Churches say Covid-19 affecting social structures
Masvingo (New Ziana) –The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly affected the social structures of communities, including churches and pastors whose sources of income were disrupted by the ban on gatherings while families could not visit each other, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) has said.
The national lockdown which the government first introduced in March last year saw the banning of church and funeral gatherings and required people to stay at home.
In a report on the impact of the worldwide pandemic on communities, the ZCC said the pandemic affected social lives of the people across the country.
“For instance, traditional leaders in all the provinces highlighted the distressing realities presented by families’ inabilities to grieve and bury their loved ones in ways proper to custom and religious practices,” the ZCC said.
“There were also clear disruptions of family relations as the movement of people was restricted and this brought difficulties especially in the extended family set-up in rural and peri-urban settings. People would normally be accustomed to visiting each other and sharing in the social intricacies of life as relatives, friends and loved ones. The study unearthed the scourge of stigma and discrimination that has been experienced by many people who tested positive to COVID-19. An already struggling social sector was further disrupted mainly with regards to health and education issues,” it further said.
Very few churches had incorporated the use of technology with many relying on the traditional flow of activities such as the payment of tithes and offerings.
Pastors whose major role is to minister to congregants while relying on them for financial support as they do not have alternative income sources had their welfare affected by the lockdown.
The situation is the same with churches that rely on the same source of financial support.
“A major characteristic of a church is fellowship through gatherings; yet, COVID-19 measures disrupted this. While church services were now being held virtually and later only a restricted number of congregants were allowed to gather, attendance was generally affected. Churches rely on support from congregants hence disruption of church routines affected the traditional income sources for the churches. The welfare of the pastors was also seriously affected as they do not have alternative income sources,” the ZCC said.
In order to deal also with social pressures and to cope up with distress and mental issues, pastors and other members of the community embarked on home-based projects such as gardening and poultry production.
According to the report, risky and illegal adaptive measures were also adopted including illegal mining, illegal transport operations; flouting of curfew regulations, illicit brewing and consumption of substances as well as illegal border crossing.
The pandemic and its attended restrictions also resulted in an increase in gender-based violence (GBV) and substance abuse, violation of children’s rights through child labour, rise in girl child’s vulnerabilities and rise in juvenile delinquency.
On a positive note, the ZCC said the pandemic brought about the use of social media and electronic platforms by churches to reach out to their church members.
Some churches made use of the local radio and television channels to reach to their members with others opening and managing their social media platforms such as Youtube, WhatsApp, and Facebook.
However, communication data bundles and network accessibility in rural areas were a major challenge, thus, the study found that some innovative measures became a source of new inequalities as only those with access to technology and could afford the associated costs were able to participate in virtual activities.