The role of the church in community support during public health crises was the subject of discussion during the latest instalment of the LeadUP: Alumni Thought Leadership webinar, presented by the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Alumni Relations Office.
The online panel discussion was moderated by Lance Thomas, Project Manager at the Centre for Faith and Community in UP’s Faculty of Theology and Religion, and featured alumni guests, faculty members and community workers.
“The first hard lockdown saw UP and Unisa [the University of South Africa] act together and collaborate, a full-on war room, on how were going to provide shelter, social work support, health screening and medical healthcare to assist the homeless across the region,” said Dr Geneviève James, Deputy Director of Community Engagement and Outreach at Unisa.
“We had to come together,” she added. “When we found ourselves in a time of crisis, it was not time to seek self-promotion for our isolated brands, but a time to mount a monumental campaign of solidarity for those who the city may not have prepared for. We came together in shared interests with the shared world with shared resources insights and networks [in an effort to] share the development gains and development benefits with participating communities in civil societies.”
Reverend Thabiso Mashiloane, Chief Executive Officer at HospiVision, an NGO that provides spiritual care to patients, staff and family members in hospitals, also featured on the panel. “When hard lockdown came, HospiVision came in to represent the families of patients who were not allowed visitors in hospital wards. We also realised that healthcare givers needed attention and motivation, because they had never seen people die at such a high rate before. So spiritual healing was needed, as they had anxieties and fears. We have not ministered such a huge number prior the pandemic. Another issue was that this pandemic exposed what is essential – and the work of pastors is essential.”
Professor Stephan de Beer, Director for the Centre for Faith and Community, pointed out that some people found themselves homeless as a result of the pandemic. He added that he found himself asking the following question: how does theology contribute to a good, inclusive city? “How do we make space for the vulnerable and excluded in our city? During the first hard lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa challenged municipalities to create shelters for homeless people for the duration of lockdown. But the city was not ready for this crisis.”
Adding to the conversation was Prof Jannie Hugo, former Head of UP’s Department of Family Medicine and current Lead Academic for Community Oriented Primary Care, who said that the pandemic made it clear that the state is unable to do all the work in society. There are many layers to society, and the church is one of them, he said, adding that the church can be seen as a definite player in making society a better place to live. “During the pandemic, we were under the impression that the state will take the lead and the rest of society would support that, and that included universities. In the end, we needed to collaborate with each other. In future, we need to look more at churches for collaborations and to facilitate collaborations.”