In spite of a national lockdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Baptists in Italy are using technology to provide worship opportunities and maintain contact with church members and neighbors.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered the nationwide lockdown as confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Italy topped 12,000—the highest number of incidents in any country outside China—and fatalities surpassed the 1,000 mark.
In a March 13 email, a Baptist pastor in Milan requested prayer for “strength to help people in their struggle against fear and anguish,” as well as “patience and sense of community” in a time when church members physically are isolated.
Schools in Milan have been closed since Feb. 23 and “churches have not been allowed to celebrate any service,” said Cristina Arcidiacono, pastor of one of the two Italian-language Baptist churches in Milan.
Protestant pastors plan video worship services
Arcidiacono, coordinator of the theological department of the Italian Baptist Union within the European Baptist Federation, noted the Protestant pastors in the city used social media and WhatsApp messaging to plan and organize video worship services.
“Since we have normal and frequent meetings as pastors of Protestant Churches (Baptists, Methodists, Waldensians, Lutheran, Reformed, Salvation Army, Adventists) we decided to prepare a video-worship for the first Sunday without worship in local churches,” she said.
The pastors agreed on a subject, talked about how to develop the service, and then each minister recorded a brief video segment.
“Last Sunday we did the second video, based on 2 Corinthians 4:7-10: ‘But we have this treasure in earthen vessels,’” she wrote.
On a national scale, Baptist churches have been directly affected by the outbreak, Arcidiacono reported.
“As far as I know, there is a member of one of our churches that has been confirmed and now is recovering. There is also a church here in northern Italy that has been in quarantine because one of the persons who attended the service was positive to COVID-19,” she wrote.
Lockdown makes fellowship and pastoral care difficult
Until regular gatherings resume, congregations rely on social media and texts to share videos, request prayer and just stay in touch with each other, Arcidiacono reported.
“We don’t know when we could go again to our churches,” she wrote. “The problem is the spreading of the virus and the huge effort of the hospital to take care of the too-big number of sick people. Intensive care is needed for too many people now.”
Ministers have faced challenges in providing pastoral care to their church members and neighbors, she noted.
“That is a big problem. We are close to elderly people that live alone and need food, for instance,” she wrote. “In Rome, where the restrictions are just started, churches continued their activities towards homeless and poor people. In my context, the municipality is now responsible for the aid to most vulnerable people.”
Arcidiacono also pointed to a ministry challenge specific to his congregation.
“As church, we host in our little venue a refugee, and now we can’t go to have him for lunch or dinner,” she wrote. “He’s deeply alone. So, we have a video call every morning and then also other brothers and sisters phone to him. It’s really weird.”