This week, we focus once again on the writing of Social Worker Melisse Ogilvie in relation to the reopening of churches and the ederly, an issue which provokes different arguments and school of thought.
Ogilvie said that recently, there has been much discussion around the regulations for the reopening of places of worship during this COVID-19 pandemic. The new regulations not only seek to ensure that worship is done safely, but challenges the way we fellowship with each other. Many people potentially adversely affected by these regulations are those 70 years and older.
She argues that for many in the elderly population, spirituality and religion are important components of their lives since religion has been found to promote emotional well-being and provide a higher level of life satisfaction for people. It provides coping strategies through faith in God, having friends from church and participating in church activities. The absence of this could see a deterioration in the physical and emotional health of this population.
As the elderly contends with the decline in their physical abilities, loss of friends and relatives through death, they become vulnerable to low self- esteem. They also have to deal with the feeling of incompetence due to the loss of control over their own lives. Additionally, we also understand that environmental factors, such as reduced physical and mental activity, insecurity, the lack of someone to talk to, negative outlook and prolonged stress could speed up the aging process, the Social Worker added.
Most of us will agree that as a people, we all desire a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships. The place of worship provides this for many of us, and in our culture the elderly makes up a huge part of the congregation. Even home visits by religious leaders are now discouraged.
Ogilvie is of the opinion that as long as we are in this pandemic, and there is a need for protocols and regulations, this group of people will be at risk of loneliness and social isolation. It could compound some of the emotional concerns they experience as they age. A great concern would be for those who live alone and who do not have ways of staying connected to family and friends. How do we get them to adjust to this new normal, given that they are also coping with the changes and challenges that this stage of life brings?
In recognizing that we should not leave them alone at home, she recommends that as family and neighbours, we should make continued effort to call or visit them, while exercising the necessary protocols of course. With the likelihood of changes in their moods, they elderly also need support and encouragement, understanding and patient. We should also offer gentle reassurance and give practical support by running errands such as paying bills for them to stay connected to services. Additionally, the challenge is for religious leaders to have more intentional, yet inclusive outreach programmes that connect people beyond the place of worship. Many of our elderly may not be able to participate in online services since they may not know how to operate some modern devices. Therefore, creative ways need to be found to ensure that they continue to be involved.
As a society, let us continue to allow our elderly to experience their later years positively, in spite of the pandemic.
Pope Francis once said, “No elderly person should be like an, “exile” in our families. The elderly are a treasure for our society.” Let us consider and treat them as the treasures that they are.
An Anglican priest said that people should understand that the protocols are put in place to protect everyone and while he is happy to be able to minister once again to his congregation in church, he is making all necessary adjustments. He pointed to the fact that practices in the church would definitely have to be revisited.
Weddings and baptisms are now allowed; but with the social distancing in place, the traditional practices for those ceremonies will definitely have to be tweaked. On a lighter side, it will be interesting to see just what happens when the priest announces “you may kiss the bride;” or what happens in baptisms which requires the priest to hold the baby.
Bottom line, the situation calls on all of us to agree that we must protect ourselves from the deadly coronavirus.