As part of our ongoing series, we speak with Rev Dennis Cousens, patrol minister for Midlands Glamorgan Rural Ministry Tasmania.
How has your ministry been affected by the lockdowns?
On the first Saturday of March this year, I married my electrician, but not in the way you might think. My sparky had turned on many a bright light in my life for some 47 years so it was now an honour to repay the compliment as I married him to his beautiful wife, Ruby, at “Boomers Bay”, Dunalley in Tasmania.
The next day I travelled to Swansea, part of the Midlands Glamorgan rural ministry of the Presbytery of Tasmania, to lead worship at St Andrews UCA some two hours from my home in Oatlands, central Tasmania. The day after that the world stopped spinning and coronavirus has changed all the moments since.
As various places of worship in the area of 15000 sqkm over which I minister closed, questions were asked: “What will we do, how will we do it and will it ever be the same again?”
How have you responded?
For a start, I would no longer be travelling 10,000km over a five-week period. I wouldn’t be calling in for a cuppa at isolated farms, visiting three nursing homes, leading worship or enjoying the beauty of the Tasmanian landscape.
So what to do with all my time? Instead of leading worship at various churches on different Sundays each month, I chose to lead worship each Sunday in everyone’s homes via email, snail mail, followed up by telephone checks and chats.
Have there been any positives to come out of this?
The beauty of my socially-distanced ministry is that people have both contacted me and also taken it upon themselves to email other congregation members. They share the service with the next-door neighbour, with other members of their family and refer to it several times a week as a reflection, as a friendly word. This has been an eye-opener because people are going out of their way to feed others without waiting to be fed. I send crumbs, they give casseroles filled with care, kindness and concern.
What has been most challenging?
Whilst some of this may sound wonderful, new and peaceful, there are still those for whom lockdown means no visitors in the aged care home, no hugs from the grandkids and no one to say “would you like another cuppa?” They are alone and often lonely, so the challenge is to ring them, send a card, say a prayer, love them while in isolation and it is working.
What is the situation now with restrictions gradually lifting?
Things are happening, but still with great caution. The large majority of people in my three congregations are 80-plus-year-olds, so the state government still says “stay at home”. However, I am having meetings with church councils to decide how we may return with distancing, record-keeping and only admitting the allowed number. So with all this to consider, church in the pews may not happen for a while. I can now visit people, but with limitations and only by invitation after a phone call from me. Aged care homes are on the agenda for visits, but not for services, so it is wait and see. Normal may not be on the cards in my working ministry time. With consideration and prayer, I may be looking at a new normal.
In this time of challenge and for many distress, do you have a personal message or faith reflection that you would like to share?
This story is nowhere near the end as we have little idea what the next step may be, but people are caring for one another, wildlife has been crossing the highway without being hit by a busy driver and the swans on the lake at Oatlands wander through the streets seeking the new grass of Autumn.
The words of Hymn 123 remind me: “be still my soul: your best, your heavenly friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”
It’s a beautiful hymn, one that I have called upon during many times in recent years, when things hit the fan. It reminds me that I am not standing on my own, it’s been a great comfort especially during COVID-19 – “the Lord is on your side”.