By Giovanni A. Flaviano
THIRD OF THREE SERIES
SINCE the beginning of the lock down, UCCP-Davao City has been steadfast with the stand that concern for public health will always be the overriding concern over religious freedom to worship. Not only does the Constitution permits it, but demands it. Moreover, obedience to the orders of the State is a God-given authority.
With the recent exclusion of religious gatherings, we can only search for ways where we can maximize pastoral ministry without overstepping the bounds of State authority, thus the idea of an online worship.
In the meantime, we still have to play catch up in terms of our response against COVID-19 – unlike Manila, Makati, Marikina, Cebu, and Valenzuela cities which have started to organize their own targeted mass testing centers, the church on its own initiative must independently establish its own COVID-19 Emergency Operations Plan or EOP akin to a Fire Exit or Earthquake Drill Preparedness Plan.
With UCCP-Davao’s membership teeming with front liners, the pastoral team must sit down with its policemen, firemen, doctors, and nurses that will form an organizational structure of ‘think tanks’ to draft an EOP in case of community transmission or in case a relapse of it occurs.
This think tank in turn must build strong alliances not only with local government but as well as with other faith leaders, community leaders, businesses, and schools where the church can learn their EOPs as well as share our own via an information-sharing system.
Aside from the fundamental mitigation strategies such as social distancing and reinforcing healthy hygiene practices, the pastoral team should first decide whether to modify specific religious rites, rituals, and services, and identify services and activities (e.g. religious worship services, meetings, and classes) that might need to be limited or temporarily discontinued during an outbreak.
There must be a monitoring and plan for absenteeism such as requiring staff to stay home when sick, even without documentation from doctors, and in such event, identify critical job functions and positions, and plan for alternative coverage by cross-training staff to help ensure that essential church functions will be covered if people must miss work.
There is also limiting church attendance and even disallowing staff, volunteers, members who are residents from barangays identified by the city government with the most number of COVID-19 community transmission.
A communication team must also be formed to address rumors or misinformation that will only cause unnecessary fear and anxiety as well as give timely, reliable information sourced from the pastoral team and church leaders.
These are just a few of the components in order for the church to be pandemic ready. Hopefully, with a unified COVID-19 disaster plan, this may also help convince not only city officials but also the public that churches are safe to open its doors and continue serving its constituents the essential service of ministering people.