Several congregations of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA) have re-opened their doors for public worship during the pandemic, with many considering or postponing the decision – a move welcomed by UPCSA General Secretary Rev Lungile Mpetsheni. In Rev Mpetsheni’s letter in mid-September, he affirmed that careful environmental analyses of each congregation should form the basis of the decision, and reiterated that the respective government protocols and regulations should be adhered to.

The UPCSA General Secretary also commended the ministers and leadership who overcame difficulties to provide pastoral care and counselling for their church members through digital media, ministering to those facing the loss of loved ones, health, jobs or income, or gender-based violence arising from victimisation in society.

During their virtual consultation held on 5 September, the UPCSA and Clerks of Presbyteries identified key areas for churches to prioritise as they re-open for worship, which spans three broad areas – psycho-social and spiritual support; administrative support; and promotion of gender justice.

Psycho-social and spiritual support should be provided to not just congregation members but also ministers and leaders, the wounded healers of UPCSA.  Activities to remedy the trauma and loss suffered include conducting memorial services to honour the lives of the departed since people could not attend burial services; and providing and focused ministry to children and youth. Now that many youths have lost their parents, some families are headed by children who are also anxious about the academic year. Avoiding the second wave of COVID-19 infections requires planning a hybrid of physical and virtual church services.

In the area of administrative support, systems were rendered obsolete by safety protocols to curb COVID-19, and a lack of technological know-how, infrastructure, or/and access to devices hampered ministry and administrative needs. Loss of income and business closures of church members affected cash flow in congregations, and church ministers and workers were unable to receive stipends and salaries.

Several recommendations were made, such as training and up-skilling of ministers and leaders to use technological devices. They are encouraged to channel funds set aside for travelling to meetings to provide data for people to access virtual meetings. It is also imperative to improve communication systems for maximum reach, and formulate other ways of ensuring financial sustainability.