Churches co-ordinate their CV-19 response as figures go on rising

09 April 2020

Church access restrictions tightened further to stop ‘cynical’ use

Peter Walker

One of a series of images projected on to Lichfield Cathedral by the Luxmuralis artistic director, Peter Walker, this week

One of a series of images projected on to Lichfield Cathedral by the Luxmuralis artistic director, Peter Walker, this week

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has praised the clergy for “working so hard” to keep the Church alive online while its buildings are closed owing to the coronavirus.

In a video message posted on Facebook on Tuesday afternoon, he said: “In this country we see parishes working so hard to serve and love everyone around them. They keep the worship of God alive online — not just alive, but stronger than ever. Whether laity or clergy, but especially clergy, they are working so hard.

“As we follow Jesus through this week, as we see him giving his life in love, may the power of that love gather us up and strengthen us to keep serving, keep kindliness, keep worship alive.”

The video was captioned: “As we follow Jesus through Holy Week towards Easter, I want to thank clergy who are working so hard to support their communities.”

Archbishop Welby had been on a video call that morning with Archbishops from around the world. “There were a number of things they reported on that were held in common,” he said. “First, the presence of coronavirus, now in almost all countries on earth. Second, though, a renewal of community spirit and a life in the Church.

“Most church buildings have been closed, either by government order or by choice, but the life of the Church — of worship and service to the community — is stronger than ever, and it is led at the local level.”

Last week, the Archbishop organised a similar meeting of church leaders representing 22 Christian denominations and org­ani­sa­­tions in the UK and Ireland. Among those involved were the RC Archbishop of Westminster, Cardi­nal Vincent Nichols; the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange; the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies; and the President of the Irish Council of Churches, the Revd Brian Anderson.

In the afternoon, church officers discussed current denominational policies regarding online worship, pastoral care in hospitals, and funeral arrangements (News, 3 April). It is understood that information was also exchanged on furlough arrange­ments being considered by some Churches.

The General Secretary of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Bob Fyffe, said: “There was a concern about pastoral provision regarding funerals, and a real concern. . . about how the Church will meet the needs of communities and families regarding bereavement.

“One of the learning points was that we are all confronting the same issues to a greater or lesser extent, whether in the north of Scotland, the west of Ireland, or central London. Holy Week was recognised as being at time when people need their church, and [the participants] en­­couraged new ways of communi­c­ating with their communities.”

In a joint statement released on Monday, the leaders acknowledged the “unprecedented crisis” of the virus, particularly the impact on the most vulnerable.

“Covid-19 virus continues to af­­­­­fect people at an alarming rate, health services along with many of our institutions and organisations, both local and national, are under extreme pressure and people are getting used to living in a very dif­ferent way, many in extreme iso­la­­tion. As with all such crises, there is a danger that the most vulnerable in society will be most badly affected.”

Exile, hope, and despair were part of the Christian journey through Holy Week and Easter and should be remembered in prayer, they wrote.

In the past week, reported cases of Covid-19 in the UK have risen by more than 20,000. Of the 55,997 re­­ported on Wednesday, more than 6000 (11 per cent) had died. Lack of testing means that the true figure of those who have contracted the coronavirus is unknown. Cases are increasing rapidly in the north of England. Last week, a retired priest in Hudders­field, the Revd Philip Carlin, was among the fatalities. He was 71.

In an ad clerum on Wednesday, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, adjusted the dio­cesan advice to her clergy. All build­ings must remain closed, even to clerics whose homes have direct access to the church. Previously, the London College of Bishops had allowed clerics in these circum­stances to con­tinue praying and livestreaming services from within.

Bishop Mullally wrote: “However, this advice, which we published before the Archbishops’ latest direc­tion, appears to be being used cynic­ally by some, either to say we are ignoring guidelines from the Arch­bishops and Bishops in other dio­ceses, or to push the boundaries of the guidelines. This was never the intention.

“So, whilst it is painful to ask, we are asking the limited numbers of you to whom the above applied, to stop all livestreaming from your church buildings for the time being.

“It feels extremely hard to ask this of you, this week of all weeks. But you will know that some people believe that being in our churches to stream, even if it is accessed by a door in your home, is encouraging others to want to travel to their church, and for others to ask for churches to be open to the public. We would not want to be seen to encourage any laxity in the require­ment to stay indoors except for designated reasons, because this will save lives, and protect the NHS.”

The Community of the Resur­rection in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, along with other religious commun­ities, has been advised by the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, that, “In the case of Eucharistic worship, reception of the host by members of the community should not take place until streaming has ended.”

A correspondent, John Radford, writes this week, that the Com­mun­ity had gone to great lengths “to make their ‘invisible’ congrega­tion welcome”. He says that he is shocked by the new advice. A spokesperson for the Community of the Resurrection, said on Thursday that they, and other communities, were continuing to stream all services, but were not permitted to livestream the brothers receiving communion.

The leaders of 20 Christian char­ities, including Christian Aid, World Vision, and Christians Against Poverty, have urged the Government to support both the Church and charitable sector in their work to protect communities during the crisis. This included addressing the debt crisis, delivering food par­cels, prioritising children in pov­erty, mental-health support, ad­­dres­­sing loneliness, and safeguard­ing child­ren.

PAThe Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab (centre), who took charge of the Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis on Monday after the Prime Minister was admitted to hospital, and later moved to intensive care

In an open letter to the Prime Minister on Monday, they write: “The Church is an unequalled army of highly motivated and experienced volunteers, on the ground in every city, town, and village. . . We ap­­preci­ate the ways the Chancellor has helped families and businesses in this time of crisis and urgently ask that the same support may be found for the vital work of the charitable sector and the Church, as we con­tinue to do all we can.”

The closure of churches and cancellation of fund-raising events has contributed to a significant fall in public charitable donations (News, 27 March). Without Govern­ment support, life-changing services would suffer, they warn.

Separately, the Salvation Army has written to the Government to request a review of the Retention Scheme guidelines that restrict fur­loughed workers from volunteering for their employer.

The communi­ca­tion secretary, Lt.-Col. Dean Pallant, points out in a letter to Baroness Barran that many of those employed are also worshipping members of the Salvation Army and volunteer in their own time. “Losing volun­teers could threaten our ser­vices at a time when they are needed the most. . .

“We do not believe it is the Gov­ernment’s intention to prevent people from participating in the life of their faith community, such as ours.”

On Thursday last week, Citizens UK organised a mass digital-training session, with Facebook profession­als, for faith leaders around the world. Hundreds of people joined the Zoom video conference to learn skills including how to stream ser­vices online, and how to arrange phone calls for isolated people and food deliveries for the elderly when volunteers are in short supply.

The Bishop of Colchester, the Rt Revd Roger Morris, said: “We are rightly distancing ourselves physi­cally and staying home for the good of others. But this does not mean that we need to be socially isolated. The careful use of technology can keep us socially connected while physically isolated. This is literally a Godsend for some of the most vulnerable and lonely in society.”

The director of the Centre for Theology and Community and Church Times columnist, Canon Angus Ritchie, said: “Many of us are on a really steep learning curve — with the move online happening at a time when churches’ prayer, mutual care, and support of neighbours is more needed than ever. This is one of the ways in which being part of a wider community-organising alli­ance is helping us respond.”

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, also took to Zoom last week to license the Rt Revd Jonathan Ruhumuliza as a non-stipendiary minister at St Stephen’s, Astley. Dr Walker posted an image of the virtual licensing on Twitter, last Friday, with the caption: “Just completed my first Zoom licensing.” Bishop Ruhumuliza is a former Bishop of Cameroon.

On Palm Sunday, Dr Walker also led a national service of holy com­munion from his living room, which was broadcast on Facebook live. The readings were recorded separately by the Archdeacon of Manchester, the Ven. Karen Lund, as were the prayers by Lucy Hargraves from St Peter’s, Bolton.

The Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, said: “To not be able to meet in the usual ways on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday will be deeply sad for people in our par­ishes across the county. Creating a palm cross to go in your window is a wonderfully creative response to the situation, and will also be an oppor­tunity to witness to others about our faith at this difficult time for all of us.”

A trustee of the Council of Chris­tians and Jews (CCJ), James Leek, died on Monday. He was co-chair of the South West London and Dittons branch. The chair of CCJ, the Bishop of Lichfield, Dr Michael Ipgrave, and the director, Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko, said in a state­ment: “James will be deeply missed by all at CCJ. Our hearts go out to his wife Hilary, his children, his grand­children, and all those who knew and loved him.”

A scientific briefing paper circu­lated to the dioceses last week sug­gested that, if no social interven­tions or control measures had been put in place by the Government, deaths would have increased to as many as half a million at the peak of the crisis.

The paper was signed by the Bishop of Hertford, Dr Michael Beasley, who was an epidemiologist at Imperial College London; the Team Vicar of Buckfastleigh, in Devon, the Revd Professor Gina Radford, who is the former Deputy Chief Medical Officer; and the Church’s chief medical adviser, the Revd Dr Brendan McCarthy (Back Page Interview, 3 April).

Government responses were based on data, predicted patterns of behaviour, and knowledge of other disease transmissions (e.g. in­­flu­enza), they write. The likely increase in deaths in London and the south of England, and the intro­duction of antibody tests in the next week or two, would give a clearer idea of mortality rates and the impact on the NHS.

“It is hoped that by slowing the rate of transmission and pushing much of the epidemic curve into the summer, the virus will subside of itself, as flu does. However, we do not know if the virus is susceptible to summer conditions.”

St Michael’s, BathVolunteers at St Michael’s, Bath, start on the production of face masks, on Tuesday

Epidemics were like earthquakes, they wrote. “There is an ‘epicentre’ where transmission is intense and extensive. Like an earthquake, the ‘shockwaves’ of an epidemic become less and less as the distance from the epicentre increases. . . Thus, experi­ences of an epidemic differ markedly in different parts of the world and within countries.”

The global number of coronavirus cases exceeded 1.2 million this week. More than 70,000 people have died. The highest number of reported cases remains in the United States (368,449) — almost three times the second highest number, in Spain (136,675). Infections in the US have risen by one third in the past week alone.

The president of the European Research Council, Professor Mauro Ferrari, resigned his post this week, citing the European Union’s reluctance to set up a large-scale scientific programme to fight the coronavirus.

He has been in post since January. He said in a statement to the Financial Times on Wednesday: “I have been extremely disappointed by the European response to Covid-19. I arrived at the ERC a fervent supporter of the EU [but] the Covid-19 crisis completely changed my views, though the ideals of international collaboration I continue to support with enthusiasm.

“I thought that at a time like this, the very best scientists in the world should be provided with resources and opportunities to fight the pandemic, with new drugs, new vaccines, new diagnostic tools, new behavioural dynamic approaches based on science, to replace the oft-improvised intuitions of political leaders. . .

“The proposal was passed on to different layers of European Commission administration, where I believe it disintegrated upon impact.”

Last week, the secretary-general of the UN, António Guterres, called for a global ceasefire in light of the crisis. “The fury of the virus illus­trates the folly of war,” he said. “The threats we face as a planet, health pandemics, and climate change among them, demand a co­-ordinated international response with no room for continuing to waste resources on armed conflict.”

The Network of Christian Peace Organisations, which includes the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, has urged the UK Government to support this call by discontinuing the sale of arms during the crisis. “This crisis is teaching the world much about the values of compas­sion and fairness, and the ability of societies to care for the most vul­ner­able as the basis of security. All our efforts now are rightly focused on preserving life and we have been heartened by the huge efforts made to this end, and by the strengthening of community bonds across the nation.”

USPG has launched a new fund called Focus on the Future to sup­port churches around the world during the crisis.

Like many church organisations, the Mothers’ Union had been work­ing hard to support its members around the world, its worldwide president, Sheran Harper, said this week. “I believe that we can draw on our faith for strength, and I have encouraged our members to remain full of hope, confidence, strength, and love. Whether they have loved ones with them at home or not, they do not pray alone, because we all pray together as a worldwide fam­ily.”

The chief executive of the Mothers’ Union, Bev Jullien, said: “As a staff team, we have adapted quickly to home working and we are determined, as far as possible, to continue supporting the MU movement. . . A positive benefit is that we are in more direct contact with members than ever, by phone or video conference, which is strengthening our relationships and helping us not only to support dur­ing the crisis, but to build hope and recovery for the future.”

In Gosport, during the lockdown, the MU Metamorphosis group have continued their two projects re­­­­motely, helping single parents and homeless people. A member explained: “The local MU have been keeping in touch with the mums via WhatsApp, setting challenges for the children to keep them amused. . . All the homeless people are now in hostels due to Covid-19.”

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