Three British religious leaders have published an unprecedented zoom conversation, considering the tumultuous effects of coronavirus on their faith, their communities and the soul of the nation.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby; Cardinal Vincent Nichols, head of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales; and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Synagogue, posted their conversation on you tube, offering reflections on the way the pandemic is shaking the foundations of faith communities and wider society.
They spoke of the difficulties people face when confined, offering insights on how to cope; the search for answers to ultimate questions people are asking themselves; the adaptation people of faith are making without places of worship to attend; and the seeds of hope, as volunteers come forward and people show acts of kindness to one another.
Here’s a selection of quotes.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis:
‘We’re living through momentous times. It’s not that often that you actually feel that. Now, I’m living through a moment which throughout the future people will look back on as being a momentous turning point. Ever since 1945. We’ve been living in the post-war era and I believe that from 2020 onwards will be living in the ‘post virus era’ and people will be looking back to this time that we are living through right now.’
‘God is with us in this very challenging time. I feel it personally at a time when together with yourselves, I have the ability to make some very important decisions. It’s not often that a decision that one makes us a leader makes a difference to life or death, but that’s actually what we are doing right now in terms of our policies with regard to what remains open what will be closed as and so on. And I feel the presence of the almighty, as I’m sure the two of you do right now.’
‘What we’re finding is that those who are praying now, are praying for prayer’s sake. Usually when people come to our house of God, it could be out of habit, it could be to do the right thing to be loyal, or for the social dimension.. But in the private confines of one’s home when one prays now, it is genuine deep-rooted prayer and those of us who are privileged to be able to pray in this way are finding that almighty God is with us all the way. And it is a very powerful and empowering element of our existence right now.’
Cardinal Vincent Nichols:
‘.. I must admit sometimes I struggle with people’s questions: Where is God in all of this? Why is God letting this happen? And it does strike me there are two very important lessons. One is: this is an event of the natural order and what it poses to us is not a question of how did this come about – science tells us that now – but it poses the question of what should change in my way of life? What am I being challenged to look at afresh? And I think we have a lot of discerning to do between what has seemed to be the key aims in life, and what now this time reveals to be the really important things in life.’
‘I don’t think we should underestimate how difficult this is for many people. I’m here in Archbishop’s house – we’ve got plenty of room. Many families are in very very constrained spaces and I’m sure I struggle to find way in which to say to them. who might not have a practice of faith – there is something to learn, there is something to learn from us. And the thing that I find myself repeating is this, do give your day a routine. Give it a structure, stick to that structure. But within that structure give yourself a time of profound silence, because that silence is the doorway through which they might go tiptoe into a sense of God’s presence and therefore into an expression of prayer. And for those who are not used to silence – we are not used to silence and we’re not used to being closed in together – but the whole of our religious traditions tell us that when you’re in together, in chosen isolation, in monasteries and things, a routine is vital and times of silence are vital. And I just hope anyone listening to this would pick that up that. Don’t be afraid to sit quietly together and let God do the rest.’
Archbishop Justin Welby:
‘I think that there is so much good news amidst the darkness at the moment and I think there is so much to celebrate. People are wanting to be in touch with each other and most of all be in touch with God. And also we’re finding around the communion – the Anglican communion of 165 countries – that sense of community in a way that that perhaps we’ve been missing for a very very long time – if we’ve ever had it before.’
‘I think one of the key challenges for many people thinking about what you said Vincent earlier about space and being confined, is that when we are confined when we’re closed in in some way, the most difficult person we meet is ourselves. And even if we’re confined with a number of other people, we find things within us that we really don’t like, are ashamed of, try and cover up with anger and all kinds of things. I think we’ve seen already a very significant increase in domestic violence over the last couple of weeks.
‘And I do think .. we need to recognize that in many people, there is a very very deep anxiety, which is sometimes behind the question: ‘Where is God in this?’, because unsaid is: ‘Where is God in this for me?’ And I think one of the things I’m very struck by is the need to remind us, at this time of year particularly the run-up to Holy Week and Easter in the Christian calendar, and Passover in the Jewish calendar, is the reminder that God did not abandon his people. He was part of what was happening. He led them through the deepest most painful business…
‘Sometimes we only see God in retrospect more easily than at the time. So the key thing for me is to speak of forgiveness, that whatever we find when we’re confined, whatever we find when we know God has been with us, is present, has been with us, and we turned away and expressed anger or doing wrong in one way or another, we need to learn to receive the forgiveness of God and the forgiveness of one another and to offer it to one another. But I think that’s something our society has forgotten how to do and it’s absolutely essential.’