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The Coronavirus Diaries: New Frontiers

The Coronavirus Diaries: New Frontiers

Wednesday December 2 2020

The Rev Adrian Sieunarine, minister of the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago and Principal of St Andrew’s Theological College, describes how the Church has supported the community during the pandemic.

The nation of Trinidad and Tobago is less than seven miles from the Venezuelan coast.

We awaited the onset of the novel coronavirus with trepidation. A strict lockdown was imposed in March as cases began spreading. Restrictions were relaxed briefly in July and August then reimposed. Only in November can we return to church under guidelines for limited numbers, sanitizing and social distancing. Since records began for the novel coronavirus in March, 6233 people have tested positive and 113 people have died in this country.

Not being in church for the usual stirring worship events in Lent, Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost wounded our hearts. In the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago (PCTT), in addition to having over 100 churches, we have 72 primary schools and five high schools so we are attuned to the heartbeat of the communities we serve. Many teachers, schools and students were unprepared for the introduction of online learning and the Church responded by providing electronic devices for many hundreds of people. Food insecurity was addressed by the government in partnership with us and other faith-based organisations through regular hamper distribution efforts.

In the midst of all this, in June, I was interviewed for and appointed to be Principal of St Andrew’s Theological College, the seminary of the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago, the oldest tertiary institution in Trinidad and Tobago—  established on Paradise Pasture in San Fernando in 1892. It is an ecumenical seminary which also trains people from other Protestant faiths.

I entered the doors of the College as Principal recognizing that much of the infrastructure and outlook hadn’t been equipped for the constraints and opportunities of pandemic education. All our classes had to switch abruptly from our old classroom buildings to be delivered over a lovingly donated webcam. The shared view of the warm Caribbean sea from the classrooms was replaced by the grid of faces on Zoom.

Significant moments in our Church calendar had to be cancelled or indefinitely postponed: we would usually have a National Presbyterian Sports Day on Emancipation Day, August 1. We would have a National Presbyterian Convention on Reformation Weekend at the end of October. Those were cancelled. Church meetings were now held over Zoom. An ordination on October 25 had a small group in physical attendance in the College chapel. The graduation from the College was held on October 31 at our largest church building, Susamachar (Hindi for 'Good News'), so that people could be socially distanced.

Church broadcasts of the PCTT television show Moments of Inspiration and YouTube production Church Without Walls inspired the membership and created a new online community, although they had to be made under quarantine regulations. Online theological teaching meant that people from overseas attended our classes.

Just as the writers of the epistles spread the news of Christ through the media of their time, we learned new frontiers to social media in our ongoing mission to inscribe the work of God in reforming the Church according to the vision of the Spirit for the calling of tomorrow.

The Coronavirus Diaries: reflections from Church of Scotland partners around the world

Czech Republic: A Challenge for Everybody
Switzerland: An Outpouring of Solidarity and Creativity
The West Bank: A Landscape of Broken Dreams
Nepal: So Many Premature Goodbyes
Malawi: We Must Hold Each Other Close
Nigeria: A Fresh Spiritual Connectedness
Egypt: 'This Is A Time To Witness God'
Guyana: The Strength of our Connectedness
South Korea: A Harsh Reality
Zimbabwe: Convenience or a Wake-up Call?
Sri Lanka: Service is the Highest Form of Worship
USA: Testing Positive
Portugal: The Mission of the Church Has Not Changed
World Council of Churches: A New Dawn is Upon us
Hungary: Physically Distant but Close in Spirit
A German in Scotland: Something New Has Already Begun
Myanmar: We Will Overcome this Hardship
Ghana: This Too Shall Pass
Brazil: The Least We Can Do
Kenya: Caring for One Another in Christ
An Indian in Germany: A Time of Enrichment
Argentina: Time in Between
Malawi: 'My identity in Christ remains unchanged'
Jerusalem: Being Rather than Doing
Malawi: No Lockdown and an Election
Zambia: 'I will never leave you... or forsake you'
Czech Republic: The Covid Cover-up
Zambia: 'All Life is Sacred'
Israel/Palestine: 'The Air is Clear'
Nepal: 'Please Pray for Us'
Malawi: Tough Dilemmas
Italy: 'Together, We Will Get Through It'