faith in action

COVID-19: We're in this together

Rev. Hilde Marie Movafagh, Rector, Systematic Theology and Missiology at the MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society in Oslo, writes that we are facing the COVID-19 pandemic together.

For three weeks now, Norwegian society has been largely closed due to COVID-19.

Schools and daycares were closed, all who could were encouraged to work from home, most service-businesses were closed such as hairdressers and physical therapist, playgrounds and sport centers closed. We cannot be more than five people together, and always with two meters between us, unless we live in the same household.

When the first positive tests were done, the virus could be tracked and the persons isolated. For a week or so, the advice was to wash your hands, keep distance and cough in your elbow. As soon as the first positive test that could not be tracked and isolated showed up, stricter regulations were made, and this is what happened three weeks ago.

At the moment, we have 44 deaths, 320 hospitalized and almost 5,000 positive tests. We are only 5 million people, so the numbers are high. We do have a crisis.

Many people have also been sick but not tested, so there are a lot more than 5000 who have the virus. The curve is now flattening. It is not as steep as the first week, and not anymore as steep as for instance Italy, Spain, or USA. Early efforts to fight the virus have probably worked, but the curve is still going up, and we do not know when it will turn, or if the slightly positive trend will continue.

In our family, we have all been at home – adults having a home-office, the 7-year old having school at home. We started a week earlier than the rest of the country due to positive tests at our kid’s school. The schools here already use digital tools so every morning our son gets the work of the day from his teacher on his iPad. I am impressed how teachers have just turn around and become skilled at teaching from a distance.

On the other hand, having a home-office with no less work to do than usual, but with a kid constantly needing encouragement to keep on doing his math, help doing his science-project or baking-homework, a cat that enjoys the company and prefers laying on the keyboard – well, it needs creative solutions, and extended TV-time for the kid as parents are on zoom several times a day.

A relaxing day at office when all this is over will be a bliss. I am rector of the seminary which luckily is situated at MF Norwegian school of theology, religion and society who has been excellent in making new plans for how to help students finish their semester. All exams were made home-exams, all teaching and counselling were digitalized, and the communications-department available 24/7 for stressed teachers having to improve their digital skills over-night. We all have done extremely well! Several of my colleagues have been ill with the disease, but none of them hospitalized.

We live only 5 minutes away from one of the hospitals in larger Oslo, the hospital that have had the most COVID-19-related deaths, and several of the parents we know in the area work at the hospital. This means we have many to care for, and it means that our stress at home with our new situation is constantly set in perspective. People hurt in this, and we do not.

Our family does not suffer for financial reasons due to this crisis, but many people do. Many, many people are out of work. We are lucky to be a country with resources and with established democratic systems that are able to handle a crisis. People who are out of work get their paycheck from the state now, students who lost their part-time-income will also get an extra stipend, artists and other who are independent workers will get a paycheck based on their income the past months, and so on.

Businesses gets financial support to survive the crisis as loans, reduction or postponement of taxes, or plain cash to pay their bills. This is extremely expensive for the society, but politicians make many efforts for the damage to be as little as possible and for society to carry the costs, not individuals.

On the other hand, there are always vulnerable people in the society, and these are not met with these initiatives. We have focused on children from fragile families now being at risk for violence or abuse, on the paperless who cannot buy food when use of cash is prohibited, on addicts of different kinds, who are vulnerable to get the virus and not able to care for themselves fully.

Before the crisis, there were much focus on refugees, especially in over-filled camps in Syria and Greece. All processes of helping them have stopped. These days, a demonstration is going on online to help the children in these camps before the virus attacks. An initiative is to set to collect 7,500 pairs of children’s shoes on a beach to illustrate their needs.

The shoes will of course be sent to the camp. The needs of the vulnerable are just as severe as always, but enlarged and forgotten in times of our own crises where we all care for our own families. I am so happy to see initiatives for seeing others and for seeing global perspectives on this crisis.

Because this crisis is global. I hope that we will be able to provide equipment and experience to other countries as the virus makes its journey around the globe. It is very clear that we cannot fight this alone but need to stick together and help each other out.

The churches have been creative in finding new ways of doing ministry. Many of them have live-streams services with maximum 5 persons present. Many pastors and deacons have provided online devotions and other initiatives. Sunday-schools have taken place on zoom. Musicians have made their live music available online. Most of these people have not live-streamed anything before. Their level of digital competence have improved a lot in just a few days. All kinds of church-meetings, seminars and conferences have been moved online, and we have been used to talk to people on a screen.

When the crisis is over, I hope that some of these creative ways of doing ministry will still be around in addition of course to the revived opportunity to actually meet people live again.

Churches have also started prepare for what happens after the crisis. Humorously, we have said that the result of the social distancing will be a lot of new babies and a lot of divorces. But there is a truth in this. The babies will be a joy to deal with. Churches prepare now to provide family-therapy for families who have found this experience hard, to those who have lost their loved ones and where grief did not get its proper place, and to all those experiencing loneliness, and whatever will show up and the end of this.

There will be times after this where we need each other more than ever, and where the ministry of the church is to help healing and fellowship to take place.

In the midst of it all, we follow the news, both here and globally, and we care for all those of you who are a few weeks behind us and have COVID-19 entering your shores now. We share your pain – and we fight it together.