“OUR Alleluias are not silenced but dispersed,” the Archbishop of Canterbury has written, as churches around the world celebrated Easter in unprecedented ways.
In his ecumenical Easter letter sent to international church leaders on Tuesday, he writes that, in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, “though [we are] separated from one another, the risen Christ is with us.”
‘And also with you — unless we lose signal, in which case, without you’
The virus, he writes, has claimed “many lives and continues to inflict pain, suffering and hardship on our world. We grieve with those who grieve and mourn with those who mourn. We pray for those who suffer and for those who care for them, and we commit the nations of the world and their leaders to God’s gracious care and protection. . .
“Around the world Churches and congregations are not able to gather together. Yet the people of God, in their homes, join their prayers and praises with the Church throughout the world. Our Alleluias are not silenced but dispersed.
“People are finding new ways to express fellowship with one another through technology, and communities are finding new ways of protecting the vulnerable in their midst. For Christ is risen and death has been conquered. Even in times of darkness and uncertainty we can be certain of this. Even though tinged with grief and mourning the Church still shouts ‘Alleluia’.”
On Wednesday, almost 95,000 people had tested positive for Covid-19 in the UK. Lack of testing means that the true figure of those who have contracted the virus is unknown. More than 12,000 have died in this country — double the number of deaths reported this time last week.
A woman who watched her husband die from Covid-19 in hospital the day before their 43rd wedding anniversary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday: “Mentally and physically, he had had enough. We are Christians, and he was ready to go.”
The woman, known only as Hannah to protect her identity, contracted coronavirus first. Her husband, John, 75, who had mild asthma, became ill four days later. When his condition worsened and palliative care was offered, she called their Vicar, who reminded them of their wedding anniversary.
“Over the speaker phone, the Rector read the prayers for the marriage-vow-renewal service that John was able to hear, and then we said our goodbyes. . . I was able to hold his hand and kiss his forehead as he got more and more distressed.
“At that point I said, ‘Do you want anything else, or just peace?’ And he put his thumb up for peace.” They spoke to their sons on the phone before he died. “It is not a gentle death,” she said.
Hannah also spoke of the cruelty and loneliness of the disease. “My friends and church have rallied round; they have been fabulous. But no one can give me a hug.”
FACEBOOK/ALL SAINTS CANTERBURYChocolate surprise: Easter eggs were left outside All Saints’, Canterbury, on Easter Day. Parishioners were invited to help themselves
A network of more than 1000 churches from 40 denominations have formed a new helpline for people struggling to cope during the Covid-19 pandemic. YourNeighbour.org, a charity initiative that was set up by the Good Faith Foundation (GFF) in response to the crisis, is now running a national call centre and email support line, Monday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A statement on Good Friday explained: “YourNeighbour.org matches registered churches with people in need, enabling them to help with food shopping, providing food to the hungry and trips to the pharmacy and any other needs the person has. We are incredibly grateful to the Oasis Trust for their partnership to deliver the telephone service.”
In 2015, the GFF worked with the Home Office, churches, and civil organisations to construct the Community Sponsorship Scheme, through which more than 500 refugees have been resettled by churches and community groups in the UK.
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, told BBC News on Tuesday: “This initiative has grown from nothing to 1000 churches in a week. It is phenomenal. . .
“Jesus rising from the dead is about saying death is not the end, fear should not hold us; it is about new hope, new opportunities, new life. That is our message every day of every year, but, at this particular time, when we face situations none of us imagined . . . it is another way of saying we believe that the risen Jesus is inspiring us and helping us.”
Separately, Chichester diocese has launched a helpline in partnership with Together in Sussex to provide pastoral support for the recently bereaved and people suffering from the pandemic. A diocesan spokeswoman said that the line was staffed by volunteers “trained in pastoral care and listening skills” — including clerics and licensed lay ministers.
“All volunteer listeners will have completed safeguarding training with the diocese. They will be able to point callers to other organisations offering specialist support if appropriate and also to parish clergy. Listeners will offer to pray for the caller or for their concerns.”
TwitterHomemade crosses: one displayed by Philip Walsh, in Blackburn diocese. . .
Hospital chaplains in the diocese would direct people to the service, she said, though the phone line was open to anyone, churchgoer or not, living in Sussex. The number is 01273 425047. It will be open from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., at least until the end of next month.
The diocese has also produced a card for people to print and take into hospital with them, stating that they are Christian and consenting to a chaplain’s visit in hospital. The cards will be distributed by chaplaincies and churches.
In York, religious leaders, funeral directors, and the City of York Council have agreed a plan to allow a limited number of immediate family of the deceased to say their goodbye to loved ones from outside the crematorium gates during the interment of ashes, as long as social-distancing rules are followed.
A statement last week explained: “Following the announcement of unattended cremations, faith groups and the Council have confirmed that they will offer a faith officiant present at the crematorium to undertake the committal of the body according to the appropriate religious rites, and that celebrants or a minister can read your words during the private cremation and that this will be recorded for families.
“The immediate family may wish to attend York Crematorium, remaining outside to pay their respects, similarly at Fulford Cemetery, whilst following official social distancing guidelines.
Twitter. . . and another that was posted on social media by Caz Pinder
“City of York Council will ensure that services of remembrance at York Crematorium will be offered to all families when restrictions are lifted and a city wide multifaith remembrance ceremony will be held, supported by local faith leaders and the Council.”
The Archdeacon of York, the Ven. Sam Rushton, said: “At this difficult and distressing time, we, as church leaders, are committed to working closely with our colleagues at York Crematorium to make sure we can offer a fitting tribute to those who have died and as much comfort as we are able, within the current restrictions, to those who are mourning the loss of a loved one.
“We know how important a funeral is for mourners, to help them find some sense of peace in the midst of their dark times, but we also know how important it is to keep families and friends, as well as crematorium staff, safe from harm.”
Funeral directors have also been encouraging people to pay their respects to the dead by pausing, removing hats, or bowing their heads when hearses pass.
Of the almost two million people who have tested positive for the coronavirus worldwide, more than 120,000 people have died. One quarter of reported cases are in the United States (584,073).
LUCA ROSSETTI, COURTESY SUGAR SRL, DECCA RECORDSSolo performance: the Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli outside Milan Cathedral, in which he sang on Easter Day. No audience was present, but a live stream on YouTube was watched by a record number: more than 2.7 million people
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, the Most Revd Michael Curry, said in his video address on Easter Day: “That first Easter, it was Easter, but nobody knew it. . . Mary and those women got up in the dark, not knowing for sure what was going on, just doing what love does. Love can’t change the fact of death, but love can live through it and thereby defeat death. . .
“It really was Easter. Jesus really was alive. God had been somehow behind the scenes all along, working through the chaos. They just didn’t know it.”
Virtual services were live-streamed around the Anglican Communion on Easter morning. The Communion’s Secretary General, the Rt Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, led a service from the gardens of Lambeth Palace.
The sermon was recorded in the gardens of Canterbury Cathedral by the Dean, the Very Revd Robert Willis. He said: “This cathedral church is one great link in our Communion. We pray for each Province day by day according to our calendar and at this time of terrible crisis for the whole human race in our world, we are more than especially keen to be sending our services across the world. . .
“Our hearts and minds are full of prayers and also grief for those who are suffering so much because of this coronavirus.”
PAExhausting: people in parked cars listen to a sermon preached from a stage at an Easter Monday service in a meadow in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Later on Sunday, the Dean welcomed a “virtual pilgrim”, Tim Gee, to the cathedral by video link. Mr Gee had walked the 83-mile pilgrimage from Peckham on his manual treadmill for 20-minute “bursts” every day for two weeks.
He said on Tuesday: “It ended up being quite a spiritual experience — something definitely happened inside me, which I’m still working through. More broadly, it was a manifestation of the belief that work for peace is not just about peace and war, but tacking all forms of violence in society.”
Mr Gee has raised almost £1500 for Latin American Women’s Aid, which supports Latin American women in London who are trapped in abusive relationships and therefore particularly vulnerable during the lockdown.
Dean Willis said: “Tim, these are extraordinary circumstances, and as our Queen said in her recent broadcast, ‘We’ll meet again.’ And I hope we will meet physically here so I can shake your hand and congratulate you in a real way.”
Church valuables moved. The diocese of London confirmed this week that valuable items from some of the more than 400 churches in London had been moved “to a number of secure locations” — including the Tower of London — in case of looting.
A spokesperson for the diocese explained: “This is to ensure their safety, away from our churches, while church buildings remain closed. The focus of the operation was about preserving and protecting heritage, as London’s priests and churches act as stewards of so much of the capital’s rich history.”
The operation was carried out by the diocesan Parish Property Support Team and an independent conservator “over several days to ensure that everything was properly logged before being packed carefully into crates and transported via a number of vehicles, before being taken to secure locations.
“Not all of the items could be fully valued, because some are so rare and unusual. Even London’s priests do not know the exact locations where items from their churches are being housed for safekeeping. The authorities, including the police, were informed about the operation and the diocese ensured that the current social-distancing measures were maintained.”
One water company has urged churches to contact their water retailers to agree a reduced rate during the lockdown. Castle Water, which has more than 5000 churches and church halls on its books, said that water retailers could reduce water charges for churches and businesses that were temporarily closed owing to Covid-19, and in some cases stop them completely.
The chief executive, John Reynolds, said on Tuesday: “We realise that water bills aren’t normally high for churches, but we want to make sure we aren’t charging any more than we need to. OFWAT has put in place very tight rules covering exemption from charging while temporarily closed, and many Churches may not realise they have to confirm to their water retailer that they are temporarily closed.”
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