‘Living is the new winning’: Pastors share emotional pain of pandemic

Johannesburg Catholic priest Father Lawrence Mduduzi Ndlovu.
Picture: Supplied

As the third wave of Covid-19 continues to rage across the country, many pastors are drawing on reserves to cope under the strains and weariness felt in recent months.

The emotional strain of the epidemic is taking a toll on not only congregants but also church leaders.

“I can say we are praying up a storm [to keep on going], but I will be lying. I have lost aunts, uncles, friends and my best friend died last week from Covid-19. We have households who are in poverty. I had to watch a person who was like a mother to me die in a Covid-19 ward at Milpark Hospital this week. To be honest, we are taking it one day at a time,” Johannesburg Catholic priest Father Lawrence Mduduzi Ndlovu said.

Ndlovu said this week alone he had to do three funerals for congregants who died of Covid-19. “I have been informed of another one for next week, so you just go as it goes.

“Unfortunately there is not sufficient care and support for us. In terms of wellness [counselling], there isn’t really anything for priests and people who are working in that kind of space.”

Ndlovu, who contracted the virus last year, said as he tries to console congregants who are testing positive for the virus, his own family and loved ones are not spared.

“Right now, my own sister and stepmother have tested positive for Covid-19. You have to be a brother for somebody and a priest to another. It’s been very tough. Our people call us because they want us to pray with them.”

Ndlovu said church leaders continuously need to find new ways to try lead their congregations into what is likely to be a new world of prayer, worship and religious practices — guidance and grief counselling too.

“I can’t tell you how many phone calls I have done and prayer meetings I have done over the phone. A friend of mine was driving her mother to hospital [when she phoned but unfortunately her mom] didn’t make it.

“I have been [half] joking to friends of mine, saying that after all of this I want to go on some sort of a mini-sabbatical, because it’s the most difficult and painful thing to go through.

“It is one thing to be offering support to people, but it is a whole other thing when you yourself are also affected in many ways. It has drawn us to the depths of our humanity.

“We live in a time where living is the new winning. The only thing that keeps me going is the fact that I am awake and healthy. The most basic things have become the most precious things.”

Senior pastor at Borwa Fellowship of Believers in Westonaria, Rev Zakes Jali.
Senior pastor at Borwa Fellowship of Believers in Westonaria, Rev Zakes Jali. Picture: Supplied

Senior pastor at the Borwa Fellowship of Believers in Westonaria, Rev Zakes Jali, told TimesLIVE they had to relocate their church in town to the township to be closer to the congregation.

“Before the first lockdown, our numbers had started picking up well and the finances were sufficient to run the church’s weekly needs, like the keyboard player’s stipend, electricity, food parcels for the needy families, and some pastoral allowance,” Jali said.

“Since the lockdown, our church never recovered and all those weekly expenses are now the pastor’s responsibility. Being affected in my own personal finances, I have been struggling to sustain the church from my own pocket. I had to terminate the keyboard player agreement, we now use backtracks.”

The church also had to cancel the food parcels and he is only able to assist in worst-case scenarios from his own pocket. But that has not been sufficient.

“I ended up having to call friends and family members to assist me. All this can be very stressful as we preach a gospel of provision and it feels so wrong to become a beggar just to survive and assist others to survive.

“The adjusted level 4 added salt on the bleeding wound. I do understand that government has a duty to protect lives and hence the closure of congregational services. However, those depending on the offering of the saints are left exposed to poverty and depression.”

Kwaito legend turned pastor Kabelo Mabalane. File photo.
Kwaito legend turned pastor Kabelo Mabalane. File photo. Picture: Alon Skuy

Head of pastoral care at Rhema Church, Kabelo Mabalane, said religious leaders were not immune to the pandemic.

“Like everybody else there are some who’ve lost loved ones, there are some who have someone under their spiritual care in hospital fighting for their lives or they themselves are affected with the virus,” he said.

“Truth be told, this has taken a toll emotionally. But we have the privilege of having the life-infused, life-giving word of God at our disposal and that is what is assisting and ensuring those who are still standing to persevere.”

Mabalane said he highlighted to the pastors of the church that he tries to fill his cup first before filling someone else’s.

“How can you refresh [others] if you yourself aren’t refreshed? It’s vital to serve from a place of overflow rather than emptiness, especially because pastors give so much of themselves. It’s part of the calling.

“Like many organisations, we have had to look at various ways of how we can ‘keep the main things the main things’ and strive to be as prudent as possible with our resources in this temporary unsettling period.

“I have lost an uncle, colleagues and friends to Covid-19. I am a survivor myself and the gratitude of still being here is one of things I use to keep me going.”

By Iavan Pijoos – TimesLIVE