this pandemic journey.
Pastor Ali Tote
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