Caring for COVID fatigue in Western Sydney
The Delta variant of COVID-19 is proving difficult to get rid of. The entire state of NSW remains in lockdown as case numbers stubbornly grow by more than a thousand each day. However, vaccination rates are also rising, as more people become eligible for jabs and as more doses arrive in the hands of medical professionals.
Some suburbs of Greater Sydney continue to live with heightened restrictions. These local government areas (LGAs) of concern are largely located in Western Sydney, and are subject to additional constraints such as curfews, more regular COVID-19 testing, and fines for employers who do not allow their employees to work from home.
Insights spoke to three ministers about the impact of these tighter restrictions on the worship and pastoral life of churches in LGAs of concern. The first part in this Insights series comes from an interview with Rev. Christine Bayliss-Kelly, minister and team leader at the Penrith Uniting Hub.
Rev. Bayliss-Kelly told Insights, “This lockdown has been longer and tighter, and has caused more anxiety because of the Delta strain. Worship has returned to using Zoom. We felt that although this mode was a bit clunkier than live streaming it at least allows us to join in breakout rooms for conversations and connection following the service. Pastorally this has been difficult!”
Penrith Uniting Hub has also been providing vouchers to those who are struggling financially for food, nappies, and other essential products. And though pastoral care is difficult during lockdown, Rev. Bayliss-Kelly is “able to phone people to provide some support, but our pastoral [care team] are doing a wonderful job of keeping in contact with people even in a frustrating time.”
She said of the lockdown, “I use the term ‘COVID-19 fatigue’ as we are not free to do what we want to do… There are growing concerns about the length of lockdown and even though there are promised ‘freedoms’ they do not mean we will be back in church by Christmas.”
The experience of this lockdown is unique in Penrith, as only some suburbs have been deemed “of concern.” Rev. Bayliss-Kelly told Insights that these limitations have impacted people in the community in different ways.
“Students living on campus at [Western Sydney University] have been impacted with their jobs no longer existing, bringing on hardship and no means of support. Those within the congregation who are employed are mostly working from home. There are those who are managers and before the government assistance cut in the decisions about standing aside staff weighed heavily on people.”
There have also been issues with accessing essential services within congregants’ 5km radius. “Those using home delivery of groceries find there is often no product available for what they need (this is becoming worse) and there are longer waits for the delivery time. Attending to medical needs is being put off for some as some specialists have cancelled appointments. Others continue to attend but with significant restrictions. Many cannot see their [spouses] in nursing homes. Some in nursing homes are restricted to their rooms.”
Vaccination seems to be providing some hope of a way forward, and many in the congregation have been vaccinated.
Gabrielle Cadenhead is a mission worker for Christian Students Uniting at the University of Sydney