The Diocese of Oxford has three diocesan links: Kimberley and Kuruman in South Africa (part of the Anglican Province of Southern Africa), Nandyal in the Church of South India, and Växjö, a diocese in the Lutheran Church of Sweden.
We also have five links through the Mothers’ Union Wave of Prayer – Ahoada and Warri in Nigeria, Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, and Victoria Nyanza in Tanzania.
How are they being affected by coronavirus and the lockdown? What does it mean for them as followers of Jesus and their life together as a church? Read their updates below.
News and Prayer Requests from the K and K Link
St Cyprian’s Cathedral, Kimberley
Awareness raising about coronavirus began early at St Cyprian’s Cathedral in Kimberley, with prayers for victims in Wuhan from early February. By mid-March, new restrictions had come into place, and it was clear to the clergy and lay leaders that a lockdown was likely – so they formulated a plan for “how to be Church in the pandemic”
Rigorous coronavirus prevention protocols were introduced for services while they were still possible, and the cathedral pew leaflet both explained these and gave general coronavirus prevention advice. Parishioners were encouraged to consider making their church contributions digitally. New protocols were also established for the cathedral’s outreach work.
On the following Sunday, parishioners entering the church were also asked to provide telephone numbers and/or email addresses, so that the parish could form a digital community.
The preparedness paid dividends when the lockdown was established shortly thereafter. A WhatsApp and then a Facebook online community were formed. The Facebook group in particular has proved immensely popular and now has almost 300 members. It’s updated daily, enabling people to stay in touch and to share worship, reflections, key communications from the province and other useful information.
You can read the Easter Week daily reflections from the Archdeacon of Kimberley, the Venerable Thomas Mhuriro (reprinted with his permission), on the Partners in World Mission website
The photographs of St Cyprian’s below were taken before the lockdown.
In Roodepan (part of the Kimberley Archdeaconry), parishioners at St Francis have been able to follow the Holy Week services through WhatsApp – as Fr Eddie Barnett shared pictures and voice note meditations with the dispersed congregation.
The parishioners have been keeping each other’s spirits up, also, through exchanging messages of encouragement on WhatsApp. One popular message gives a list of hymns, with one assigned to each month of the year. Recipients are asked to record themselves singing the hymn for their birth month and to send the recording to the person who sent them the message. The singing can lift the spirits of all involved.
Connecting for prayer
When everything is online, it doesn’t matter whether you’re 10 miles away … or 6,000. At Moulsford, there’s a daily Zoom meeting for morning prayer – which is being joined by the priest from Moulsford’s link parish, St Philip’s, Huhudi.
Dorchester Abbey and Boegoeberg
Dorchester Abbey is linked to the ‘Burning Bush’ Programme at St Philip’s, Boegoeberg. It’s a close link, with members on both sides regularly using online communications to share prayer requests and news. The Revd Canon Sue Booys, Rector of Dorchester Abbey, explains how Teresa Scheepers, a lay reader in the parish of which Boegoeberg is a part, shared in the Dorchester Easter service.
“Puzzling over the question of how one preaches the Resurrection at our staff meeting as we planned for our Zoom Easter Morning service we had one of those amazing moments that spell ‘Team’ in which we cannot say exactly how the idea arose but by the time it was fully fledged we knew it was, without a doubt, the right way to preach to our Team parishes as they came together.
We wanted to reflect the Good News of the Resurrection in stories about the response to Covid 19. Our own experience had revealed many positive stories and we knew that our increased engagement with simple online morning prayers had been ‘matched’ by Teresa’s experience in South Africa. Teresa made a video for the service which was played alongside my own very local reflections and those of Marcus Braybrooke ( on the Middle East) and Rachel Carnegie (highlights from the Anglican Communion) all of us reflecting broadly on signs of hope in the darkness and reflecting Eugene Petersens phrase that the light of Christ shines (Petersen actually uses the word plays) in 10,000 places.
Teresa tried to join us ‘in person’ for the service – unfortunately technical issues (maybe the huge use of Zoom by churches across the Communion on Sunday morning!) prevented that – we’ll save the cross-continental worship for a future service. As well as providing a remarkable opportunity for sharing and mutual support this has opened our eyes to possibilities in the future
Learning a Language at Home
One of the most popular lockdown past-times is apparently learning a new language – and our Kimberley and Kuruman youth exchange is preparing to help link parishes engage with that!
Kimberley and Kuruman has three main languages: Setswana, English and Afrikaans. Onalenna, who is with us for a year, has a brief to work with young people at one of our churches and also to help people understand the languages and culture of our link diocese. As part of that, she has developed a Setswana lesson that she can deliver online. It’s been tested on its first pupils and will give people from churches the ability to introduce themselves and hold some simple conversations when they visit their links.
Ke a leboga (Thank you), Ona!
Prayer Requests from K and K
- Reports from people in the townships say that while the government has promised to distribute food parcels, there are areas where these have not yet arrived after two weeks of lockdown. Pray for all who don’t have enough to eat. Pray for the efficient delivery of government services to vulnerable people in our link diocese and across South Africa.
- For many children in rural areas and townships, school is a place which provides both physical and mental nurture. Pray that with schools closed, alternative sources will emerge.
- As in the UK, South Africa is trying to move education online. But families living in poverty may not have access to electricity, let alone the internet, so their children risk being left behind. Pray for a willingness in government to recognise the issue and to begin to address it. Pray that the children will not suffer from their time away from education.
- In South Africa, as in every country, being in lockdown is a massive threat if you are in abusive relationship. Pray for all people at risk of domestic violence. Pray also for charities working under difficult circumstances to assist victims of domestic violence.
- Child-headed and Grandparent-headed households can be particularly vulnerable at times of economic crisis. Pray that they may be safe and able to access the resources they need.
- Pray for the police and armed forces, who are being asked to work in new situations for which they are not trained. Pray that they may do so respectfully and effectively.
News and Prayer Requests from Nandyal
Nandyal Diocese is located in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Most of the population of the diocese is in the Kurnool district of that state.
From the 25th of March until the present, India has been in lockdown. The country has had two levels of lockdown – a strict one for the whole country and then an even stricter one for areas where there are particular concerns. These are called ‘red zones’ or containment zones, and people in them are not allowed to leave their houses for any reason.
As of April 15th, Kurnool district had the second highest number of infections in the state, with 113. The city of Kurnool itself has had as many as 20 red zones within its boundaries. Our partners report that at least part of Nandyal is also now a ‘red zone’ and the news reports state that people with COVID-19 are being treated in both Kurnool and Nandyal hospitals.
While church congregations have not met since 20th March in accordance with government orders, the bishop has asked congregation members: “to stay at home and pray continuously for the benefit our congregation and also for the society at large.” In addition, clergy are finding innovative ways to lead online worship. Clergy resident at Holy Cross Cathedral in Nandyal held Holy Week services which were streamed on YouTube.
Others are also keeping in contact by other means: a priest who was in a containment zone has broadcast reflections from his home on Facebook. The church also has been working to assist the community, including by donating soap to people in need.
Our partners have asked for our prayers for the state of Andhra Pradesh and for the Kurnool district. We pray that efforts to contain the coronavirus may be successful. We pray that residents of those areas may be safe and enabled to access all the things they need for daily life.
And our partners are praying with us! Bishop Pushpa has shared the Diocese of Oxford’s suggestions for daily prayer and Bishop Olivia’s coronavirus reflections for the BBC with her followers on Facebook.
The Swedish approach to Coronavirus crisis has been different to the rest of Europe. But Rickard Bonnevier, Bishop Fredrick Modéus chaplain, has summarised the situation in our Swedish partner Diocese, Växjö.
We are not in lock-down. Schools (up to grade 9) are open, as are shops, restaurants and workplaces – but with the recommendation that anyone who can do so works from home. Gatherings of over 50 people are prohibited. All cultural events and sporting activities (except for children) are cancelled. At risk groups, especially people over 70 years are advised to avoid all social contact. Whether the Swedish model, or the model chosen by many other countries, is the most successful, I suspect researchers will debate for years.
“Do it different, don’t do nothing” as the message from the Church of Sweden when the crisis broke out.
Initially, the government had set a limit where people gathering over 500 people were banned. As long as that limit was in place (until March 29), most congregations continued to celebrate worship pretty much as usual, but with some adjustments; Peace greeting at the Mass took place with a glance, nod or waving gesture, communion was given in most churches by intinction and the elderly were encouraged not to participate in communal worship.
When the 50-person limit was set, many congregations faced a dilemma. In the letter Bishop Fredrik wrote, he emphasized the responsibility of the incumbent to decide on the parish’s worship life. The majority of our churches have fewer than 50 people, especially when everyone over 70 stays home. But, it was emphasized, everyone has a responsibility to prevent the virus spreading. Most incumbents chose to continue worshiping as before, but they counted numbers carefully at the door so that no more than 50 people were in church. Many congregations began broadcasting all or part of the service on social media.
Just over a week later, the Public Health Authority produced new directives. This led Bishop Fredrik to advise parishes that it was now difficult to hold public services. Only smaller, rural congregations have continued to hold services in-person.
Worship however continues, with church bells ringing and someone being in church praying. The bishop’s letter recommends worship be via:
- Webcasts and services
- Telephone calls with prayer and blessing, with the church bells
- Sharing preaching and intercessions;
- Sharing provisions for home devotions and Bible study;
- Referring people to worship services in radio and television;
- Offering the opportunity for individual communion.
The transition has been rapid, with increased telephone contact and pastoral care for older people. The Swedish Church, together with The Red Cross, has been tasked by the authorities to help with buying food and pharmacy products for those in at-risk groups.
Telephone soul care conversations (“On-call priest” which is reached via the national emergency number 112) have increased significantly in March and April compared with the corresponding months in previous years. One effect of people spending more time in their homes than before is that there is a risk of already vulnerable people being put in an even more dangerous situation. This can be about violence in close relationships, abuse, and children and adolescents who need to spend time with parents who may not always be the good parents they should be. Here the congregations have risen to the challenge in an admirable way – often in collaboration with other agents such as women’s refuges.
The Swedish Church has a state responsibility for funerals for everyone living in the country. We’ve had to be prepared for an increase in deaths. There are indications that there has been twice the number of deaths in the Stockholm area as in previous years. The bishops have emphasized that burials should take place as soon as possible after death. For relatives who cannot participate in the service, they may be streamed on the Internet. There is clear ethical advice on this from Bishop Fredrick. Most baptisms and marriages have been rebooked for a later date, as have the spring confirmations.
During April, Bishop Fredrik has called for the Diocese’s church bells to ring every day at 5pm and for people to pray for the sick, the dying, those who mourn, healthcare professionals and decision-makers.
In recent weeks, Bishop Fredrik has also prioritized his presence on social media, especially Facebook. Last Friday, for example, he published a prayer, “The Caregiver’s Prayer”, which he wrote with his wife Carina who is a doctor.
Of course, there is much more to say, feel free to contact you for additional questions. And to borrow Vera Lynn’s words: “We’ll meet again …”
The Caregiver’s Prayer (Translated by the Revd Hugh White)
God, thank you for the responsibility of caring,
but now I’m anxious:
about not being adequate,
about people I’m looking after not getting better,
about the risk of being forced to make difficult choices,
about people being forced to die alone.
God, thank you for my healthy body,
but now I’m frightened:
about getting infected myself,
about continuity of care breaking down,
about lack of medication for breathing difficulties and anxiety,
about the protective equipment not being adequate.
God, thank you for strength and the satisfaction work can bring,
but now I’m tired:
of long working days and extra shifts,
of pain in legs and back and strong emotions,
of high alert and constant waiting,
of all the decisions that have to be made.