In March, the entire world became affected with a virus that presented a monumental challenge, incorporating all of us into efforts to deal effectively with it, for a duration beyond any reliable predictions. Easter has arrived, and COVID-19 is still with us.
The fallout in which we now live—the economic repercussions of the novel coronavirus pandemic—is not an ordinary problem that macroeconomics can solve. Rather, it may be that we are facing a fundamental shift in the very nature of the global economy. As we’re now learning, pandemics can cause economic damage through multiple channels—economic, social and political—including short-term fiscal shocks as well as long-term negative impacts to economic growth. An immediate crisis relates to supply and demand. Supply falls as companies close down or reduce workloads to protect workers from contracting COVID-19. If a meat processing plant can’t stay open due to illness, less meat appears at the grocery store. But demand doesn’t escape this, either—the collapse in oil prices, which will have a profound effect on Canada, shows that declining demand also comes with pandemic. We have a global trading system that holds supply and demand together in tension, without which industry could come to a halt.
As I watch these substantial economic costs emerge, it’s easy to see the worry that many face—the worry that I feel, too. At the Anglican Foundation of Canada, we continue to do whatever we can to financially support parishes and faith communities across the country in these challenging times. My work is dedicated to helping churches thrive, including economically, but I know many will turn attention towards survival in the months ahead. There cannot be a thriving economy until we are comfortable returning to a more normal sense of life, including our workplaces, without fear of disease or even death. The church is a part of our global economic system: the income you donate, the investments the church holds, the bills we pay to keep our buildings intact and functional. Thus, we are not immune to these economic costs.
As we work towards surviving disruptions in the global economy, I must say that I see the church embracing a new life in God’s economy. We now have countless examples of how churches can be a valuable resource during a pandemic by providing a sense of community—through Facetime, Facebook Live, Zoom and other platforms that bring people together virtually. When people are fearful, lonely or anxious, these connections can act like a life-line. Many churches are inviting congregants to log on to a worship service that includes familiar music, hymns, prayers and a sermon—and time with their fellow worshippers. Some churches are even hosting virtual coffee hours. The clergy of a Presbyterian church in downtown Toronto hosts a two-hour, weekly call-in discussion group that had been an in-person meeting before the pandemic. This weekly group, Globe & Faith, is now more popular than ever, with a surprising number of new people joining via Zoom and teleconference.
A revolution in how much we connect and share seems underway. Many clergy are making themselves available for daily check-in phone calls. There are inspirational messages, audio reflections and sermons on websites. Church organists are providing beautiful music on organ and piano for people to see and hear.
The church’s work hasn’t just been online, either. Congregants shop for those who cannot. They message, text and Skype with one another. Groups have organized to make daily check-in phone calls. In parishes large and small, faithful Anglicans have broken the isolation, loneliness and fear brought to us by COVID-19.
COVID-19 reminds us that we all depend on each other. Churches can mobilize to meet many of the spiritual and emotional needs of their congregants. We can face the economic disruptions ahead not as people isolated in our homes but as human beings who are deeply connected to one another. The economy may well struggle in the months ahead. But how rich we are.
Canon Judy Rois is CEO and executive director of the Anglican Foundation of Canada. She teaches at Trinity College at the University of Toronto and Queen’s College in St. John’s, N.L.