Keeping the faith in a time of fear, illness and loss

The Muizenberg Hebrew Congregation building

Clerics are the ones the faithful turn to in a crisis, but how do they counsel and comfort their congregants in a time of physical distancing and other Covid-19 restrictions? KAREN KOTZE spoke to three religious leaders from different faiths to find out.

Methodist church minister Reverend Olivia le Roux says Fish Hoek parishioners are telling numerous stories of sadness, despair, abandonment; of Covid fatigue. But, there are also stories of hope.

Ministers and care givers have learned to find creative ways to be present and give comfort from a distance, she says.

“Those who were not active and equipped to engage on social media accepted the challenge. Members of 70 and 80 years of age have successfully conquered the giant.“

At the start of the pandemic, she says, churches were flooded with calls for food, medical care and shelter.

“We came face to face with our limitations when we had to acknowledge that we can not help everybody.”

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa mobilised a disaster relief forum, distributing aid throughout the Cape of Good Hope Synod.

Simon’s Town Methodist Church

“We’re still faced with the sense of failure of not being able to be everywhere all the time,“ says Revered Le Roux, ”and we are acknowledging the despair within our own pastoral hearts when we have to choose whose funeral to conduct, when all funerals are urgent, particularly if it’s a Covid infected death.“

The losses have been significant and deeply felt, she says.

“We have lost a number of members in our churches, including beloved colleagues. Funerals were conducted under strict Covid-19 regulations with limited numbers and kept as short as possible.“

Members missed physical gatherings, she says, but the impact of the first wave and then the second made them realise the need for physical distancing. And they were reminded of the essence of their calling, to become a “scattered church”, ministering where the need is.

“We share our message of hope with the world during this pandemic and that hope is only found in the messiah,” she says.

Imam Ederees Daniels, of the Muizenberg Mosque, says neither the pandemic nor the regulations have upset his congregation.

“For us Muslims, this isn’t something new or difficult,“ he says, ”because every Muslim knows besides the fact that life is a blessing, it is also a test and we are contented and pleased, whatever befalls us.“

His community has not lost anyone to Covid-19 and he has not needed to perform any more funerals than usual, he says. And he says it has been with the help of Allah that the community has managed to work around the changes to funerals that Covid-19 has brought.

Asked what his counsel is to those worried about the pandemic, he says: “Believe firmly in God Allah Almighty; don’t stop praying, repent on a daily basis, show much concern for one another, and follow the protocol of our country: this is also part of our faith.“

Muizenberg Mosque

Ryan Newfield is the rabbi for the Muizenberg Synagogue.

The local Jewish community has been cautious and has adhered to all government lock downs and regulations, he says.

The community has migrated to online activities and WhatsApp groups help it to stay connected.

Some members of the community have fallen ill with Covid-19, but there have been no deaths and he is grateful for that, he says.

The few funerals he has held during lockdown have been very different from what he is used to. “Firstly, the amount of people attending is smaller, because of gathering risks and regulations, but the families of the deceased understand this and are not upset with the smaller numbers.“

Funerals are now also recorded and shared with mourners around the world through a live feed.

“Then, the burial society is very strict with funerals and does not allow any touching between people, so giving hugs of comfort and greeting is not allowed. They explain that the funerals are spreader events and at the cemetery the funerals should be quick. Also, sanitisation of the hands is done multiple times to make sure anything passed between people is not infected.“

Rabbi Newfield says it is okay to feel however you feel, that no-one can pretend it is not scary to be at risk of a life-threatening virus.

“We all feel the impact of sickness, staying at home, no schools, impacted business, loss of jobs and everything else that we are experiencing. I personally suggest using this time as a reminder that your life is the biggest blessing that you will ever experience.“

Steer clear of apathy and despair, he says. Eat healthily and exercise, focus on your emotional well-being, check in with family and friends frequently, keep set routines and take on new learning, spending time in meditation or prayer.

“Once you have figured out what helps, do not be shy to share that info with others. We’re all looking for ways to add meaning and happiness at this time”, he says.

“We owe it to our children to be strong and do what it takes to get through this as better people than when we came into this situation.”