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20 March 2020

HOW do you run a church without a church? Exceptions to the service lockdown might start to appear — a thinly attended eight-o’clock holy communion could be made relatively safe, and, paradoxically, might provide a model for other services at which social distancing can be encouraged. But, for the time being, churches are staring into the same abyss as pubs, restau­rants, theatres, concert venues, and the like. Financially, the change over the past few years from a weekly collection to stand­ing orders and direct debits will give the Church a cushion unavailable to commercial concerns; but the loss of hall book­ings and income from events will be felt by many. The chief loss, though, will be a spiritual one: regular worship is as important as food to most of our readers, and any pause is hard to con­template.

But, as the Archbishops remind us, communal worship is not the only aspect of the Christian life. Although the experience is almost unknown in this country, Christians elsewhere can teach us plenty about how to live when worship is prevented by politi­cal, economic, medical, or simply geographical factors. Those lessons need to be learnt quickly. Churches are still in the early days of puzzling out how to care for people when the normal means of expressing that care are ruled out as potentially fatal. Up to this point, the prospect of self-isolation has been, for many, a matter of prac­ticalities: how to shop, how to stay in touch with others safely. But there are categories of people for whom self-isolation, even if possible, will be a nightmare: those with a disability that requires assistance, those without internet skills, the lonely, the very anxious. Attempting to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is already demanding many sacrifices: adult children unable to visit their aged parents; grandparents unable to see their infant grand­children; friends unable to say farewell to someone for a final time.

Far more dreadful scenarios are in prospect: some of those who contract the virus and follow government advice to self-isolate may become too ill to notice the moment when their symp­toms become grave enough to require medical help. Relatives, friends, or care workers will have no option but to put themselves in harm’s way to look after those in danger of dying alone. But many of these carers have dependants; so problems could well escalate. Organisation is the key, and if there is one thing that churches are good at, it is that. Canadians have coined the phrase “caremongers” for the rapidly expanding groups of people who have elected to look after neighbours. We are confident that churches, which have been dealers in care for generations, will rise to the challenge posed by the coronavirus.

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