World impacts of COVID-19 take centre stage for Global Relations

Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the West Bank: A policewoman wearing a mask stands guard at a roadblock in the city of Qalqilya in the Palestinian Territories. Photo: Abu Adel/Shutterstock
Published April 6, 2020

Like other ministries of General Synod, Global Relations has seen its plans for 2020 upended by the spread of COVID-19 across Canada and around the world.

“The pandemic has increasingly become the focus of Global Relations conversations and our meetings with colleagues and partners,” director Andrea Mann says. “While we’ve tried to maintain space in those conversations and energy for other work, it’s quickly becoming apparent that…this moment of COVID-19 is taking priority.”

Global Relations, she adds, is currently in the “first stages of gathering information” on how the pandemic is affecting some of its ongoing work, such as working to end human trafficking or to address the exploitation of migrant workers.

In one sense, Global Relations was already accustomed to what has become the “new normal” under COVID-19: because of the vast distances separating them, Anglicans involved in international ministries have long held many of their meetings through conference calls or online video chat.

Still, many face-to-face gatherings have been postponed or cancelled amidst the shutdown of national and international travel. But in her conversations with the church’s global partners, Mann has felt a sense of solidarity across the Anglican Communion.

“Life has changed day to day for people,” she says. “We’re all in this new normal which is a struggle, a challenge, and every day we’re figuring [it] out as we go along.”

Despite the common threat of COVID-19, the pandemic is affecting countries in different ways or to different degrees.

In many parts of the world, Mann says, there is a “real fear” that oppressive states will use the pandemic to increase their power to monitor, arrest and detain people “in ways that do not comply with their human rights” or that do not ensure safe conditions.

The economic dislocation that has accompanied the pandemic is also finding expression in the relationship between the Anglican Church of Canada and partners in other countries. The latter have made appeals to the church to “continue to consider them as we raise funds” for their ministries, Mann says.

“There is some anxiety that the traditionally generous North will perhaps turn inwardly, and that’s totally understandable,” she says. “We’re not being asked to do something that we cannot do, but…there is an anxiety that the comparatively wealthy North will…not have the funds to share with partners in contexts where life is more precarious.

“Their prayer to us is that we just continue to pray and to continue to consider the needs of the widest communion possible.”

The Episcopal diocese of Jerusalem (EDJ) offers an example of how COVID-19 is affecting the church’s international partners.

On March 5, the Palestinian Authority ordered the closing of all educational institutions, mosques and churches for one month, and on April 3 extended the state of emergency in the occupied territories for another month. Israeli authorities also closed off the entire Bethlehem area. As a result, many Anglican churches in the diocese have been closed.

In Jerusalem itself, the EDJ has had to close St. George’s School because so many of its teachers and staff come from Bethlehem. The diocese has also partially closed its Princess Basma Centre, which provides services for children with disabilities in Palestine—though children’s rehabilitation, special needs and mothers’ classes are continuing. Travel restrictions have led to cancellations at St. George’s Guesthouse and St. George’s College, with the latter cancelling all classes until at least Easter.

In a March 11 letter to global partners, Archbishop Suheil Dawani said that the decreasing number of pilgrims had placed “a huge burden on poorer families.” The downturn has been especially hard for those living in the Bethlehem area, where the economy is “largely dependent upon the pilgrim ministry, which has ground to a halt: The Church of the Nativity is closed, hotels are empty, and the normally busy market streets are now barren.”

Archbishop Dawani made three requests to the diocese’s partners: to set up and advertise a special relief fund for those affected by the crisis; to encourage pilgrimages to resume as soon as possible after the crisis has passed to “restore normalcy”; and to join the diocese in praying for those afflicted by COVID-19 and resulting economic hardships around the world.

With the Anglican Church of Canada’s annual observance of Jerusalem Sunday set to take place this year on May 24, Global Relations is currently preparing resources to help people mark the occasion. The resources will take into account that many Canadian Anglicans may still not be holding face-to-face meetings by then—and that while some parishes will gather for online worship, other Anglicans may not feel comfortable worshipping virtually.

Mann says the Jerusalem Sunday advisory council has been considering how to prepare resources that invite people into a more “contemplative piety, so that individuals have resources that are appropriate for themselves to remember or celebrate the ministries of the diocese of Jerusalem, or with one or two other people.”


  • Matthew Puddister

    Matthew Puddister (aka Matt Gardner) is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He also supports General Synod's corporate communications.

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