By Tim Wyatt
March 17th 2020
The announcement that all Church of England worship should be suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic is a dramatic development as faith groups respond to the restrictions in social gatherings and challenges ahead.
here are the latest updates on how faith groups are being impacted by the virus:
– The Church of England has announced all public worship should be suspended until further notice. Church buildings can remain open for public individual prayer and parishes which have the ability should try to livestream services over the internet to their congregations at home. In a joint letter, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said the Church was not “shutting up shop” but needed to become a radically different institution focused on prayer and service to the community.
– Earlier the C of E had also told each parish to create a continuity plan , which should include vicars designating a deputy in case they become unwell.
– After earlier criticism over the weekend for not speaking out more, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have also written an article which has been published in both the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Daily Mail. In it they urge people to follow the example of the Good Samaritan and care for those in need, suggest praying the Lord’s Prayer while washing your hands, and also announced a National Day of Prayer and Action for Sunday.
– This call has been backed by other major Christian leaders, including the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, and representatives from Pentecostal, Orthodox and Free Churches. At 7pm on Sunday, Christians are urged to light a candle in their windows as a “visible symbol of the light of life, Jesus Christ, our source and hope in prayer”.
– Following the government announcing social distancing measures, the Muslim Council of Britain and the British Islamic Medical Association advised mosques to suspend “congregational activities” and make steps to offer religious classes over the internet instead.
– Some mosques, including two in Edinburgh which have seen worshippers test positive for the coronavirus and another pair in Cardiff, had already shut their doors.
– Ramadan, Islam’s month of fasting, is set to begin in late April this year and there has been significant speculation about how the pandemic will affect normal sacred activities.
– British mosques have been told to prepare to cancel iftars, the shared meal at the end of each day when Muslim break their fast, and taraweeh prayers at the end of each day during Ramadan.
– Other places of worship, including synagogues and temples, have also been warned by their denominations they will have to shut down when the government bars mass public gatherings.
– Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) had mostly cancelled their services and programmes before the government shutdown was announced. The pandemic also looks set to end much of the celebrations for Vaisakhi, one of the most important Sikh festivals which falls on 13 April this year. In particular, Sikh communities have been told not to organise the traditional Nagar Kirtan, a procession of singing through town centres to mark Vaisakhi.
– Elsewhere around the world, Malaysia has become the worst-hit country in southeast Asia after an international event at a mosque seems to have led to a spike in infections. The meeting at the Sri Petaling mosque near the capital Kuala Lumpur was attended by 16,000 delegates from across the world, and has been linked to half of the 190 new cases of Covid-19 in Malaysia.
– Nearly 50 people have become infected with the coronavirus at a church in South Korea after they were sprayed in the mouth with saltwater in the misguided belief this could kill the virus. In fact, the spray bottle helped to transmit the infection from one member who already had Covid-19 to dozens of others.
– In India, a Hindu nationalist group hosted a cow urine drinking party, believing the liquid from the animal scared to Hindus would protect believers from the coronavirus. There is no evidence to support the idea cow urine or faeces has healing properties, but it has long been widely believed within some Hindu communities.
– The patchy efforts by authorities in the United States to tackle or downplay the threat of the coronavirus has been played out within the culture war already present among American churches. Some more conservative evangelical groups have openly defied advice to minimise large gatherings and encouraged worshippers at megachurches to continue attending and making physical contact with each other. Rodney Howard-Browne, who heads a revivalist church in Florida, told his congregation to shake hands during Sunday’s service and vowed to never shut the doors, decrying those who feared Covid-19 as “pansies”.
Religious leaders in the UK have continued issuing messages of reassurance and urging believers to not lose hope during the pandemic:
Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews:
“We are facing an unprecedented time of crisis in our country and across the world. This virus does not recognise any boundaries. We are all impacted regardless of our faith, social or financial circumstances to one degree or another. We all share the fear for ourselves, our loved ones and humanity. We need to dig deep to find the faith, strength and resources to get through.
“Within this, we must not lose sight of the effect that this may have on our mental well-being. We need to find coping mechanisms to deal with the new scale of challenge. The Jewish community has always been resourceful and giving to those both inside and outside our community and will continue to do so. We need to stick together even though we may be physically apart. I commend the many initiatives being undertaken by synagogues and Jewish charities across the country and call on everyone to do their bit, whether that is helping isolated neighbours with shopping or having phone calls with those unable to leave their homes.”
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York:
“All of us, now, face a common threat, Covid-19. The question is, how do we find hope in these difficult circumstances? Hope comes both from what we can do and who we are. Remember the example of the Good Samaritan, the story in the Bible, which speaks about the need to care for the other and ensure we notice those who are in distress even if they are those who are often invisible to us.
“We can find hope and courage in the goodly and wholesome spirit that is in so many ways common to all human beings, whether they are people of Faith or None. We must distinguish between a healthy fear – the beginning of wisdom, which prompts us to follow advice, and to care for those at risk – and unhealthy fear which is driven by pride, leading us to act, selfishly, doing harm to ourselves and others.
“Finally, there is one more thing that everyone can do. Something we would expect from two Archbishops. We make no apology for saying ‘Pray!’ Even if you scarcely can imagine how, pray! Pray for yourself, for those you love, for friends and neighbours.”
Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain:
“We all have a public duty to protect one another from harm, and it is evident the most effective way to do this now is to avoid social contact as much as possible. This includes all walks of life, whether social, work or the mosque.
“This leaves members of our society who are vulnerable and socially isolated at risk. Now is the time for British communities to come together to support one another, and work with friends, family and neighbours to ensure no one is left behind.
“Whether it be at the mosques (particularly Friday prayers) which draw crowds including the elderly, vulnerable and those at high risk, weddings, social events or simple day-to-day activities, it is imperative that this extraordinary step is taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our communities, and our country as a whole. The MCB is confident that the Muslim community will undertake the difficult measures needed in such unprecedented times and put our trust in Allah.”