Coronavirus and religion – update 27 March

Here are the latest religion news stories from across the UK and overseas.

UK

Clap for our carers – sacred NHS

  • At 8pm last night (Thursday 26 March), hundreds of thousands of Britons clapped and cheered in unison to thank NHS workers and others on the frontline battling the coronavirus. In some places, local churches rang their bells to join the chorus of appreciation.
    Some commentators have speculated the pandemic could even more firmly establish the NHS as the closest thing modern secular Britain has to a national religion.
    Prof Gordon Lynch, from the University of Kent, explains in a factsheet here that people’s sense of society is organised around what they take to be sacred; and public phenomena like #Clapforourcarers, or the act of signing up to NHS Volunteers, have a symbolic significance, as people experience a sense of being part of a wider moral community
    Writing for the thinktank Theos, Nick Spencer noted how NHS staff today receive the widespread social respect once reserved for clergy and that the population is being urged to fight the war against the virus in the name of the health service, rather than any deity.
    The University of Warwick is already running a five-year research project into the cultural history of the NHS, entitled “How the NHS became almost a national ‘religion’”.
  • Meanwhile, the West Midlands is increasingly becoming a new hotspot of Covid-19, with 40 of the 115 total deaths recorded on Wednesday in the region. The Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood is attributing the spike in infections to older Muslim and Sikh residents who are not complying with social distancing rules. While there I s no firm evidence, he told The Guardian he suspected some were still going to mosques and gurdwaras to pray despite regular services having shut down.
  • The Board of Deputies of British Jews has urged Jewish people to stay home and preserve life at all costs, after spotting signs a disproportionate number of those dying from the coronavirus are Jews. The Board believes five per cent of those who died on Wednesday were Jews, although only 0.5 per cent of the UK population is Jewish. Synagogues like other places of worship have been shut down and it is unclear what might be causing more Jews to catch Covid-19 than any other group.
  • Foodbanks, many of which are hosted and supported by churches and other faith groups, are feeling the pinch from coronavirus. Some have shut their doors to try to protect their volunteers and staff from spreading the virus, while others have seen demand surge as people lose jobs and income during the shutdown. Some foodbanks have also reported difficulties in sourcing food donations, because many supermarkets now restrict shoppers to buying just two or three of any item.
  • The economic pressures of the shutdown are also affecting religious institutions. The Archbishop of Canterbury is chairing an urgent working group looking at whether the central Church of England needs to provide financial support to dioceses or cathedrals which have seen their income or investments plummet. Many charities running festivals and religious conferences over the Easter break and the summer have been forced to cancel and some have warned offering refunds to all those who had bought tickets could push them to the brink of financial ruin, as much of the spending on events cannot be recouped.

GLOBAL – The news is not all grim overseas, however.

  • Aachen Cathedral in Germany have dug out the relics of the long-forgotten St Corona, a little-known Christian martyr said to have been killed for the faith about 1,800 years ago. She has normally been associated with gambling and treasure hunting, but the Cathedral also claims she is, astonishingly, also the patron saint of epidemics. They are preparing her shrine so visitors can pay homage again once Germany’s lockdown is over.
  • In the Netherlands, a museum which had been holding an exhibition on miracles has now converted to become a hotline. Anyone can now ring up the Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht to either hear accounts of miracles or to request their own, from the safety of self-isolation. “It was just a bit of a joke before the coronavirus,” Rosa van der Wielen, a spokeswoman for the museum, told The Guardian. “But it would be very nice now if people put their requests on the website, that would be a very good idea.”

OTHER RELIGION NEWS

  • Three French Christians and an Iraqi colleague held hostage in Iraq since January have been freed. The group, who all worked for a French charity which supports Christians living in the Middle East, were abducted in Baghdad but no group had publicly claimed responsibility. In a statement last week the charity said no ransom demand had been issued either and no further details of their release have been made public.