World Day of Prayer (WDP) is a global ecumenical movement led by women in their communities. It creates an opportunity for building relationships, a spirituality of listening to each other and to God, a prayer informed by the context of women’s lives, and a prayerful action expressed by sharing resources with communities in need.
Motivated by a common prayer on the first Friday of March, women lead workshops to learn about the focus country and to study attentively the Bible and the worship service. Together they plan the program for children in schools or churches. The interpretation of the annual theme in the local context and the envisioning of responses are creatively crafted and intensively promoted across the globe. The projects and organizations to support are selected carefully. Most of what we do is based on in-person events where building relationships is the first step of a long journey.
However, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the services planned to be held on the annual day of prayer, March 6th, were held except for in a few countries in Asia and Europe, which were already exposed to the COVID-19 outbreak.
WDP Worship Service: The Last In-Person Gathering
Governments around the world set in place measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, consequently churches and schools were closed for in-person events. Then, WDP activities planned for after March 6th were canceled or postponed, even in Zimbabwe. The committee still nurtures the expectation to hold the National Celebration at the Sports Center in Harare after the lockdown is over and it is safe to gather again, said Sylvia Marowa, “we really want to express our gratitude for the prayers for us from around the world.”
In the Cook Islands, the worship service was held with restrictions, and the WDP celebration became the last gathering held in the Cook Islands before the lockdown. “We felt blessed to be able to come together as women of this country to give our thanks to the Lord. The theme is relevant because we have to rise, take up our mats and spread the good news in whatever way we can during the lockdown,” voiced Henrica Marona.
The England, Wales and Northern Ireland committee began the Y-Pray Conference in 2016, which “is now held annually in May, to introduce a group of younger women to the movement. The Conference was canceled along with other events, such as Link Days,” informed Elizabeth Burroughs. Manon Naidoo lamented the uncertainty of the well planned 90th Anniversary of WWDP in South Africa to be held during the Africa Regional Conference in October 2020.
Taiwan’s experience with the SARS pandemic in 2003, led the government to take early precautions when made aware about the Coronavirus in China. Nancy Lin informed that “the government took over all mask productions and ensured that every single civilian had equal access to buying facial masks. Wearing a mask is required in public transportation and in all indoor public areas such as churches and stores. With masks and keeping social distance, the writing working groups are meeting to develop the worship service program for 2023.” Maral Haidostian, from Lebanon, commented on the difficulties of adopting those precautionary measures for worship services.
Listening to Each Other in a Global Conversation
The WDP International Committee (WDPIC) invited several committees for a global conversation via video conferencing (Zoom) to reflect on the impact of this moment on WDP and the alternatives to move forward. We held four video conferences between May and June - one in Spanish, one in French and two in English. Thirty-nine committees and sixty-three participants from the seven regions joined the conversation, which is summarized in this article.
WDP committees are using a variety of tools to keep connected and present to the needs of the communities. They range from rethink the structure and practices to introduce new technologies in communication to reach out to members, friends and local groups.
WDP France is considering changing the committee’s structure to reinforce the local connection, stated Christine Méar. “How have we decided to rise, take our mat and walk? We have to reengineer the way in which we do things and seize up this opportunity of involving our regional correspondents, so they can be in contact with their constituents, and linked with the National Committee.”
Catherine MacKeil explained that in Canada, they are sorting out WDP grant applications. “With COVID-19, we are unable to support any of the projects with group gatherings, which include a lot of training events. We are focusing on the organizations that are on the frontline of helping people, particularly women touched by violence or human trafficking, and hunger.”
Elizabeth Clark, from Australia, pointed out that they do not currently accept direct donation on the website, but to deal with possible reductions in offerings, they may supply transfer details to those interested in contributing that way. Ingrid Mai Pinkes, WDP Argentina, expressed the concern with the currency devaluation on their Annual Contribution to WDPIC. Coromoto Jimenez de Salazar, WDP Venezuela, shared about their committee’s plans to use the offering to provide food to the vulnerable communities in Caracas, although the service could not be held.
Keeping the Connection in Times of Social Isolation
In Germany, the WDP committee is developing a workshop to prepare the facilitators for the Vanuatu 2021 program on an online learning platform (Moodle), explained Irene Tokarski. “We are developing the online platform for our national workshops, which usually happen from June to July, with about 180 women multipliers. We already have responses from most of them. We will have three workshops on the same day as planned instead of the in-person workshops. The digital workshop is a platform where you can do different tasks, for example, research, live chat with other participants, offline tasks like reading the Bible text, or watching a video clip. We will also offer the learning platform for the regional area, because we do not know if we will have another outbreak in autumn.”
In Bahamas, the committee asked the young participants for help. The response was so positive that they are planning to have them as the liaison and chairperson mentored by WDP retirees. “Journeying with young women has been a special blessing for us as they have become our teachers in using technology. This inter-generational dialogue has been powerful! Coming out of this crisis, we all realize that a new way forward is necessary. We cannot just ‘make things up as we go along’ and see what will happen. Change, rapid change, unexpected change, is never easy, and not always welcome. But change is inevitable,” said Annette Poitier.
Even before the pandemic, WDP committees were using cell phones and instant messaging (WhatsApp, Line) to check on members and friends. Now, they are using instant messaging to send out prayers, remarked Susana Renner, WDP Brazil, or having committee meetings in group chats, shared Berthe Sindjui, WDP Cameroon and Sybille Martial, WDP Republic of Mauritius. As the months advance into the timeline of preparations for the 2021 WDP program, some committees, for the first time, had their regular meeting virtually (Zoom). WDPIC is having monthly video conferences (Zoom) with executive members to replace the canceled annual meeting.
WDP is increasing its online presence by creating websites and actively using social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). Committees that have not yet made any resources available through their website are considering it, while others plan to expand what they already offer. Social media is used to share the local celebrations, inform about the focus country, post for the Thursdays In Black campaign, and pray for the world. WDPIC posts a prayer on Fridays with the hashtag #WDPUnitedInPrayer.
Growing out of the uncertainties of in-person worship services for March 2021 and the current experience with Sunday virtual worship services, many committees are nurturing the possibility of an online service for Vanuatu 2021. Bianka Paz, WDP Guatemala, mentioned their recent conversation about a workshop online with video clips to introduce the materials for the 2021 Vanuatu program. Margarita Cuzco, WDP Paraguay, mentioned their initial conversation about distributing the different moments of the worship service into the communities and finding a virtual space to come together.
The Context of Women in the Midst of the Pandemic
The vulnerable situation of women during the pandemic was noticed. Families are separated by the lockdown, curfews and closed borders; unemployment, hunger, and domestic violence against women increased. There is shortage of medications and treatments in overflowed public hospitals with COVID-19 patients. In the Democratic Republic of Congo and Brazil, the denial of the health crisis is exposing the population to the uncontrolled virus transmission. In DR Congo, Rose Biasima Lala, commented on their use of local radio to raise awareness about Coronavirus prevention.
Jyothi Singh, WDP India, talked about “the concern with the rural communities who do not have easy access to internet to engage in online initiatives.” Also, in Costa Rica, Rebeca Cascante commented on how the priority is being given to family members who work from home to use the internet rather than women who want to connect with their community activities. WDP has a word of hope to offer
There is real pain in the communities with the death of loved ones, an intense feeling of powerlessness to fight the disease and all its consequences. However, there is also strength in being united in prayer. There is trust in God, the sustainer of all times. We lift up in prayers WDP families and communities who are mourning. May God heal our body and soul.
It was really inspiring to listen to the efforts made in the midst of so much disruption. WDP leaders are committed to carrying on the message and being present during this difficult moment. We are to walk together in prayer and action. We are to be creative and oriented by the WDP Guiding Principles. WDP has a word of hope to offer. It is time to share it!
WDPIC will continue the virtual global conversation to listen to each other, pray for the world, exchange ideas and feel inspired to face the challenges. We may expand on the topics shared by the committees, for example, alternatives to in-person activities, being present to communities in need, and coordinated procedures for online access to WDP materials.
The process of developing WDP worship services continues in the midst of the pandemic. The 2021 Vanuatu worship service material is ready and has been electronically distributed. The 2022 worship service program, written by WDP England, Wales and Northern Ireland, will be distributed by September 2020. The writing process with WDP Taiwan for the 2023 service was launched, and we are in conversation with WDP Palestine for the 2024 program. Aware of the uncertainties, but full of hope, we are looking forward to meeting you in 2022, in Scotland, for the International Meeting - “New Heart. New Mind. Called to Hope.” Visit our website for more information and follow our newsletter!
The WDP worship service is a tool for listening to each other and God in order to engage in prayer and action with sisters and communities around the world. Together we “Rise, Take our Mat and Walk,” an action oriented message that took us away from the fear inflicted by the pandemic, while the 2021 program written by WDP Vanuatu, will help us affirm the source of our strength to move forward. Together, we “Build on a Strong Foundation” - God’s love and Jesus’ walk on the path of justice.