Sunday, March 22, 2020

COVID-19 and the 2007 Faith Community Pandemic Summit, or 20/20 Hindsight

In 2003, Canada was gripped by fear of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). It led to thousands being quarantined; 44 people died. It also exposed the country’s ill-prepared health-care system—and how poorly-equipped faith groups were to respond to pandemics.

In response, a few of us organized a national Faith Community Summit on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, held June 20-21, 2007 at Canadian Mennonite University.

Sponsored by the International Centre for Infectious Diseases (ICID) and CMU, with support from Mennonite Disaster Service, the Salvation Army, the Christian Reformed Church and various Mennonite groups, its goal was to help faith leaders make sure their groups were ready for when—not if—the next pandemic occurred.

Topics included spiritual care in times of pandemic; understanding pandemic; creating pandemic preparedness plans; and developing pandemic assessment and planning tools.

One of the things emphasized at the summit was the need to create a pandemic preparedness plan. This plan included creating a list of all vulnerable members of the congregation who might be in special need during a pandemic; identifying the healthcare professionals and spiritual caregivers in the congregation who might be able to assist; developing ways to collaborate with local health and government authorities and other nearby places of worship or community groups; planning for who might take over if pastors and church staff fall ill; and thinking about ways to offer services online and collect donations.

One result of the summit was a resource for churches called Beyond Our Fears: Following Jesus in Times of Crisis. Published by MennoMedia, today it is available for free as a PDF download.

The summit was a success. But like many things in life, people soon forgot about SARS and about preparing for future pandemics.

And now here we are. Today most places of worship are scrambling to come up with online service options, finding ways to quickly set up structures and systems to care for vulnerable members, and thinking about new ways to pass the collection plate.

As we all know, hindsight is 20/20. Which is maybe why this pandemic, when it passes, might be a catalyst for doing things differently in the future.

In other words, when COVID-19 is over, we will need another pandemic conference. Anyone want to plan it?

Visit the Pandemic Summit web page on the Wayback Machine. Click here to get a free copy of Beyond Our Fears (PDF).