Monday, May 24, 2021

Post Covid-19 Era Parish Life

What will be the future of the religious community after the end of the pandemic? This was the question asked in a diocese here in Korea and published in the recent issue of the Catholic Peace Weekly.

The prolonged Covid-19 virus outbreak is bringing about a big change not only in believers' religious lives but also in their religious consciousness. Believers' religious lives were neglected, and their identities as Christians were blurred. Church authority is also weakening and finances are deteriorating. In response, the church had time to reflect on what was lacking and neglected in the ministry. In the meantime, the church has been trying to find ways to restore the religious life of believers in harmony with their daily lives.

Recently, the seminar "New Normal Outlook and Response in the Post-Covid Era" held by one of the dioceses is meaningful in that it confronts the challenges of the Korean local churches and suggests a direction of ministry for the future church environment.

The Covid-19 Committee, held a seminar in May last year on the Covid-19 Consciousness. Regarding the change in believers' religious lives due to Corona 19, 76.6% of the survey respondents said that "the sense of belonging to the parish community has weakened." In the case of priests, 90 percent agreed. In addition, 71% of the respondents said, the idea of participating in Mass every week has weakened, an increase of more than 30 percent from last year. In addition, 71.7% agreed that new activities will increase to meet the demands of a new era: the climate crisis and ecological problems after the Corona pandemic.

Believers who watched the church's response for a year to the Covid-19 outbreak predicted that "the church will gradually change into a different shape from before" (45.8 percent). Most of the parishioners do not see any problem in the future.
In response, one participant suggested: "To discuss the transition, the joint agreement should be used as the principle of the ministry." For that reason, he said: "A new religious lifestyle and spirituality are required because the sphere of faith is expected to expand outside the parishes." In the meantime, he emphasized: "This area is up to laypeople, so lay spirituality and lay training will be necessary so that the laity can live their faith in the world."

An early end to the Covid-19 pandemic is overly optimistic. In addition, the end cannot be called a "return to life as before." After the end of the pandemic, society will see the digital economy accelerate and physical distancing continue. In addition, the international order will be changed to a de-globalization, each nation pursuing its own interests first, and the role of government will be expanded.

As a result, the church will change its appearance.  The number of parishioners will decrease, and church authority weakened. Religious activities, sacramental life will be restricted. This phenomenon will last for at least three to five years.

In response to these changes, the church should focus more on comforting and encouraging believers through personal communication. In addition, mid-to-long-term plans should be established, and digital-based church communication methods as used in the non-face-to-face era.
A visiting researcher warned, "If we don't learn from this crisis, the church will see  great decreases in the numbers every time we go through such a crisis." "Not only short-term but also mid-to-long-term solutions should be made at the same time," he stressed.

In the era of the Covid-19 pandemic, the church's overcoming the crisis is no different from the parish's recovery of "community". The restoration of the parish community does not mean a return to its former form. The Covid-19  pandemic reminds us that the religious life of Korean churches and believers centered on precedent, fulfillment, parish, and clergy. This needs to be reformed into the practice of faith in everyday life, a visiting ministry, a church in the world, and ministry with laymen and priests working together.
The beginning and foundation of the restoration of the parish community should be that believers are reborn as true Christians. When the parish practices working together, it becomes a community, and when it lives as a community, the joint agreement is realized.
A visiting researcher stressed, " The principle, direction, and practice of the church's identity and mission is to live in a community of fellowship. "When the parish becomes a community of friendship and missionary work, the parish community will be firmly rooted," he predicted.

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