The Church and Covid | Edward Gifford
If there is an organisation that should be prepared for a plague to sweep the earth it is the Church; in our case The Church of England. It is foretold in many parts of the Bible. Why then has the Church failed in so many ways in its response to this viral plague?
One would expect our current predicament to be one in which the Church comes to the fore of society, standing in opposition to the doom and gloom of temporal governments.
It is natural for humans, in times of crisis or not, to join institutions which guide them, bring solace and offer hope. It is also the natural condition of humans to aspire to higher ideals. Ritualising these ideals with credos, songs, words, rites of passage and group actions. Coming together with others in common cause satisfies the human need to be accepted as part of the group, to belong.
The NHS was thrust into the gap left by absent Church leadership, not by its own volition but being deified, voluntarily, by millions across the land. Participation in ‘clap for our carers’ was high across the whole country; yet many participants would struggle to explain why they took part beyond the obvious or the vain. Rather there is a deeper need being satisfied in that ritual.
Religion satisfies all the above conditions and more, why then does it still flounder even in a time of material and spiritual crisis?
An opaque conflict between secularism and the transcendent meaning of faith grips the heart of the Church.
Yes, Church leaders recognize that we live in a near total irreligious age but their response to this has, on the whole, been to become more secular, to bend to the times. This pull of secularism makes the Church increasingly irrelevant as it constantly shifts with societies’ whims and fads – see the Archbishop’s response to BLM. The church is meant to act as a tree with strong roots does: a constant in a world of variables. Offering an experience that can be found nowhere else in society therefore making it unique.
More visible though was its immediate shuttering of churches across the realm; halting all services and private prayer; restricting the clergy from entering their own buildings to pray; in addition to stopping clergy from administering last rites to the dying or ministering for the sick and vulnerable in their parish. To push many thousands away and tell them that ‘zoom’ church is just as good is shameful and a dereliction of duty.
Reluctantly churches have begun to reopen and conduct bareboned services. Anyone stepping into a church is now confronted with what resembles a crime scene: an East German-esque attendance register, black and yellow tape everywhere, alternate pews cordoned off, hand sanitiser, visors, masks, even gloves. No more exchanging the peace, no more hymns, no choir, no organ, hell not even allowed to sit by other people, or talk over a cup of tea after the service.
Isn’t this the place that teaches of an afterlife and to accept our mortality, as Jesus did?
It is time for Church leaders to recognize the righteous anger of the common people at what is happening in their churches and their wish for its return to common sense normality; accepting the risks but acknowledging the rewards of a life well lived on one’s feet not kept away by fearful bureaucrats.
Sadly, the Church currently represents little more than an arm of the nanny state, bogged down with health and safety diktats which actually go above and beyond what government recommend.
Matthew 22:21 teaches us of the separation of Church and State, an idea which seems at odds with current episcopal policy. Our taxes go to the treasury, but our souls belong to God. The Church should take a stand against this governmental mission creep and draw from its teaching how to truly live: not merely existing in ‘bubbles’.
Part of the word Christianity derives from the Ancient Greek krísis meaning crisis but also judgement. Each time the Faith is shaken it is also being judged and those parts which are unworthy fall away – will what remains serve the needs of the flock?
The following passage provides the scriptural backbone for a different response from the Church, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9.
We want to sing hymns; we want choirs and organs; we want bustling, welcoming churches; and in the coming months, carol services too. We do not wish to live in purgatory forever; therefore, let us be brave for the rewards are plentiful on this earth and the one beyond.