Continuing our round up of news on the impact of the coronavirus on religion:
In the UK
At 8am on Sunday March 22nd, the Archbishop of Canterbury will lead a virtual church service, broadcast on all BBC local radio stations. Including prayers, hymns and a sermon, the service will help to fill the void caused by churches closing down due to the coronavirus.
Leo Devine, former Head of BBC South West, says it’s no surprise that the service is on BBC local radio, as it is the ‘beating heart’ of the BBC with a deeply held mission of serving communities. In a comment piece for the Religion Media Centre, he says: “At a time when church services are suspended throughout the country and most people are socially distanced or even isolated at home, where better than the local airwaves of the BBC to provide that spiritual support and to put a collective arm around local communities everywhere.”
The service will be broadcast also on BBC Radio 4 at 8.10am and on Facebook at 9am. Subsequent services will reflect all denominations.
Two Christian festivals have been cancelled due to the virus – New Wine’s United and Luminosity events in July and Spring Harvest in April. In both cases, organisers appealed to people who had bought tickets to give a donation instead, for fear of financial ruin.
Some mosques in Britain were open for Friday prayers, including in Leicester, where the mosque belongs to the Federation of Muslim Organisations. Following criticism, the Federation issued a statement on Saturday (21 March) strongly recommending that Muslim institutions suspend services, in order to protect one another from harm.
Muslim News has postponed its annual awards ceremony from March 30th until late summer. It usually attracts 500 guests with top speakers.
In America, the Christian network CBN news is reporting that President Trump, Vice President Pence and Housing Secretary Ben Carson spoke to hundreds of pastors in a conference call on Friday afternoon, asking them to pray for stamina and the health of our country. They are reported to have discussed compliance with guidelines to curb the spread of the coronavirus and came up with an idea to hold “drive in” worship services.
Mosques around the world were empty for Friday prayers, including in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, Kuwait and Malaysia. In Saudi Arabia, the two grand mosques in Mecca and Medina were granted an exception and remained open for prayer.
In Rio de Janeiro, the Assembly of God Victory in Christ Pentecostal church successfully went to court to keep open, with the judge ruling there was no law restricting its activities. This was despite the Public Prosecutor seeking to suspend church activities following government advice to stop crowds assembling.
And finally – a Roman Catholic priest in Utah is offering people the opportunity of a drive in confession. Father Stephen Tilley will sit in his jeep and invite parishioners to park next to him, giving their confession through open windows, after which he will offer the sacrament.