Queensland: Taking a Proactive Role in Mobilising Faith Communities during COVID-19

Griffith University - Centre for Interfaith & Cultural Dialogue

Faith communities are uniquely situated to positively and negatively influence the success of Queensland’s’ COVID-19 responses in three areas: faith communities and places of worship, vulnerable groups in society, and community services. To this end, the Centre for Interfaith and Cultural Dialogue at Griffith University brought faith communities together to discover – and report to the Queensland Government – the concerns and needs highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This report outlines key issues facing faith communities in Queensland during the COVID-19 pandemic as reported from the communities themselves. The methods and findings of the project support improving connections between faith communities and state leadership for sharing lessons learned, improving support for vulnerable groups, and ensuring key health messaging is communicated to strengthen public safety.

The Centre for Interfaith and Cultural Dialogue at Griffith University acted as a link to faith communities, helping to facilitate connections between faith groups to identify issues and opportunities via:

  • a. a questionnaire distributed from 14-27 April 2020, and
  • b. an online Community Forum on 28 April 2020.

Faith communities in Queensland are immensely valuable to society and under mounting pressure from the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. This report outlines key issues facing faith communities in Queensland during the pandemic as reported by the communities themselves. Faith communities are uniquely situated to strongly influence the success of COVID-19 responses through places of worship and community connection, working with vulnerable groups in society, and provision of community services.

Despite their valuable contributions, Queensland’s faith groups are not coordinated or necessarily aware of other groups’ activities. There also exist significant barriers to communication between faith communities and government, including identification of relevant contact points and smaller groups having their voices heard. In the current crisis, the time is favourable to connect community leaders with each other and government to share experiences and insights, and to build clear communication channels for the future.

The project has identified several organisations endeavouring to connect with various faith groups, albeit in an uncoordinated and duplicative manner. This report recommends establishing a standing means of communication between faith communities and government.

Faith communities are encountering a diverse array of challenges, ranging from logistical and financial to theological and mental health concerns. Logistical challenges stemming from falling incomes and shifts to at-a-distance service delivery in a time of high demand for community services is placing strain on organisations’ resources. For some organisations, mounting financial pressures are significantly limiting their ability to delivery community services and charity to vulnerable groups.

While faith communities are generally coping well, key vulnerable groups are experiencing growing hardships. These include the elderly, international students, temporary workers and recent migrants, non-English speakers, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Many of these individuals continue to slip through the cracks of government responses to the pandemic and the resulting economic turmoil. They are significantly more dependent than the general public on the support of faith communities to meet their basic needs, including food and housing support, and social engagement. Assistance for community organisations to support vulnerable members, including the elderly, migrants, international students, and temporary workers, would have a significant impact.

The findings of this report highlight the significant role of faith communities in disseminating and ensuring the accuracy of health messaging. In groups with a high proportion of elderly and non-English speaking members, faith leaders are often gatekeepers of knowledge, interpreting information from sources and languages for their communities that would otherwise be inaccessible. This makes them key points of connection for government and important partners in disseminating accurate and culturally appropriate messaging and countering misinformation. Messaging could also be improved through translation into minority languages and culturally appropriate contexts.

Summary of Recommendations

1. Support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, including through faith communities and organisations in remote, regional, and urban areas including outreach and logistical support.

2. Focus on increasing support for community mental health and spiritual wellbeing services in the near – to mid-term.

3. Establishment of ongoing dialogue between organisations in the faith, community, and government sectors to better coordinate resources and activities and share the load on specific organisations and programs.

4. Financial support for faith communities in the form of rent and/or utility reductions, capital purchase support for essential equipment, or grants to cover short-term needs.

5. Access or support for staff and volunteer training in digital literacy for online communication and service delivery.

6. Improved promotion of pre-existing government and community support initiatives to community leaders seeking support vulnerable groups and individuals, such as the No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS).

7. Increased financial support for charities and faith communities working with family abuse cases and vulnerable groups due to extremely high demand for services.

8. Support for international students, including waiving of educational fees, rent assistance, food and medical assistance, and/or sponsorship.

9. Financial and social support for seasonal workers and Temporary Protection Visa holders such as unemployment benefits, housing and food assistance, dissemination of information on pre-existing support programs to community organisations.

10. Information and/or training for community members in digital literacy education to help support the elderly.

13. Develop strategies to identify and include typically marginalised and small faith organisations into planning and communications. These are more likely to contain higher proportions of vulnerable groups (e.g. recent migrants, non-English speakers, disaffected) than larger organisations.

14. Communicating in ways that vulnerable groups already communicate, not expect or demand that they change their communication habits to assist with health messaging and counter misinformation among susceptible groups. This may include:
* Communication of health information via faith community channels, including TV, radio, and social media.
* Design and distribution of linguistically and culturally appropriate materials.

Download this report (PDF)