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Archbishops mark ‘terrible milestone’ of pandemic with a call to prayer

26 January 2021

The total number of Covid-related deaths in the UK has exceeded 100,000

PA

A lone man walks down the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, in central London, on Monday

A lone man walks down the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, in central London, on Monday

THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York have invited the British people to pause each evening from the start of next month to “reflect on the enormity of this pandemic”, and to pray.

In an open letter to the nation, issued on Tuesday, the Archbishops write: “As we reach the terrible milestone of 100,000 deaths from Covid-19, we invite everyone in our nation to pause as we reflect on the enormity of this pandemic.”

In the week up to 15 January, the authorities in the UK registered 7776 deaths with coronavirus on the death certificate, the highest weekly toll since April 2020. This brought the total number of Covid-related deaths to 103,704. Deaths in the ten days since then suggest that the total is now above 115,000.

The Archbishops write: “100,000 isn’t just an abstract figure. Each number is a person: someone we loved and someone who loved us. We also believe that each of these people was known to God and cherished by God.”

They encourage anyone “who is feeling scared, or lost, or isolated to cast their fears on God”.

They continue: “We also know that poorer communities, minority ethnic communities and those living with disabilities have been afflicted disproportionately and cry out for the healing of these inequalities.”

The Archbishops encourage everyone “to do all they can to live within the guidelines and constraints given by government”, but acknowledge: “None of this is easy.”

They go on: “One thing we can all do is pray. We hope it is some consolation to know that the church prays for the life of our nation every day. Whether you’re someone of faith, or not, we invite you to call on God in prayer. Starting on 1 February we invite you to set aside time every evening to pray, particularly at 6pm each day. More than ever, this is a time when we need to love each other.”

The letter concludes by speaking of the hope offered by the work of NHS staff, members of the clergy, and other frontline workers, as well as “the hope of the vaccine”, which they “urge everyone to take . . . as soon as it is offered to you”.

They conclude: “Most of all, we have hope because God raised Jesus from the dead. This is the Christian hope that we will be celebrating at Easter. We live in the hope that we will share in his resurrection. Death doesn’t have the last word. In God’s kingdom every tear will be wiped away.”

The day before the second lockdown came into force, in November, the Archbishops appealed in a letter to the nation for the British people to be calm, courageous, and compassionate (News, 6 November 2020).

In an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday morning, Archbishop Welby said that the numbers who had died with Covid-19 were “so disproportionate to what we’re used to”. He continued: “It’s this locking down, this change of the whole way we live which makes the grief so much more powerful. We can’t be with the people who are ill or dying.”

He suggested that people mark the grief “first of all by lament, by expressing to one another . . . the deep sense of sorrow; by being with people — ringing them up, being in touch with them, the basic things, showing solidarity.”

Asked whether there should be a physical memorial built to remember those who had died, Archbishop Welby said: “There probably should be, but the greatest memorial is going to be how we rebuild together, and being together and united after this. It’s what we do together after this that will be the best memorial.

“I think there certainly does need to be a memorialising of those who have been lost. It may be a memorial, or it may be all over the country. People will want both, and I think we need to let those who are grieving decide.”

Read more on the story in our leader comment

 

The letter in full: 

Dear friends

As we reach the terrible milestone of 100,000 deaths from Covid-19, we invite everyone in our nation to pause as we reflect on the enormity of this pandemic.

100,000 isn’t just an abstract figure. Each number is a person: someone we loved and someone who loved us. We also believe that each of these people was known to God and cherished by God.

We write to you then in consolation, but also in encouragement, and ultimately in the hope of Jesus Christ. The God who comes to us in Jesus knew grief and suffering himself. On the cross, Jesus shares the weight of our sadness.

We therefore encourage everyone who is feeling scared, or lost or isolated to cast their fears on God. We also know that poorer communities, minority ethnic communities and those living with disabilities have been afflicted disproportionately and cry out for the healing of these inequalities. During this pandemic, we encourage everyone to do all they can to live within the guidelines and constraints given by government following the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser. We show our commitment, care and love for one another by ensuring we do everything we can to stop the virus spreading.

None of this is easy. Very many of us are experiencing isolation, loneliness, anxiety and despondency like never before. Many people have lost their livelihoods. Our economy struggles. Also, the necessary restrictions we live with have also prevented us from being alongside loved ones as they died, or even at their graveside. All grief profoundly affects us, but this pandemic grief is so hard.

Therefore, we need to support each other. We do this by following the guidelines. But we also do it by reaching out to each other with care and kindness.

One thing we can all do is pray. We hope it is some consolation to know that the church prays for the life of our nation every day. Whether you’re someone of faith, or not, we invite you to call on God in prayer. Starting on 1 February we invite you to set aside time every evening to pray, particularly at 6pm each day. More than ever, this is a time when we need to love each other. Prayer is an expression of love. A number of resources will be made available at www.ChurchofEngland.org/PrayerForTheNation.

Finally, we write of hope. We are grateful for the hope we have because of the service of our NHS and social care staff. What a blessing and lifeline for our nation. We are grateful for the service given in local communities by clergy, other frontline workers and so many good neighbours. We are grateful for the hope of the vaccine. It is a testimony to the God-given wisdom and gifts of scientists and researchers. We urge everyone to take the vaccine as soon as it is offered to you.

Most of all, we have hope because God raised Jesus from the dead. This is the Christian hope that we will be celebrating at Easter. We live in the hope that we will share in his resurrection. Death doesn’t have the last word. In God’s kingdom every tear will be wiped away.

Please be assured of our prayers. Please join us.
 

The Most Revd & Rt Hon Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury

The Most Revd & Rt Hon Stephen Cottrell
Archbishop of York

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