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The Coronavirus Diaries: "We Mourn Each Loss"

The Coronavirus Diaries: "We Mourn Each Loss"

Wednesday March 31 2021

The Rev Aaron Stevens, minister of St Columba's Church, Budapest, looks back on a year with moments of success and humour, but too much loss of life.

Recently we marked the one-year anniversary of this Coronavirus situation, with our first “online only” service having taken place on March 22 last year.  It’s not only this past week that is on my mind, therefore, but a year’s worth of wins and losses.

Our weekly online Bible Study has grown in past months, with nearly twenty participants joining the conversation from three different countries, sometimes more. I also co-facilitate a support group for men recovering from abuse, and they have agreed that the online format makes this service more accessible. 

It’s rewarding to see online community work when isolation is such a threat to so many.

There are also moments of humour. According to the original decree, non-essential shops were expected to shut down for two weeks starting on March 7, but then the government quickly granted an exception to flower shops so they could remain open just long enough to honour International Women’s Day! 

That two-week shut-down has since been extended until a quarter of the population is vaccinated.

With the rolling out of the vaccines, a cautious optimism started to creep in.  Each time a friend announces they’ve received the vaccine, the next question is always, “Which one?” since 5 vaccines are in use here.

Now, though, the high death rate has darkened the mood.

I’m taking pastoral care courses at Semmelweis University. (Fun Fact: Hungarian doctor Ignác Semmelweis is credited with discovering the importance of washing hands.) Three of our four semesters have been online, requiring the re-thinking of a program very much centred around in-person contact. One of our professors recently noted her respect for how our cohort is coping during what she called 'war time conditions'. Considering the history of Hungary, I don’t think she used the term lightly.

Then, a week later, completely forgetting how extreme the situation was, I tried to arrange a meeting with the church’s accountant.  She, too, replied that we’re living in a war zone, and she would not be available to meet in person until death toll was down to 30 per day.

For those of us who have tried to be cautious, it is not only frustrating to still live with restrictions as we approach our second Easter, but worrying to see that with its third wave this virus is killing more Hungarians than ever.

It was in January 2020 that Stephen Dick, the British Embassy’s then Depute Head of Mission, addressed the haggis at our church’s Burns Supper. Some weeks later he spoke to participants of the Jane Haining Memorial Language Competition. A few weeks after that he had died from Covid-19. 

That same spring we lost Bertalan Tamás, who had ministered to our church for nearly 30 years before his retirement.

We have moments of success and humour along the way, but with the current death rate in Hungary so high, we mourn each loss of life and wonder whom else we might lose before this is all over.

The Rev Aaron Stevens is minister of St Columba's Church of Scotland, Budapest.

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

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Cuba: Keep Moving On
Canada: Cracks Have Been Exposed
Kenya: Leave No Child Behind
USA: Homes of Prayer
Mozambique: Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
A Spaniard in Scotland: The Power of Movement
South Sudan: Being Positive
A Nigerian in Scotland: God is in Charge
Trinidad and Tobago: New Frontiers
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
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Sri Lanka: Service is the Highest Form of Worship
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Portugal: The Mission of the Church Has Not Changed
World Council of Churches: A New Dawn is Upon us
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A German in Scotland: Something New Has Already Begun
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Kenya: Caring for One Another in Christ
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Czech Republic: The Covid Cover-up
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Israel/Palestine: 'The Air is Clear'
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