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Chaplain of virus-hit area devises rites for a crisis

06 March 2020

Public gatherings have been banned, including church services, and all schools have closed


The Anglican Church of the Holy Ghost, Genoa, in Liguria

The Anglican Church of the Holy Ghost, Genoa, in Liguria

THE authorities in the Liguria, Lombardy, and Veneto regions, in northern Italy, have banned public gatherings for at least a week, including church services, in an attempt to slow the coronavirus infection rate. More than 3000 people tested positive in the country, and 107 people died this week.

All schools in the country were also closed for 10 days from Thursday.

DIOCESE IN EUROPEThe chaplain, Canon Tony Dickinson

The Chaplain of the Anglican Church of the Holy Ghost, Genoa, in Liguria, Canon Tony Dickinson, decided that a different approach was needed to allow his flock to celebrate holy communion as usual on a Sunday. He organised a video recording of the full service for the First Sunday of Lent, and segments were posted on the church’s Facebook page for worshippers to view at home.

In his sermon, reflecting on Matthew 4.1-11 (on the testing of Jesus in the wilderness), Canon Dickinson described the outbreak as “a kind of wilderness” and “test” for the community.

“For all of us, for the rest of the people of Genova, for most of Italy, especially Lombardy and Veneto, the coronavirus outbreak has led us into a kind of wilderness. The fact that I’m having to say these things on social media rather than face to face in church is just one aspect of that. All of us are waiting to discover what will happen next.

“All of us are experiencing something of that testing which Jesus underwent, struggling as disturbing thoughts arise in our hearts: ‘How am I going to survive this?’ — the bread question; ‘Why should I change how I do things? God will stop me from becoming infected’ — the ‘throw-yourself-down’ question; and ‘How can I turn this situation in some way to my advantage?’ — the power question.

“But, when we find ourselves in the place of testing, the place of waiting, this ‘liminal space’, the thing to do is to follow the example of Jesus. In reply to each of those questions from the tester he reaffirmed his trust in God.”

The previous week, Canon Dickinson had organised a “DIY ashes to go” event in place of the eucharist on Ash Wednesday. This was possible because the ban on public gatherings for worship does not prevent churches’ staying open for private prayer.

He prepared a small container of ashes, and a dozen leaflets, which contained the readings and prayers for the day, the words to be said at the ashing, and some material for reflection, before leaving the church open at the usual hour for the midweek eucharist. The loophole also enabled the church to run its planned drop-in quiet day the next morning.

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