Original Research: HTS Historical Thought and Source Interpretation

The ministry of presence in absence: Pastoring online in Zimbabwe during the COVID-19 pandemic

Kimion Tagwirei
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 78, No 4 | a7161 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v78i4.7161 | © 2022 Kimion Tagwirei | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 September 2021 | Published: 30 June 2022

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Kimion Tagwirei, Department of New Testament and Related Literature, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa

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Since time immemorial, pastoral ministry has been physically present in church buildings, homes and public places, providing face-to-face care and reassurance of God’s love and accompaniment. The tragic outbreak and speedy spread of COVID-19 from China triggered unprecedented challenges, dramatically led to restrictive national lockdowns, closure of physical meetings, fundamentally unsettled routine ways of doing ministry and demanded total digitalisation of the gospel, which eventually rendered the ministry of physical presence absent. While doing ministry online seemed to have been working well in other countries, it has been a uniquely different trajectory in Zimbabwe predominantly because of financial, material, human incapacitation as well as cultural and other contextual factors. Scholarly research on online pastoral praxis in Zimbabwe is scanty. Applying Osmer’s methodology, this study reviewed lived experiences and challenges of pastors in ministering virtually since the beginning of lockdowns early 2020 hitherto late 2021. It interrogated the ministry of presence and understanding of digitalisation. Amidst a plethora of social, political and economic drawbacks, this article unearthed erratic capability, affordability, availability, connectivity and feasibility of digitalised shepherding. Taking physical presence as incarnation of the triune God, demonstration of love, care and accompaniment as indispensable in pastoral ministry, this article stressed the significance of physical presence. However, considering the prevailing COVID-19 and contextual constrictions, it recommended that pastors should appreciate and submit their congregants to the ubiquitous and indispensable spiritual presence of God while redoubling efforts in ministering through contextually feasible ways until lockdowns end.

Contribution: This article provides a critical biblical and scholarly review and analysis of the ministry of presence during the COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe. This will provoke pastors, churches and church bodies to rethink and reconsider progressive strategies towards contextually effective pastoral theology, ministry and ecclesiology in times of pandemics in the context of economic volatility.


ministry of presence; pastoring; church online; COVID-19; digitalisation


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