By Neva Rae Fox
Correspondent

COVID-19 has hindered gatherings worldwide, but the people of two newly constructed churches in Bangladesh have celebrated their openings in great style.

At 56,000 square miles and a population of more than 133 million, Bangladesh is nestled between India and Myanmar, with the Bay of Bengal to the south. Formerly part of Pakistan, in 1971 East Pakistan became Bangladesh.

A member of the Worldwide Anglican Communion, the Church of Bangladesh is one of the United Churches, formed by a union of Anglicans with Christians of other traditions. The church maintains 115 congregations in three dioceses with more than 22,000 members.

The pandemic has overwhelmed Bangladesh, with a reported 1.56 million COVID-19 cases.

“The average daily death toll of the Corona Delta Pandemic is 200,” said the Most Rev. Samuel S. Mankhin, moderator and primate of the Chur ch of Bangladesh. “Right now, Bangladesh has been horrendously, viciously, unprecedentedly devastated.”

“All of Bangladesh is affected by Coronavirus,” said the Rev. John Probhudan Hira, provincial secretary. “City areas have some hospital and medical facilities. But rural areas need to come to cities for medical care.”

Hira said schools, colleges, and churches that closed for 17 months are slowly coming back. Online worship was available, but “even with COVD-19 many people come here to church, but kept rules — masks.”

Thanks to recent United Thank Offering (UTO) grants, two churches had reason to celebrate. The churches were constructed in part because of a 2020 UTO Grant of $80,000.

The opening of St. John’s was “a big celebration”

The UTO website said the funds were earmarked for “two new and needed churches: To contribute to create worship and education space for vibrant communities living in Christ, promoting a complete code of life for the underprivileged ethnic community at Sridampara (Tangail district) and Eastbaromari (Netrokona District), the centers of biblical and faith-based life for newer Christians.”

Before the church construction, “People used to worship in tents,” Hira said. But there was a determination to have a church building. “They have the mind to have the church. They give the land. But they don’t have money. They are not financially well. People give labor.”

The land for the church was donated by the parish secretary and congregants.

Hira reported that the May 16 opening of St. John’s, Sridampara, was “a big celebration,” with more than 600 in the procession, attended by the primate, other bishops, 16 clergy, and religious leaders from villages throughout the region.

“In the midst of COVID, we celebrated,” said the Rev. Canon Bruce Woodcock, the Episcopal Church’s Asia and Pacific partnership officer, noting the great fanfare, many people, abundant music, and ecumenical prayers and blessings.

Hira addressed the effect of the UTO contribution to the church and to the people: “St. John’s new church construction in Sridampara helped the ethnic and tribal community who don’t have much family. The church, it brings life and light to the area. It gives new spirit to that area. St. John’s gives immense joy to the community. The church is for worship, for sharing, for learning.”

Coming next is a school for all ages and for lay leadership, to include Bible study and Sunday school.

“When there was no church, there was no formal church community, there was no lay leader, no women’s committee, no youth committee. Now we have leadership in the churches. Many people are coming and helping,” Hira said.

“The church builds up spiritual leadership. It gives vibration and vitality in that church.”

The second church, St. Andrew’s in the village of Purbo Baromari, opened October 3 with another grand celebration. “We were celebrating life,” Hira said. “The people were celebrating life.”

The exterior of St. John’s

The Rev. Dr. Caroline Carson, rector of Holy Innocents’ in Beach Haven, N.J., has traveled and offered UTO grant development help in Bangladesh. She echoed the joy of the Bangladesh people.

“The church is increasing their care of creation,” Carson said. “They also believe in helping their neighbors. My hope is that they will gain confidence and growth in their ministry of presence.”

While there is celebration in the churches, COVID-19 still permeates the Bangladesh society.

“I request you all to remember Bangladesh in your prayers, please,” Mankhin said.

“They realize the value of relationships. We need to pray for them,” Carson said.

“God has opened the door and brought the blessing to the people in that area,” Hira said. “Great partnership for our church. Immense joy all over Bangladesh and not only that area.”