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Boris Johnson doesn’t get God This second lockdown has robbed church-goers of more than community

Churches are an existential framework for thousands of people. Credit: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

Churches are an existential framework for thousands of people. Credit: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images


November 6, 2020   5 mins

Many in my congregation were in tears on Sunday morning as I announced that churches were being ordered to close their doors once again. I had found out only a few hours earlier, since the Prime Minister hadn’t seen fit to mention it in his public statement the previous afternoon. “The right to freedom of religion is enshrined in Magna Carta and it is of the very essence of our common life that the liberties and freedoms of the people of this land extend to public worship,” wrote my own Bishop in a letter to his clergy. But Johnson didn’t bother to explain why — or even that — we were being shut down. We were in the small print, announced after the fact.

Some might wonder what my congregation was so afraid of? After all, private prayer is still allowed. But this argument profoundly misunderstands what churches do and, particularly, how they function to combat loneliness. By loneliness I don’t just mean the experience of being alone, but something far more existentially corrosive.

Millions of us are once more being locked into the fortress of our own homes, with little relief, without the comfort of company, without the presence of another’s touch or conversation. Even before Lockdown 2, loneliness was at epidemic proportions in this country. Now it represents a full blown emergency — with huge consequences for our mental and physical health.

There is, though, a difference between loneliness and being alone. And many who have chosen a form of lockdown for themselves do not experience loneliness; at least, not in the same way. Members of religious communities, for example: monks and nuns. Some live lives of silence and quiet contemplation, eschewing the sort of social connectedness that most of us take for granted. Yet we also speak of such people as living “in community” — which can seem an odd phrase, given that they have chosen the monastic life partly because it relieves them of the whole buzz of social engagement, the very thing we generally mean by “community”.

No, what living “in community” means in a monastery is participation in the worshiping life of a place, by which one is connected to others on a profound and intimate level through the love of Almighty God.

I have no idea how the new Covid restrictions will affect those living in closed communities, sealed off from the outside world. It strikes me as patently ridiculous that Mass will not be said in such places. Not, I suppose, that the Government would ever find out if it were. And I hope they do continue to come together and say their prayers and receive the comfort of holy communion. Because without that, I imagine that many of them will be lonely indeed, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

In her beautiful book A Biography of Loneliness, Fay Bound Alberti describes loneliness as a distinctively modern phenomenon. “Have people always been lonely? Is loneliness a state that can afflict us all, regardless of our time in place and history? I don’t believe so,” she argues, going on to say that, “loneliness in its modern sense emerged as both a term and a recognisable experience around 1800, soon after ideas about sociability, and secularism, became important to the social and political fabric.”

For Alberti, secularisation has much to do with our current condition of chronic loneliness. And this makes a good deal of sense. Roughly speaking, for those who lived before the 19th century, the world outside our window was not some inert space without personality or meaning.

In his autobiography, the British monk Bede Griffiths describes a solitary walk he had while still at school. He describes the birdsong and the bloom of hawthorn trees: “I remember now the feeling of awe that came over me. I felt inclined to kneel on the ground, as though I had been standing in the presence of an angel; and I hardly dared look on the face of the sky, because it seemed as though it were but a veil before the face of God.”

The former political dissident and Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, described something similar from his prison cell: “As I watched the imperceptible trembling of [the] leaves against an endless sky, I was overcome by a sensation that is difficult to describe: all at once I seemed to rise above all the coordinates of my momentary existence in the world into a kind of state outside time.” He described himself as “standing at the very edge of the infinite”.

Both these men experienced lockdown: one chosen, one imposed. And their mystical experiences express a relationship to the outside world in which it is forever pregnant with comfort, meaning and purpose. If secularisation is implicated in our current crisis of loneliness, as Alberti argues, it is perhaps because these kinds of experiences seem peculiar to many of us, in ways that they absolutely wouldn’t to our forebears. Max Weber called the process by which we lose such a sense of the world as disenchantment. And with it the world became a chillier, lonelier place.

What is interesting to me about the Griffiths and Havel stories is not that some sensitive individuals have exotic-sounding, highly poetic experiences of the world. But rather that we have almost lost the form of life through which such things can be experienced by all. That has traditionally been the function of the church: to establish a whole pattern of being and ordered meaning, through which what people call reality can be felt as loving and purposeful, and through which individuals can feel connected to each other and to creation.

There are what the philosopher Charles Taylor calls “horizons of significance”, the background against which things make sense. For present purposes, I will bracket out the question of whether this is a discovery or a projection. I simply want to suggest that without this kind of frame, the experience of being in the world became susceptible to existential loneliness in a way that it never was before. And that, in short, is why monks and nuns don’t get lonely. They are self-consciously embedded in a world that is so much larger than themselves. I don’t mean they have private invisible friends to keep them company; I mean they experience reality itself as the bearer of loving personality.

Many have been making the point that churches are not like golf clubs or friendly societies. Churches are the bearers of meaning for those who attend, the place where that all-important “horizon of significance” is sustained, nourished, and lived out. And for those of us in the Catholic tradition, this takes place supremely through the Mass, our holy communion. Here is where reality is most fully expressed as pregnant with loving significance. Which is why not being allowed to gather for holy communion is not just some simple privation, but an axe taken to the very root of our being. Our community is formed by communion.

Our present Prime Minister, perhaps more than any other before him, has a tin ear to the purpose of religious gathering. I don’t suppose it has helped that the Bishops have recently used up much of their political capital on things like Brexit. But even so, Johnson just doesn’t get religion. He sees it as just another glorified leisure activity, and one that can be turned off and on at will.

It absolutely isn’t. It is the basis for everything else that we, as believers, do. Not just one thing among others, but the background against which all that we do makes sense. He wants us to continue to serve the community with food banks and the like, which we will. But he refuses to appreciate where the basis for that community solidarity lies and out of which it grows. What is at stake here is a whole infrastructure of meaning and care.

And my congregation have strongly been making these very representations to me. There is a winter of emptiness and meaninglessness on the way and many are frightened. Which is why I won’t be meekly consenting to the strictures of secular authority. Yes, we will keep safe, as churches have been. Churches are not hot-spots of transmission. But as well as maintaining Covid vigilance, I will do all I can to serve my congregation as their priest, under the authority of my bishop. They expect me to. And they are absolutely right to do so.


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

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conversingwithparadise
conversingwithparadise
3 years ago

There is a simple solution to this. That the churches simply refuse to comply and continue to meet. Non violent resistance. For two thousand years the members of various Christian groups have risked death and undergone martyrdom in order to meet together. No use the churches bleating about the present situation and how hard done by they are when they are so cowardly and feeble. Not much of a witness is it?

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 years ago

Many will continue to meet.

Jeff H
Jeff H
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

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Jill Armstead
Jill Armstead
3 years ago

Who would pay the fines? How many churches would bankrupt themselves?
Why should churches be a special case given they have retreated to their cosy parishes for many years and lost the majority of citizens in our country?

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  Jill Armstead

People have chosen not to go to church. Only Anglican churches have parishes. I am not sure what makes a parish cosy.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

Catholics have parishes too, cosy or otherwise!

Jeff H
Jeff H
3 years ago
Reply to  Jill Armstead

They could refuse to pay the fines. (I’m actually not sure how many people are actually paying their fines anyhow) and even go to prison. Would the police enter churches to break up services? Would Bishops be imprisoned? I doubt it. As long as sensible precautions are taken (as they have been) and they are not putting others at risk then they are free in conscience to gather. Given the history of the Roman Catholic Churches as one example where priests and laity have risked (and given) their lives simply to say Mass and take communion their present response seems rather weak. I am not a churchgoer so I admit I am in no position to criticise but I wonder how many non Christians are aware how deeply distressing it is for Catholics not to be able to attend Mass
? Are they being failed by the Clergy? Btw many church buildings are so bloody cold and drafty I doubt the virus could survive in the atmosphere ðƾ˜‰

Zsuzsanna Snarey
Zsuzsanna Snarey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeff H

I am a Catholic and I find it deeply distressing not to be able to receive Holy Communion in the present lockdown when churches have been made such safe places

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeff H

The contrary appears to be true. This spike was predicted by some scientists when the colder weather came. It is not another wave. Covid is part of the flu family of viruses which also rises in the cold weather. So it is probably better to keep warm but ventilated as well.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  Jill Armstead

The present worldwide fall away was predicted in scripture by Christ and others and is a precurser to the end. All the more reason why we should make sure we keep in the faith and not be taken unawares at His coming..

david bewick
david bewick
3 years ago

For centuries churches have been places of refuge and sanctuary for those needing protection. Church doors should never be closed. I would like to think church leaders have a little bit more about them than this.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago

This is just one of a number of very big issues with this (and previous) lock down. What I find most disturbing is the way the government was bounced into this over the weekend based on forecast data that was flawed. It was almost like someone knew the data was flawed and leaked it to the papers knowing it would whip a media storm that would mean those flaws would not be discovered until the policy had been put in place and could not be reversed.

Another interesting point today is how various authorities have taken action to ensure our compliance. I am specifically thinking of the wall in the university in Manchester. This has very unpleasant undertones. The first is that the structure was not thought up, designed and delivered to the university in a couple of hours. This looks like it had major planning over several weeks, if not months. Next they turned the university into a “camp” from which you had to have permission to leave. I don’t care how tight the lock down needs to be and how much the police and the university authorities would like to be able to control movements, we all have a right to leave our homes and no one has a right to question why we may have done so, even under these regulations. Third we now have the tyranny of university lecturers who have decided they don’t want to teach students and finally who is going to take the blame for the inevitable jump in suicide rates that will come from this forced incarceration of students. I wonder how many grannies will be happy with a year to to more life at the expense of 60/70 years of life for their grand children!

Dave Smith
Dave Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

Yes it was premeditated. There is no way those fence could appear overnight without planning. It shows what we are up against.. A malevolent state .

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

Very well put. Is this Britain? It feels more like the Soviet Union by the day. Caging students, criminalising protest, controlling the media, falsifying data, refusing to publish evidence (because it doesn’t exist) for far-reaching decisions, forcibly separating families, quibbling about £5m extra for Manchester but spaffing (a Johnson term) hundreds of millions on failing cronies and consultants.

All in the name of “the science”, as opposed to properly defined science. Yet this is all about a face-saving cover up on a scale the Soviets couldn’t even match on Chernobyl.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

There are some cases when you have to make the risk. I have not seen my new grandaughter but if a time came that I thought it would be wrong not to I would risk it. In Sweden the lockdowns and isolation were voluntary and it appears to have worked.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

I have been arguing this very point for months. Life is about risk management. We take a risk getting out of bed, we take a risk crossing the road, we take a risk eating food, breathing, etc. We live every day balancing the risk and enjoying the rewards from taking those risks. From crossing the road to buy a good cup of coffee to going to see your grand daughter.

I read a fascinating article on the Spectator website over the weekend and it estimated the cost of lock down, something we have never been presented with. Obviously not being a fan of this type of forecasting I know this needs to be taken with a big pinch of salt, but the model (which is used in government to estimate the cost of many policies) forecast that lock down will cost 560,000 lives. That means the lock down which was introduced to stop 500,000 (if we take Imperial’s attempt) dying will actually cost more lives than it saves. So the correlation between risk and reward and cost and benefit are clear.

Simply put lock down as a cure is far worse than the disease!

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago

I think it would have helped many people to have kept churches open during the lockdown (with safety measures in place), for people of faith worship is almost as important as eating, perhaps more.

Not only that but it might have brought people in who thought they had no faith only to find it. The great age and beauty of churches could have given comfort.
It was a waste of a rich resource on so many levels.
I agree that Johnson does seem to lack an understanding of religion but then so do many people, sadly. He is a man of his time.

Jeff H
Jeff H
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

The churches could be a source of comfort and inspiration now. As politicians and the media are largely secular there is no mention or public discussion of the connection between spirituality (of all kinds) and how important hope, spiritual practice and a sense of meaning are to many people. A government forbidding people from practicing their religion is a massive infringement of human rights and it is good to see that a more robust resistance is beginning to emerge https://www.thetablet.co.uk

Terry Mushroom
Terry Mushroom
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

At the moment, there is no Mass in Catholic Churches because it’s the law. My own parish church, with protocols in place, opens every day for an hour. I’ve no doubt that other parishes are doing similar.

(Edited to make correction)

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Mushroom

Mr Mushroom, Catholic churches were not open during the last lockdown (March until June). The protocols you describe were put in place when churches reopened in early July.

Terry Mushroom
Terry Mushroom
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Whoops! You’re right!

Tim Hurren
Tim Hurren
3 years ago

The relevant part of the 4th November Scientific Advisory Committee is revelatory. It appears that the Government’s two top scientific advisers on Covid
strategy have no evidence to suggest that places of worship, properly
ordered in line with current guidelines, have been responsible for the
spread of the virus. The argument for transmission by people gathering
outside places of worship is also weak indeed, Nothing statistically
significant but purely anecdotal and, it seems, even this relates to the
US and not the UK. A strange application of science indeed.

Dave Smith
Dave Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Tim Hurren

It is to break our spirit. To lower morale and to enforce obedience. To subdue and then conquer. The same aim of the tyrant through all the ages.
Closing a church is symbolic even to those who are not Christian. It is putting the state above everything and telling us that there is nowhere we can go unless the state says we can.
No previous regime has ever done this in England.
Yet all Johnson says is -alas_ and alas and more alas.
We need to ask -why are they doing this?

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave Smith

I wouldn’t go that far. I believe they are trying to do the right thing. We may disagree with their methods but to interpret it as persecution is a wrong response I believe.

Rachel Chandler
Rachel Chandler
3 years ago

The closure of churches is just one aspect of how cruel the lockdown policy is, not just the impact on mental health but all the missed cancer diagnoses and so on. Many of us are feeling lonely because we cannot understand how this cruelty is being allowed to happen yet so many people accept the narrative that (maybe) preventing a Covid-related death is more important.

Dave Smith
Dave Smith
3 years ago

Thank you for a fine piece of writing.
I know an old man of the woods who said he always whistled when alone in the woods after dark. His father did the same and his father before him. A man alone in the woods at night needs company even if only his own.
To keep a church closed is not something that should be even contemplated. It makes a people feel alone . Who knows what harm is being done to millions?
On Monday I walked round the outside of one of our finest Cathedrals . It looked firmly shut. I found a small door but guarded.
No admittance unless i had a good reason . I did ask who had the right to ask that but had no reply. I asked who did the building really belong to . No reply.
All those previous generations who had free access and were welcomed meant nothing to the new guardians. I asked would the doors be closed after the lockdown.
‘We have not decided yet ‘
I said it was not their decision to make but they did not understand me and sent me away with ‘don’t you undwerstand there is a pandemic’

Dave Smith
Dave Smith
3 years ago

In my small town the service at the war memorial was well attended by young and old. One policeman there and keeping his distance. No covid marshalls or intrusive questions. Just the townspeople standing quietly in the rain. Something that Johnson clearly abhors judging by the way he tried to prevent this. We do things differently in old England. What is it with these people in power? Do they dislike us that much?
Imagine in Russia if the Immortal Regiment was disrespected as this government wished to disrespect our dead. Like nearly all families in this land mine has it’s share of those.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave Smith

It seems horribly disingenuous to claim that Johnson or any British person “abhors” the great action you took.

It’s just a nightmare authorising/forbidding groups gathering at the moment – so maybe a bit more tolerance would be appropriate.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Most of us don’t ‘get God’ Giles. Equally, we don’t see why churches should be closed. This is because we do ‘get’ that Covid is of no danger to anyone below the age of 65 or whatever, and that the average age of death from/with Covid is higher than the average age of overall deaths.

Andrea X
Andrea X
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Well, but quite a few attendees will be over 65, and yet as far as I can tell places of worship are the safest place to be, more so than your home.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Homes, when shared with others, are the most dangerous places to be. This is because the rooms are small and not well ventilated. That is probably why the number of cases has gone in Wales since their absurd lockdown – especially as the Welsh are sex maniacs and a lot of cases arise from sex.

And we know, for instance, that 66% of cases in New York were people who had ‘stayed at home’, mostly in small apartments shared with multiple others.

Terry Mushroom
Terry Mushroom
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Catholic Churches are not opening for Mass this time because it’s the law. Where protocols can be put in place, all are open for daily visits.

(Edited to make correction)

William MacDougall
William MacDougall
3 years ago

Another scandal about this tyrannical government’s appalling policies.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 years ago

A very thoughtful article and a very perceptive one. Thank you

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago

I support Dr. Fraser. But the problem we face is that the culture has been very successfully evangelized and catechised for the last 200 yrs in the Church of Positivism/Science. Those of us who still credit the dimension of the noumenal are few in number and generally considered culturally retarded, as medieval as the Magna Carta

Martin Harries
Martin Harries
3 years ago
Reply to  robert scheetz

Agree, Thor would be, sorry, IS sympathetic with this position.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

Speaking as a resolute lockdown sceptic, and that’s an understatement, I personally find it offensive when people broadly support what to me is a glaringly obvious act of far-reaching, long-term social and economic self-harm, then find reasons why their own special interest group, whatever that might be, should somehow be exempt from its consequences.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Don’t worry the reality of science will catch up with it. It’s just that at the moment there are different scientific theories and the government have chosen theirs. The real picture will gradually emerge is a scientific way.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

I don’t doubt it, but by then the bulk of the social and economic damage would have been done.

I know personally good people running otherwise viable, taxpaying businesses and that give people jobs that might well go under because of this government’s ‘theory’.

William Johnston
William Johnston
3 years ago

“He sees it as just another glorified leisure activity, and one that can be turned off and on at will.”

I think it’s worth pointing out that so many other leisure activities do actually foster similar experiences of community: football matches; live concerts or theatre; even going to the pub – so long as alcohol consumption doesn’t overtake awareness.

The problem with “following the science” is that science, as the modern religion, is as selective in its parameters as are religious fundamentalists in their choice of religious texts.

This doesn’t mean that precautions are not necessary. It does, however, mean understanding all the consequences of cutting people off from one another, not just the limitations of our particular field of expertise.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
3 years ago

The Bishops have made representations to the government about the lockdown of the churches. We await their response and trust the right decisions will be made.
The main thrust of this article as I understand it is to do with that cosmic loneliness which I believe only a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ can heal. We have various ways of focusing on that including receiving Holy Communion with fellow Christians. But there are other ways too such as prayer, worship and fellowship with other Christians and reading God’s Word – the Bible. This afternoon I enjoyed a walk amidst the glorious colours of Autumn and felt God’s Presence very close
There are many ways by which we may be fed spiritually. If we are locked out of our churches and unable to meet together for Holy Communion we are impoverished for a while, but we’re not going to collapse. Like an aircraft which loses an engine we will keep flying on the strength of the other engines.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago

That other engine is developing a lot of power through reason of use.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 years ago

Some churches are still open for worship services on the basis that Boris does not have the authority to close them.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 years ago

Many Christians in the Reformed tradition do not believe that Boris has the authority to close churches and some will continue to open for worship, sometimes in addition to streaming services on Youtube or in other ways. Of course there will be room for fewer worshippers as seating will have to be socially distanced. I can understand that this could be harder in churches with pews.

I don’t understand the need for ‘private prayer’ in a church; surely people can pray anywhere.

opn
opn
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

Private prayer in a church – apart from being easier, just as cooking is easier to do if you have a kitchen – might be fortified by such aids as the Holy Icons or Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament (to choose examples from two Christian traditions).

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  opn

The easiest thing for me is to stay at home!
I find the variety in Christian traditions fascinating. I go to a Presbyterian church and have no experience of icons. We have communion as a sacrament but prayer is not limited to those occasions.
Thank you for your answer.

Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
3 years ago

Sorry, but I don’t get it either. The last time I was in a church was in Henfield, Sussex, a few days ago, where I was the only living thing present apart from a butterfly – possibly in the whole day, as at the door the ‘track and trace’ list for that day was unmarked. Maybe they just forgot to sign in. Wandering in that space with its chairs placed like islands on the otherwise bare stone floor, it was not obvious to me how any visitor could catch anything other than the spirit of the moment. A mass of people standing in rows singing and shouting at the back wall for an hour would be quite another matter. The virus doesn’t care about what people believe, any more than its forebears did at random intervals during the past two millennia. It deals only in facts. No, I don’t see why people should not go into a church, as long as they accept that flocking is strictly for the birds. But if faith calls, can they be trusted to act rationally?

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
3 years ago

Thank you, Rev Fraser.

I suspect there will be wide variations of practice from parish to parish, from one church building to another, from one cathedral to another. Some of the comments to this article support that contention.

So I heartily applaud your statement of opposition to secular authority ” an opposition evaded by so many clergy and bishops via the erroneous, possibly heretical, belief in safety as the new national religion, and the belief that the best way of ministering love to our fellow men and women is to keep them as safe as possible. It’s a medicalised equivalent of the “kindness” promoted by identity politics ” ostensibly good, but in reality divisive and cruel.

So I was glad to read this:

There is a winter of emptiness and meaninglessness on the way and many are frightened. Which is why I won’t be meekly consenting to the strictures of secular authority. Yes, we will keep safe, as churches have been. Churches are not hot-spots of transmission. But as well as maintaining Covid vigilance, I will do all I can to serve my congregation as their priest, under the authority of my bishop. They expect me to. And they are absolutely right to do so.

Fortunately, I live in a parish and diocese where, on the whole, such thought flourishes.

Dominic Straiton
Dominic Straiton
3 years ago

Strangely the mosques seem to be open. Around where I live at least. As usual the “law” seems to be bent in one direction.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago

That’s probably fear by the government.

Id Kernot
Id Kernot
3 years ago

I think Giles is on very shaky ground.
I was (shall we say) less than best pleased when our Bishop (Leeds) allowed (or encouraged)
the cessation of daily morning and evening prayer in our parish following the deaths in a French Cathedral 3 years ago.
O death where is thy sting?
If the Bishops think it MORE important to pronounce on political subjects than to encourage parishioners to strengthen their faith, it is no wonder that we no longer have a society that supports one another, which would, arguably, have meant that the spread of the virus was constrained.

The Ancient Mariner
The Ancient Mariner
3 years ago

Where are the Lords Spiritual? Where were they when the decisions were being made? The letter they sent out to clergy was not exactly helpful or even proactive. There are some bishops who have been very good, others not so, but without leadership, there is no pull in one direction.

stephensjpriest
stephensjpriest
3 years ago

Veteran assaulted by police on Remembrance Sunday
You Tube /watch?v=a3iXXZTjF2E
A National Disgrace Ă°ĆžËœĆŸ Please Watch & Share – Game Over
you tube watch?v=nZV7tIq-ph0

pearce.douglas
pearce.douglas
3 years ago

I have never understood why so many Christians get upset about temporary church closures during a national emergency such as this.
I can’t go to a stadium to watch football and yet I accept it.

The Covid pandemic could well become a global disaster and instead of recognising just how dangerous communal gatherings can be all one hears is incesant whining and pseudo-Orwellian waffle.
This situation will not last forever, and then you can all go back to singing hymns, warming the pews and having tea with the vicar on Sunday.
Truth be told it is none of my concern if church going Christians choose to put themselves at risk. However, the fact you may well then go and put other lives at risk is the concern of a great many people.

So stop complaining, put on a mask,go for a walk to the park, or wherever local guidlines allow, sit on a bench and read the bible. Oh, and pray to your god that he can take time out from his very busy schedule of trying to fix all the other man-made problems to attend to this latest ”plague.”
Personally, I don’t have much faith he … oops sorry .. He will. After all he didn’t show up for the Black Death or the Spanish Flu. But hey, you never know, right?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago

I am sympathetic with most of this article, but there are many obvious reasons why churches should not be singled out for exception, including:

– what about synagogues, mosques etc ?
– why punish unbelievers more than those with religious beliefs ?
– a typical Anglican Church attendee is amongst the highest risk category.
– Are church-goers more susceptible to loneliness that others ?

It also seems “unchristian” to suggest that someone who may have sympathy with these points should be charged with “not getting God” .

Andrea X
Andrea X
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

– What about synagogues and mosques?
– so you agree it is a punishment?
– the typical attendee was in the highest risk before, is now and forever shall be.

Andrew McGee
Andrew McGee
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Is there really any seriously credible argument for saying that religious belief should override the need to preserve public safety in these difficult times? I can understand those who argue that the whole business of lockdown is unnecessary for everyone. I have a certain amount of sympathy for that view. But if there is to be lockdown, then NO form of religious belief can have exemption. If they are to be exempt, then mass sporting events (very important to many people, who follow them with great devotion) will also have to be exempt, as presumably will political meetings. This is jsut yet more of the usual special pleading on behalf of religion. I would reject the argument totally.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew McGee

If sporting events and political meetings can take place with the same degree of rigorous controls as applied by the churches, yes they too should be exempt. In fact there should be a general presumption in favour of allowing activities that comply with agreed safety measures. Lockdown presumes ‘guilt’, regardless of evidence, which is why it strikes many of us as unjust as well as irrational

Andrea X
Andrea X
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew McGee

Clearly you haven’t been in a church of late. It is like entering a clean room in an ebola infested town.
As far as I can tell places of worship are the safest place for you to be, more than your home, for sure.

Helen Hughes
Helen Hughes
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Firstly, Giles is focussing on churches because that is what he knows about. He doesn’t attempt to exclude any other faith communities just because he doesn’t mention them. Secondly, it is not about “punishing” anyone, it is about understanding where some people find support and connection in life and allowing this to continue. This is undoubtedly also so for various other groups and they presumably also have advocates who can speak for them. Thirdly, the more evangelical churches often have very young congregations, especially in university towns, plus the fact that the Anglican churches I know are bending over backwards to be “Covid safe” for all those who wish to come, whatever their age. And fourthly, no, of course they are not more susceptible to loneliness, but access to the places where many churchgoers find their main source of connection, not only to other people but to a meaning in their life, has been greatly restricted. Once again, other groups whose access to connection has now been denied for another month surely have their own advocates if they choose to speak out. And to throw in a number five, it appears the current lockdown is at least partly about “saving Christmas” according to Johnson. There would be no Christmas if it were not for the churches, so there is a connection there that needs to be recognised and honoured. If Christmas is now a purely secular event we probably need re-name the festival or celebrate something else.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Helen Hughes

Well said, thank you.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  Helen Hughes

I hope he allows families to get together at Christmas. I haven’t seen my brother since last March.

M Spahn
M Spahn
3 years ago

“The right to freedom of religion is enshrined in Magna Carta and it is of the very essence of our common life that the liberties and freedoms of the people of this land extend to public worship,” wrote my own Bishop in a letter to his clergy.

Freedom of religion is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of 1215.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  M Spahn

Well, it’s Clause 1:

‘First, that we have granted to God, and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired’.

M Spahn
M Spahn
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

All well and good as long as you are “the English Church.” As I recall that title hasn’t applied to Papists for nearly 500 years.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  M Spahn

Magna Carta was written by and for ‘Papists’, and makes explicit reference to the authority of the pope. Whether its provisions should be extended to the johnny-cum-lately C of E is another matter!

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

PS In the immortal words of Tony Hancock: Did Magna Carta die in vain?

M Spahn
M Spahn
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

A matter that was settled, as I mentioned, nearly 500 years ago, and not in favor of the Roman Catholic church.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

On its present form the CoE should be expunged from public life, its Bishops ejected from the HoL, (in particular the dreadful Carey creature), its charitable status withdrawn, its interference in education terminated, and its claim to moral or any other form of guidance, ridiculed.

To plagiarise Henry II : ” who will rid us of this troublesome Church”?

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago

Giles, I hear you on the radio and you are undoubtedly a good person with the best of intentions. But this appeal is badly misguided and wrong.

The covid rules are impacting everyone. We’re facing an awful choice between livelihoods and lives.

The global economy is on its knees, many businesses are gone completely. It’s not scare-mongering to say we could be heading into the biggest recession for generations.

Every time we loosen restrictions for normal life, we’re increasing the spread and someone, somewhere will pay that price with their life or livelihood.

But we do it, because the alternative is the Great Depression. So when we open some part of society up, we better be sure it’s worth the trade-off. Frankly loneliness and the need to meet in church are not, and should not be, high priority. Ask yourself how many jobs is that worth? How many lives? How many more ICU beds? How many more deaths from missing other lifesaving treatments?

The church should not get a special exemption, even if loneliness sucks.

Dave Smith
Dave Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

Reality is it is lockdown or the great depression. We cannot avoid this. However the fall in morale in a nation can devastate it. The churches and mosques can really have an effect on this.

David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

This lockdown like the last one will depress the transmission of the virus while in force and as soon as restrictions are lifted we will begin the cycle again. The damage to the global economy is not caused by the pandemic but by governments response to it. We will never eradicate the virus by containment. There was a brief window of opportunity in the first few weeks of the year but it’s now so widespread that we would be reseeded from other countries even if it was stamped out here. In the absence of a vaccine we are going to have to live with Covid-19 for the foreseeable future.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago

Aren’t we as christians to obey the ordinances of man? These rules rightly or wrongly are made to curb Covid. Personally I just accept it. We meet on Zoom and even break bread (communion) on Zoom. I suppose it is what people get used to but basically the original breaking of bread was a very simple affair. There has been a take off of prayer on Zoom like we have never known before. So it does have it’s advantages. God is still on the throne and I believe He is working out new things in the present circumstances otherwise He would not be God. My housegroup has actually grown during Covid.

Tom Hawk
Tom Hawk
3 years ago

I distrust all brands of god clubs. However there sre some I distrust more than others. Happy clappy types are mostly harmless. The fundamental types that demand allegiance and damnation to non members are quite frankly dangerous.

Jean Fothers
Jean Fothers
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Hawk

Would you please inform me of what are the “happy clappy types” and what are the “fundamental types” ?

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Hawk

“Happy clappy types”. May I suggest you look up one or two Christian worship bands such as Hillsong, Elevation Worship and Rend Collective on YouTube. There is often joy in worship but very rarely clapping. You might find your designation wide of the mark and demeaning.
“The fundamental types”. If any kind of fundamentalism leads to violence that is absolutely wrong. But “dangerous”? Not compared to the bloodbaths of the 20th. century caused by Nazism and Communism. They were heavily influenced by atheist and secular beliefs

John W
John W
3 years ago

Indeed Michael, Tom might be interested in reading about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s role in Nazi Germany.

John W
John W
3 years ago

I appear to have had a comment censored for mentioning Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was martyred for opposing Nazism. Bizarre.

Perhaps the moderator could provide an explanation.

pearce.douglas
pearce.douglas
3 years ago

Wasn’t Adolf a Christian?

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  pearce.douglas

Only God knows the answer to your question Douglas. However, I think he was not even if he professed to be. He probably didn’t have an accurate definition of a Christian. He might have been a churchgoer without being a Christian. If my cat had her kittens in the oven they would still be kittens and not bread.

John W
John W
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Hawk

You’re perfectly entitled to your opinion, and, if you so desire, to express it in terms that show contempt for other people’s deeply held beliefs. However, your remark concerning fundamentalists, in respect of Christians, is just plain wrong. Any such group must, on the basis of scripture, promote adherence to Christ’s teachings.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
3 years ago
Reply to  John W

True but he is probably talking about a wrong control.

Mike Boosh
Mike Boosh
3 years ago

Whilst I have some sympathy for the religious, given that the state is now intruding into every aspect of family life, this comes a long way down the list of rights we should be fighting to maintain.

Terry Mushroom
Terry Mushroom
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Boosh

The right to peacefully assemble is a right at the very top of an open, free democracy.

Andrew Daws
Andrew Daws
3 years ago

It’s for 4 Sundays. Are you really that close to crumbling?

Carl Goulding
Carl Goulding
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Daws

On the other hand if it is only 4 Sundays why not allow churches to stay open like B&Q.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  Carl Goulding

The Lord works in mysterious ways …

Jean Fothers
Jean Fothers
3 years ago
Reply to  Carl Goulding

B & Q collects much more money (the ‘new’ religion) and donates some to the political parties. Yes, the churches also collect some money, though not as much as B & Q, but more importantly, they do not donate any to political parties.

Gordon Fraser
Gordon Fraser
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Daws

4 weeks to “flatten the curve” I suppose? I live in Melbourne, Australia and church services have been closed since March and are still closed. Good luck with that.