Coronavirus and religion – update 23 March

By Rosie Dawson

London’s churches close….

On Sunday evening many thousands of Christians followed the call from Churches Together in England to place lighted candles in their windows  as a sign of witness and solidarity in the face of the Coronavirus.

A few hours earlier the Church of England announced on its website that all church buildings in the capital were to close.  London has seen a sharp rise in the number of those testing positive for COVID-19.

A joint statement from the Bishops of London,  Rochester, Chelmsford and Southwark said that clergy who live next to their churches were allowed to go into them to pray and to celebrate the Eucharist alone. “You might ring the bell to tell the faithful that prayer is happening and do live stream as much as possible; but the doors should now be left closed even for private prayers.”

“We are aware that, although we make the decision in London first, it may be required across the country.”

… but attract an online following

Meanwhile one of London’s biggest churches, St Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square, has been attracting thousands of people to its online worship with more than four thousand watching today’s Morning Prayer. Yesterday’s Sunday worship attracted nearly eight thousand people with two thousand of them interacting through comments or “likes.”

“We have had a huge number of people emailing in who we don’t normally have contact with,” the church’s Associate Vicar Sally Hitchiner told RMC.  She said the regular congregation was being encouraged to participate in small “care groups” and that plans for “acute pastoral care” are being put in place. “We are expecting many members of our congregation will have loved ones who are seriously ill  – and to be seriously ill themselves.”  A closed facebook site has been set up for church members which will offer private interactive worship and a film club.

Reform Judaism  launches RJ:TV

The Reform branch of Judaism in the UK has launched an interactive broadcast service  from today. RJ:TV will be streaming more than four hours of programming each weekday. Content will include  prayer services and adult learning sessions and a daily “Corona, Coffee and Care” slots facilitated by Reform Judaism’s Wellbeing and Inclusion Manager, Sharon Daniels.    There will be a separate youth channel.

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism, said:

“We are absolutely determined that our Reform Jewish community continue at this difficult time. Our synagogue doors may be closed, but our communities are open. RJ:TV will bring together some of the most exciting talent in our community to deliver Jewish content and assistance at a time when gathering together physically is not an option.”

Death of prominent British Muslim Fuad Nahdi announced.

There has been an outpouring of grief online following the death of  one of Britain’s best known Muslims,  Fuad Nahdi.  Mr Nahdi, the founder of the Muslim youth magazine Q news  and of the “Radical Middle Way,”  died in intensive care in a London hospital on Saturday evening.  His family confirmed that he had been tested for the Coronovirus  and were awaiting the result. He was in his late 60s and had been suffering from diabetes and cancer.

His wife Humera Khan, who announced her husband’s death on Facebook,  said that his funeral would inevitably be unconventional.   “We will try to find a way to use technology to give access to people who would otherwise be there. But be assured that while the janaza will be unconventional we will honour Fuad’s passing and his legacy in an appropriate way once the world is a little safer insha’ Allah.”

Mr Nahdi was active in interfaith circles, including the Christian-Muslim forum and is believed to have been the first Muslim to address the Church of England’s General  Synod in 2014.

Yahya Birt from the University of Leeds  who teaches and researches British Islam called Mr Nahdi “the eminence grise of British Islam and the founding figure of modern British Muslim media….. the talented young journalists he mentored at Q news helped to define British Islam in the 1990s….the Radical Middle Way he established was a flagship outreach programme to promote a positive British Islam that was confident and not afraid to be outspoken when required.”

The Revd Bonnie Hills-Evans, an Anglican priest working in the area of interreligious dialogue and human rights, told RMC that Fuad Nahdi’s death was truly heart rending.  “I can’t count the number of times I have met both Fuad Nahdi, and his wife, Humera Khan, at various interfaith events – all of which were key with regard to human and equalities rights and building well-being in community. Fuad arranged for Shaykh Habib Ali Jifri to visit my rural parish in Hertfordshire, to have tea with my parishioners on a beautiful summer afternoon. He was like that – all about building warmth between peoples.”

Fuad Nahdi is pictured centre