Coronavirus and religion – update 9 April 2020

By Tim Wyatt

Here are today’s latest religion news stories:

Millions of Jews around the world celebrated the beginning of the Passover festival, or Pesach, yesterday with Seder meals. Traditionally, large groups of family and friends would gather to share a special meal and recite the story of the Jews’ escape from slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, however, many instead met via video platforms such as Zoom in their separate homes. Some Orthodox communities abstain from all electronic devices during religious festivals, however, meaning this option was not available.

UK

  • There is a growing row within the Church of England over the decision by the church’s bishops to shutter church buildings and bar clergy from livestreaming services from inside them. This goes further than government advice, which says only that public services at places of worship must stop. Some clerics, particularly those from the Anglo-Catholic tradition, are unhappy about having to improvise services from their vicarage front rooms rather than being able to use empty church buildings. Yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Rev Justin Welby, released a video explaining why the hierarchy had decided on a total closure of buildings and urging vicars to stand in solidarity with everyone else who is cooped up at home.
  • A church in Bath has stayed open despite the suspension of all public worship because it has been transformed into a factory making face shields for NHS workers. St Michael’s Without in the city centre is working with the local council and charities to allow eight volunteers (each more than two metres apart) to manufacture the plastic masks.
  • Canterbury Cathedral will toll its bells at 8pm every day throughout the lockdown in remembrance of the victims of Covid-19 and in thanks to those battling the virus on the front line. The Dean of Canterbury, the Very Rev Dr Robert Willis, said the cathedral bells would add their noise to communities across the country clapping for the NHS. The bells can be sounded remotely with no staff present.
  • Dozens of clergy in London who volunteered to become hospital chaplains during the surge in need have been told by their bishop they can serve in better ways, as they would not be allowed on wards to minister to patients because of the risk of transmitting Covid-19.GLOBAL
  • A church in California that lets its building to a second congregation has been forced to change the locks to stop the other church from continuing to meet in defiance of the state’s coronavirus lockdown. The pastor of Cross Culture Christian Center in the town of Lodi had insisted his services could continue as they were “essential” and protected under the US constitution.
  • In Nigeria, some Pentecostal megachurches have been shut down by force by the authorities after their flamboyant celebrity pastors refused to obey government rules that bar large public gatherings. Independent Pentecostal congregations have boomed in large parts of Africa in recent years and are often associated with prophecies for the future and promises of miraculous healing and wealth.
  • Authorities in Bangladesh have locked down the Cox’s Bazar region, where more than a million Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar live in crowded camps. No Covid-19 cases have yet been confirmed in the camps but it is feared an outbreak would devastate the densely populated district, which lacks proper medical facilities.

OTHER NEWS

Meanwhile, in other non-coronavirus religious news:

  • The UK’s two leading, Jewish newspapers, the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News, will shut soon. The papers, which were about to merge, were already in some financial difficulty and last year the Chronicle — which was founded in 1841 and is the oldest continuously published Jewish newspaper in the world — had to be refinanced by the charitable foundation that owns it. Yesterday the newspapers announced they would seek a voluntary liquidation because “it has become clear that [they] will not be able to survive the impact of the current coronavirus epidemic in its current form”. It is hoped, however, that some kind of Jewish news operation can be resurrected in the future. The Chronicle reported that its owner, the Kessler Foundation, was “actively working” to secure a future for the paper after the liquidation.
  • George Pell, 78, the cardinal who was recently freed from prison after his conviction for child sexual abuse was overturned, will retire in Sydney and not return to his high-profile former job at the Vatican, it has been reported. Pell, an Australian, was previously in charge of the Roman Catholic Church’s finances and had been the most senior church figure to be convicted of abuse.