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Church ‘will come out of the virus stronger’  

15 May 2020

Bishops look forward, praising works done; tributes are paid to Florence Nightingale

William Blake Fellowship

The William Blake Fellowship is presenting “The Life of Christ” through works by William Blake, at 7.30 this evening online. The 73 images have been made available with assistance from Tate Britain

The William Blake Fellowship is presenting “The Life of Christ” through works by William Blake, at 7.30 this evening online. The 73 images have been m...

“JUSTICE and dignity” need to be at the centre of society’s attempts at rebuilding after the pandemic, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said in an interview on Channel 4. Speaking last Friday, he said that the pain and cost must be borne by those with the broadest shoulders, not with another ten years of austerity. He also spoke of being moved by the time that he has spent as a volunteer chaplain visiting coronavirus patients at St Thomas’ Hospital, in Lambeth.

The Archbishop-designate of York, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, also said in a piece for The Daily Telegraph on Monday that the Church would come out of the coronavirus “even stronger.” He defended the Church of England’s policy of closing churches, saying that it was “following government guidance”, but that the Church had not been absent. He drew attention to how the Church had been running foodbanks, working with asylum-seekers, and streaming virtual services; it would emerge from the crisis with an ever stronger spirit of service to the country.

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, led a national church service online to honour the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale. She was joined on Sunday by the Chief Nursing Officer for England, Ruth May. In her sermon, Bishop Mullally said: “Hope is stored up for us in heaven, and breaks into our present like shafts of sunlight.

“We have seen that hope break through during this storm. We have seen it in the nurse who, despite their fears, goes back work day after day to care for the sick. It looks like the doctor who has stepped out of their field to support their colleagues under stress; but it is also seen in the shopkeeper who puts together bags of hand gels and antiseptic wipes and distributes them free to the vulnerable in their community.”

Lichfield CathedralAn image of Florence Nightingale is projected on the west end of Lichfield Cathedral, to mark her 200th birthday and International Nurses Day, on Tuesday

On Tuesday, face masks depicting Florence Nightingale were worn by the chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Dame Donna Kinnair, and paramedics and hospital chaplains to celebrate the contribution of nurses. Pope Francis also acknowledged the “fundamental role being played by nurses and midwives”, calling them “guardians of life” in his speech for International Nurses Day on Tuesday.

On Thursday of last week, Bishop Mullally announced that clergy in London would be allowed to enter their own churches for private prayer as well as stream services, and services were live-streamed again from churches in the diocese on Sunday.

She made her announcement just after the House of Bishops decided that the guidance banning clergy from entering their churches might be modified by individual dioceses (News, 8 May). The United Reformed Church also stated its belief that churches should remain closed except to provide emergency services such as foodbanks, and for one person to record or live-stream worship.

Other religious leaders have highlighted their support for NHS and other essential staff by holding “virtual pilgrimages” to pray for them. Priests and rabbis are walking and running from their homes to various hospitals, schools, care homes, bus stops, and foodbanks over the next few weeks, stopping at each landmark to pray for key workers in those places.

St Martin-in-the-Fields, in Trafalgar Square, has launched an emergency appeal, Keep Our Doors Open. The money from the scheme is designed to provide emergency grants to support homeless and vulnerable people during the Covid-19 outbreak. The church has also set up an emergency phoneline for the homeless and those in danger of being evicted, besides offering a takeaway lunch from the steps of the vestry every Sunday.

Similarly, Christ Church, Eastbourne, is providing a foodbank and meal-distribution service. The Matthew 25 Mission hands out more than 200 meals a day as well as numerous food parcels. The west end and the north aisle of the church have been reconfigured to store food donated by supermarkets, and takeaway meals are served in the car park.

St Mary’s Church, WeaverhamBob Hough assists with food preparation at St Mary’s Lighthouse Community Centre, in Weaverham

The Vicar, the Revd David Charles, confirmed that “The queuing system, with seats spaced at 2.5-metre intervals, ensures that social distancing is upheld, and the standards of hygiene and safety are rigorous.”

Churches in Chester diocese are also working together to provide meals for vulnerable and isolated people. More than 60 people receive between one and four meals a week from a team of volunteers from the Stronghold Church, St Mary’s Ecumenical Church, and St Bede’s RC Church, Weaverham, near Northwich, while a pastoral team phone isolated people, help others with shopping, and pray for the community.

The Cornwall-based charity that offered free holidays to those affected by the fire in Grenfell Tower (News, 12 April 2019) is doing the same for care workers. Cornwall Hugs Grenfell has asked hotel and resort owners and holiday-let owners to shelter care workers who need to isolate from their own families to stop the virus spreading while they care for vulnerable adults.

The inspiration of the Toc H movement, Talbot House, Poperinge, in West Flanders, has launched an appeal to prevent its permanent closure. Founded as an “Every Man’s Club” by army chaplains in 1915, it was a place where soldiers stationed in Belgium during the First World War could meet friends, write letters home, play the piano, and explore the garden. Since 1931, it has been a “living museum” for tourists, but it has now had to close, and so its income has shrivelled. It is offering donors benefits such as story tours and free overnight stays.

Project BeaconsSolar-powered lights placed at the entrance to a churchyard as a sign that God is still present

The UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief has drawn attention to the overcrowded conditions that make prisoners of conscience especially vulnerable to Covid-19. The group has called on the UK government to press for the global release of those imprisoned for their beliefs in Iran, Russia, Vietnam, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Eritrea, and elsewhere.

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