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Churches still active as US battens down

03 April 2020

Even the President acknowledges the seriousness of virus


Cardboard congregation members at St Paul’s, Fayetteville, in Arkansas

Cardboard congregation members at St Paul’s, Fayetteville, in Arkansas

THE United States reach a grim milestone this week, as it overtook China for the highest number of fatalities from Covid-19, with little sign yet that the rate of infection is slowing down.

New York is the epicentre of the outbreak in the United States, with more than 1500 deaths reported on Tuesday, almost half of all deaths in the country, and it is still thought to be some weeks away from reaching the peak number of cases.

President Trump warned on Tuesday that Americans should prepare for a “very, very painful two weeks”, as the White House projected that the virus could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 people in all.

Social distancing restrictions have been extended until the end of April.

Three quarters of Americans are now under some form of lockdown, and gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned. Most churches are streaming services online.

St Paul’s Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, in Arkansas, asked parishioners to send in pictures of themselves, which were then pasted to the pews, allowing clergy livestreaming from the church to preach to familiar faces.

Another church, in Texas, is holding “drive-in” services, for which the congregation remains in their cars.

DANIELLE E. THOMAS/WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRALWashington National Cathedral has donated 5000 face masks to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and the Children’s National Hospital. The masks found in the crypt, left over from the 2006 avian flu scare

Others have had to adapt differently. The Boston homeless congregation known as “common cathedral” is still meeting, but is offering peanut butter and jam sandwiches rather than cooked meals. Continuing to meet showed the homeless that they had not been abandoned, particularly since it was becoming harder to find food or drink on the streets, said the Revd Mary Jane Eaton, who leads the Sunday service.

Some churches in the US have refused to close or to adopt distancing guidelines, however.

Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne of River Tampa Bay Church, in Florida, said in a video: “I’ve got news for you, this church will never close. The only time the church is closed is when the Rapture is taking place. This Bible school is open because we’re raising up revivalists, not pansies.”

Another church leader is reported to have said that he could tell his congregation “to lick the church clean with their tongues”, and they would do it, so great was their faith.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Tony Spell, the Pastor of Life Tabernacle Church defied the ban on gatherings of more than 50 by holding a service for more than 1000 people. He told a local radio station: “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

On Tuesday, police issued Pastor Spell with a misdemeanour summons for six counts of violating the state governor’s executive order barring large gatherings, CNN reported.

The UN issued a new report this week outlining its plan to counter the “potentially devastating” socio-economic impact of the pandemic. The report, Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19, describes the speed and scale of the outbreak, the severity of cases, and the societal and economic disruption of the coronavirus.

The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, said on Tuesday that Covid-19 was “the greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations”, and that the crisis “demands coordinated, decisive, inclusive, and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies — and maximum financial and technical support for the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries.”

Read an account of a priest in New York.

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