Dr Anthony Bong Delefuente, Program Director of Arrow Leadership Philippines, talks about the Filipino church during the COVID-19 lockdown.
This is the 44th day (as of May 13th) of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) here in Bacolod City, and in other parts of the Philippines.
The Greater Metro Manila area has had the quarantine longer since they had a lockdown a full-week earlier than the rest of the country. ECQ means strict protocols on social distancing, leaving the house, business operations, public transportation and such. This also includes prohibition on holding public gatherings including worship services and other religious activities that would require meeting with a group of people.
A number of churches were quick to adapt by holding worship services through online steaming through various social media platforms. On any given Sunday, one could “surf” the Facebook newsfeed, for example, for variety of preachers. The quality of these streamings may vary according to technological expertise and facilities, of course. But it is heartwarming to see churches undaunted by the restriction, and found ways to communicate the Gospel through various means. Small groups have also quickly adapted and met through various apps for meetings and classes. However, access to the internet is not always feasible – especially in the more remote parts of the Philippines. There might be limited internet access, for one. Also, economic conditions would also disable some churches from offering online services as they do not have the facility, the capability or access to the internet.
Financial difficulties soon became apparent since many churches derive their income from tithes and offerings on Sundays. At our church, we have adopted 20 pastors from the rural areas of the island by sending them financial, and food assistance. We have also given assistance to communities that are vulnerable. While the government has promised to help through social amelioration program, it is clearly not enough to cover the needs of the community. Many of our Arrow Leadership alumni are leaders of churches and organizations that are also involved in offering assistance and aid to the community.
The ECQ will be lifted in most parts of the country on May 15. Our prayer is that this will help ease the restrictions so we can reach communities that were difficult to get to due to travel restrictions. We are now in dialogue with the city government as to what steps we will take to safeguard public health when we will start holding public gatherings like worship services. We pray the dialogue will be productive.