Coronavirus and religion – daily update 19 March

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Continuing our daily update of news as coronavirus affects religious organisations:


  • The Queen, head of the Church of England, issued a statement to the nation as she moved to Windsor Castle earlier than expected for her Easter break. She acknowledged that individuals and families were entering a period of great concern and uncertainty. “At times such as these, I am reminded that our nation’s history has been forged by people and communities coming together to work as one, concentrating our combined efforts with a focus on the common goal,” she said. “We are enormously thankful for the expertise and commitment of our scientists, medical practitioners and emergency and public services; but now more than any time in our recent past, we all have a vitally important part to play as individuals – today and in the coming days, weeks and months.”
  • The Church of England has announced changes to the way weddings and baptism are performed. Only five people should attend a wedding – the legal requirement of the priest, the bride and bridegroom and two witnesses. Everyone else should maintain a social distance. Weddings can be streamed, or postponed.
  • For baptisms, numbers should be limited to the candidate, their parents (or guardians or carers), the godparents and the minister. Priests are obliged to baptise children of parishioners, but families may wish to postpone.
  • Funeral rites are also changing. Meetings with bereaved families are not face-to-face, only immediate family should attend funerals, social distancing means people should not hug each other, and wakes should not be held.
  • Archibald Macrae, an undertaker in Stornoway in the Western Isles, says the traditional funeral processions with male mourners carrying the coffin, must be abandoned with the coronavirus pandemic. The tradition of placing coffins in the home or the church should also stop. Mr Macrae said the decision was difficult because of the historic role traditions played in allowing a community to show respect, but mourners and staff had to be protected
  • Jennifer Uzzell, a PhD student at Durham University as well as being an undertaker, says funeral directors lack essential equipment, such as masks and protective clothing, to keep them safe. There are safety issues involved especially when a patient dies at home, and insufficient knowledge of the risks. Some measures are in place. For example, coffins of those who died from the coronavirus are routinely disinfected. Rules governing cremation parks and cemeteries are individual and not consistent but undertakers are expecting more restrictive and detailed measures to be brought in later. Jennifer’s fact sheet on death rites is here
  • The international news agency Reuters reports that many aspects of death rituals are changing worldwide because of the virus and there are enormous pressures on those who deal with the dead, for example in Italy where mortuaries are full.
  • Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism, has written to all members saying that celebrations for the Jewish Passover, will be radically different this year. Many communities will be running a second-night “seder” – the ritual service and dinner – for all of their members online. She says: “In every generation our community has faced challenges, but our tradition and our community have enabled us to overcome them. That remains true today.”
  • The Sikh Council UK and the Sikh Doctors Association have announced that they will not shut all gurdwaras (places of worship) or langars (community kitchens) within. Instead they have outlined good hygiene principles for all gurdwaras, including instructions on hand-washing, sitting one metre apart, capturing coughs and sneezes, covering the mouth with a scarf when bowing in front of the scripture and living guru Sri Guru Granth Sahib Jee, and disinfecting prayer mats. Most of the 250-300 gurdwaras in the UK have shut, but maintaining the community kitchen to feed the needy is a tenet of faith and are being kept open, like food banks. They describe the important social aspect of gathering in a gurdwara: “It would be against the tenets of Gurmat to ban elderly members of the sangat [community] from coming to the gurdwara. As mentioned in our last directive, the gurdwara is often the only support network for elderly/vulnerable people. However, over-65s should be encouraged to restrict the duration of their time at the gurdwara to an absolute minimum.”Sukhjeevan Singh Kandola, President, Sikh Doctors Association, said: “If you shut a gurdwara, the community kitchen and provision of food for the needy would cease. In the event of a lockdown, these kitchens will provide the equivalent of meals on wheels. Services have ceased, except for rituals such as funerals, but even then, limited numbers attend.” Contact: [email protected]


  • A pastor in Louisiana held a service for 1,100 people on Sunday and 450 people on Tuesday in defiance of a ban by the state’s governor on gatherings of more than 50 people. Pastor Tony Spell is reported to have said that the Covid-19 scare was politically motivated. The service was broadcast on Facebook. Pastor Spell said police told him that the National Guard would break up any such future gathering, although a colonel in the National Guard denied this.
  • Up to 8,000 Muslim pilgrims arrived in Indonesia from Thailand, Malaysia and Pakistan for a large religious gathering organised by the Tabligh movement, an evangelistic proselytising Muslim group, but it was cancelled at the last moment.
  • Shia Muslims in India cancelled Friday prayers because of the coronavirus. They make up an estimated 10-15% of India’s Muslim population.(Pic by ARTEMISIASROYALDEN)


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