• The African diaspora in Australia were adorned in colourful headwraps, beaded jewellery, pressed shirts, multi-coloured braids and pencil skirts. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Our church is not just a place of worship but a hair salon, an education facility, an immigration information centre, a local chop bar, a gossip gallery and more.
By
Pamela Asare

21 May 2020 - 9:24 AM  UPDATED 21 May 2020 - 9:24 AM

I remember Sundays were the days when colourful birds would flock to the sanctuary. I felt this freedom of devotion, as my younger sister Tiffany and I drove into our local church in Greystanes Sydney, on a Sunday morning.

The African diaspora in Australia were adorned in colourful headwraps, beaded jewellery, pressed shirts, multi-coloured braids, pencil skirts, dashikis and red lipstick – garments worn to give praise. 

The African praise medleys welcomed traditional dances such as the Agbadza and Kpalongo enunciated through the bending of backs and tapping of feet, to the beating of drums. Church was an expected and consistent staple of our week; through the practice of religion there was a great sense of community found. 

For many migrants, who do not have family in Australia, church is the only sense of family and belonging they have.

This is because often when Africans move to a new place, one of the thoughts that come in mind is to find a church home. For many migrants, who do not have family in Australia, church is the only sense of family and belonging they have. For them, church is a one-stop place for finding all types of information and resources. Our church is a place of worship, a hair salon, an education facility, an immigration information centre, a local chop bar, a gossip gallery and more.

With the recent government restrictions surrounding public gatherings and social distancing, to prevent the further widespread of COVID-19 in Australia, there is currently no church on Sundays. 

With the Government’s 3 step plan to ensure a COVID safe community the restrictions will gradually be eased, although churches with over 100 members will still not be able to congregate. These steps will still result in my church having services online.

I understand that the measures are necessary and have been enforced by the Government to protect people in Australia but it is having an impact on the Christian African community in Australia and the maintenance of our culture.

There is a clear distinction between watching my church worship team online, versus raising my hands with hundreds of other people as a form of worship to God. 

There is a clear distinction between watching my church worship team online, versus raising my hands with hundreds of other people as a form of worship to God.

The distinction is the sense of unity and togetherness I feel, the energy that pervades our midst when we worship together. This sense to me can only be derived from a firsthand experience.

Given the present times we are in, I have now come to rely on media to experience church differently. Online platforms are being used by many churches to stream their services -   thank God for the comment section on YouTube!  Last Sunday, I felt like I was sitting on one of the orange chairs in the school hall of Greystanes High School that we use for our services, as I watched the service from my laptop screen. Familiar faces were commenting throughout the online service and I could hear the, ‘Amen!’ to each comment that popped up. It has been a great way to still enjoy a Sunday service, even though I miss having live worship.

A sense of belonging is fractured due to somewhat contactless society that has transpired as a result of COVID-19. For African-Australian church goers like myself, this occurs as the cardinal practice of attending church is suddenly restricted. In my household, getting ready for church is now setting up the television and getting the link to watch a church service on YouTube or getting a link on WhatsApp to a Facebook Live service.

A sense of belonging is fractured due to somewhat contactless society that has transpired as a result of COVID-19.

‘Why are you ironing your shirt?’ I heard my younger sister, Tiffany, ask our dad as he got ready for the online service.

‘You know they can’t see you, right?’

I imagined his grin from my bedroom, as his footsteps lead to the lounge room and the sound of the TV being turned on.

I do miss going to church on Sundays and I’m sure there are many other people that share my sentiment. Yet, I was thinking the other day about what it would be like if all our devices caught a virus and we no longer had access to the internet. There goes online church and other alternative means of communication during such an unprecedented time. In light of this, I choose to appreciate the blessings found in hardship. I can only imagine the massive first-Sunday- back-at-church celebration. I look forward to it.

Pamela Asare, is an African-Australian woman from Liverpool and a member of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement.

This article has been published in partnership with Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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