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Why my church doors are staying open I won't again abandon my congregation in their hour of need

"The most intense Christmas ever". Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty

"The most intense Christmas ever". Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty


December 25, 2020   4 mins

One of the simple joys of having a bundle of church keys is that you can wander around in the building when others have gone home. Over lockdown, it has been my retreat from noisy children, an office, a sanctuary and a place to think. It is also where I get to say things out loud, testing thoughts out on the silence. “Please, help me!” I said to the altar the other night, more in anger than in expectation. I was surprised how it came out. Too direct to feel like a prayer, it sounded more of a demand I suppose. Or rather, the kind of demand that feels the presence of defeat at the door. News was just in that the husband of one of my congregation had just been killed by Covid. Another death in the parish.

Pretty much everything is shut round here. For months, now, the local doctor’s surgery has become a no-go zone: its doors bolted against the plague, its website a forbidding maze of alternatives. Tesco and the pharmacy – now heroically taking on the de facto role of the doctor’s surgery – remain defiantly open, spots of lights in the darkness.

Should the church close too? Is the short term emotional comfort of “Once in Royal David’s City” really worth it if we are risking people’s lives? But if we join the doctor’s surgery and close our doors, what does that say about our own perception of what we do here? “Can you imagine any activity less deserving of priority?” was Richard Dawkins response to the Prime Minister’s announcement that collective worship can continue, even in tier 4. It seems that quite a number of clergy agree with him. Many churches will be closed this Christmas.

Will we be judged as having abandoned people in their hour of need? It’s a harsh question, unfair perhaps. But as Philip Ziegler notes in his seminal study of the Black Death, the clergy “were deemed not to have risen to the level of their responsibilities, to have run away in fear or in search of gain, to have put their own skins first and the souls of their parishioners a bad second”. That, too, was unfair. Ziegler himself notes that parish clergy were more likely to die of the plague than the population in general.

But the perception stuck. And the relationship of trust between the clergy and their people was changed forever, and so the church emerged from the plague “with diminished credit”. He continues “the contempt of contemporaries may not have been justified but it was still to cost the Church dear over the next decades”. And fair or not, I fear the same may well be true this time.

But is that really my worry, that we will be perceived to have abandoned our people? Shouldn’t I just accept this reputational risk as a price worth paying for the protection of my congregation from this monstrous pestilence? So what if the church emerges with diminished credit, isn’t this precisely the kind of sacrifice we are called upon to make? These questions weigh heavily upon me, but they are not the only questions.

There is, of course, a wholly secular argument for staying open. Many here, struggling with loneliness and an ingrained sense of misery and isolation, rely on the church for their mental health. Can I really turn them back when they arrive at the church door looking for comfort? Early on in the first lockdown, I did precisely this. Watching people trudge away, despondent and legitimately angry, was easily the worst thing I have ever had to do in my many years as a priest. I felt I had betrayed them, that all my sermons about this as a place of sanctuary, of welcome, of God’s solidarity with them had, in the end, counted for nothing. It was a wretched moment, and I won’t do it again.

But the argument for staying open is not just a secular one. Throughout advent, the trajectory of thought has been all about our preparedness to receive the Christ child when he comes. Forced to travel the 90 or so miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to comply with some absurd government directive, the heavily pregnant woman who had been chosen as the means by which God entered the world found no place of shelter to welcome her, the doors being shut in her face. Would the words “no room at the inn” be hung in shame over my church door, if I decided to lock them?

But in the end, the most compelling reason for being open is the same reason for being closed: the presence of death. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined”. These words from Isaiah have long been taken by Christians as an indication of what Christmas is all about. God does not exist in some pristine ethereal space, hovering high above human misery like some distant potentate safe in all that glorious omnipotence.

Indeed, it is precisely the point of Christmas that God lowers his defences to death in order to share in the human condition. Vulnerability is the very condition of solidarity. That’s why God-as-a-baby isn’t a nice heart-warming story of sentimental benevolence. It’s a terrifying risk, attended by genuine danger, in which all hope for the universe comes to be invested within the most vulnerable human thing imaginable: a pathetic, helpless child. The proper reaction to this should be fear not cooing. God has gone all in. Not just skin in the game – though this is as good a summary of incarnation as I can imagine – but everything in. There are no safety nets, no vaccinations against the risk of disaster.

Now, of course, I don’t expect non-religious people to buy any of this. But from a Christian perspective, I am beginning to believe that this might be the most intensely religious Christmas I could ever imagine. That’s why the whole thing feels so much more terrifying. God invests in us at a moment of extreme danger. Sorry if this sounds a bit too much, and yes easily ridiculed, but Christmas is God’s response to the cry “please help me” — a cry I am far from alone in making. And I won’t, I just can’t, close my church to God’s response.


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

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Katy Randle
Katy Randle
3 years ago

Thank you for such an honest account. From the outside, the way that the Church of England reacted during the first months of the virus appeared to negate in practice everything it ostensibly preached about death. Fear, and hiding therefrom, was the impression it sent out into the wider community.

Personal opinion only, but I think you are doing the right thing, and wish you a Happy Christmas.

William Murphy
William Murphy
3 years ago
Reply to  Katy Randle

That was certainly my impression from Anglican churches in my area (South Oxfordshire and Reading). For months we had beautiful historic churches, bolted doors and apologies with prayers taped to the doors. Later they reopened for very limited periods for private prayer. My local Anglican church is not advertising anything for Christmas day.

Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers
3 years ago
Reply to  William Murphy

My local Anglican church (East Surrey) is 930 years old. It has seen much, since the 11th century.

Its doors are shut today. There is no service.

My rector is a lovely woman, living across the village lane from me, but she is very right on. And for her, shutting the doors today is the right choice. I fear she is in the Welby mode, specifically erecting displays in the church to medieval and later acts of perceived oppression and injustice.
It is all very saddening indeed.

I need a church service today. Always have done since my wife died 6 years ago at this time of year, aged 45. Watching a Youtube version is not the same. I need community, especially this year. Not a video screen.

Shame on my church. And well said Giles.

Katy Randle
Katy Randle
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Rogers

What a sad situation. My sympathies.

David McKee
David McKee
3 years ago

Our church has thought long and hard about live services this Christmas. I am relieved that the answer has been to keep it open.

Zoom is better than nothing, but it has severe limitations. It requires no commitment, no response: the viewer is, essentially, passive. Like social media, there is no real human connection. All told, they have the same relationship with human interaction that a Big Mac has to a nutritious, home-cooked meal.

Good for you, Giles, and good for your churchwardens and PCC.

Andrea X
Andrea X
3 years ago

I am glad that my church is not closing, indeed they are putting up extra masses for Christmas, including a maxiscreen in the hall to double the audience. For once I have to say, well done!

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Yes. Well done indeed.

maryjordan
maryjordan
3 years ago

Absolutely well done

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago

Giles, I believe Justin Welby has converted more people to atheism than any person before. The old phrase, :Cometh the time, cometh the man’ told us in the hour of great danger a person fit to lead would appear and lead us from the chaos. But he never did with Covid.

I think Trump’s calm stance was the best, but the opposition was too great in the end.

Good for you in keeping the Church open. The great pity is that it was even a question you had to weigh. Of all the pictures of this mad covid event my very favorite was the illegal wedding at the NYC Yet Lev Temple where 7000 Hasdic Jews danced and sang in defiance to Coumo. Google the Yetev Lev Temple and click on videos, and then click on the youtube one. Fantastic! It is worth a look if you missed it, amazing hats, and amazing service, amazing energy in the hall.

Giles, I lived all around the Deep South USA and have attended several services at Black Churches where the spirit was this strong, and it is always deeply moving. Although I doubt their kind of energy will ever be seen in a C of E Church.

Chris Hudson
Chris Hudson
3 years ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

Ummm… Once the pandemic has passed, do some research. Some CofE churches certainly do have that kind of energy…

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

Yes, Justin Welness (sic) is a disgrace. I am in no way religious, but congratulate Giles on his stance this Christmas.

Campbell P
Campbell P
3 years ago

Ours never closed throughout the pandemic and, when the government allowed it, we have held services. Welby not only abused his position and authority but let us down terribly with his anodyne platitudes, his virtue-signalling, his church closing, and the absence of the one thing above all else he ought to have been offering – Christ’s offer of forgiveness and eternal life. Why were these two so conspicuous by their absence from his many public pronouncements? How could he so completely miss both the mood and the need of the nation? In our parish even the non-churchgoers were asking these questions. Of course we organised relief and meals, and telephone calls, and all the other practical things; but where was the Church’s ‘Gospel’ from the Archbishops? In our area, echoed all over the country it seems, whilst local churches have been seen to be doing terrific work, the House of Bishops has been seen as tame and wet, supine and superfluous: even amongst diehard middle-of-the-road Anglicans who would never question their archbishops, their stock has fallen to an all time low. We continue to pray for them and hope that perhaps it is simply that they are being hopelessly ill advised by their staff. Certainly some backbone and conviction is needed there.

greg waggett
greg waggett
3 years ago

Well done, Giles. You should have the job in Canterbury.

Otto Christensen
Otto Christensen
3 years ago
Reply to  greg waggett

Keep all public places open and for sure the job at the cemetery will be yours. What is it about infectious disease that is so difficult to understand? Limit exposure.

steve sykes
steve sykes
3 years ago

As a catholic I was a daily mass attender serving on the altar at the daily mass, at funerals etc. Then the church turned its back on us and shut its doors. Never before has the church turned away people from the sacraments like it has this year even in times of persecution priests have tried to keep the sacraments available even under the pain of extremely unpleasant death. I have great difficulty now in wanting anything to do with the church I didn’t leave it, it left me. I still pray but that is all

kathyungar2
kathyungar2
3 years ago
Reply to  steve sykes

Are you living in the UK? Lots of churches (Catholic ones certainly) are offering Masses these days anyway. Lots of social distancing, sanitisers and all that; extra Masses scheduled for Christmas. If none in your area, try online at churchservices tv – particularly recommend St Gregory’s Ruislip. Please don’t just pray, good as that is, but come back to the Church – you can’t lose all that spiritual benefit just because church authorities complied with government directives or more worryingly, shut down churches on their own bat out of overstated concern (in a way which would be quite understandable for bubonic plague though to be fair, they did hold outdoor Masses then – look up St Charles Borromeo).

Viva R
Viva R
3 years ago
Reply to  steve sykes

I have great difficulty now in wanting anything to do with the church I didn’t leave it, it left me.

Ditto.

I felt abandoned by the (Evangelical Protestant) church in a time of deep distress. God didn’t abandon me but the church did.

crazydiamond2310
crazydiamond2310
3 years ago
Reply to  steve sykes

My church is open for Mass but only allowing 30 people to attend. Unfortunately two Masses on Christmas Eve and two on Christmas Day were ‘sold out’ on Eventbrite well in advance. It would have been interesting to see who was there. Not many of the regulars I suspect.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 years ago

Mr Fraser, you are a great inspiration in faith and in how to live a good life. Happy Christmas to you

William MacDougall
William MacDougall
3 years ago

Well said. I was disturbed at how readily Christians accepted church closure during the first lockdown…

dixon4474
dixon4474
3 years ago

Dietrich Bonhoeffer could write a letter from Prison (Similar to our experience this year) prior to his death by hanging:

Viewed from a Christian perspective, Christmas in a prison cell can, of course, hardly be considered particularly problematic. Most likely many of those here in this building will celebrate a more meaningful and authentic Christmas than in places where it is celebrated in name only.

That misery, sorrow, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt mean something quite different in the eyes of God than according to human judgment; that God turns toward the very places from which humans turn away; that Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn ” a prisoner grasps this better than others, and for him this is truly good news.

And to the extent he believes it, he knows that he has been placed within the Christian community that goes beyond the scope of all spatial and temporal limits, and the prison walls lose their significance

I will be celebrating the Eucharist tomorrow.

landonz
landonz
3 years ago

Jesus did not advocate “safetyism”. Francis of Assisi went among the lepers. No one should take away our right to spiritual medicine. We should not cave in.

Barry Coombes
Barry Coombes
3 years ago

It reminds me of something I read in Private Eye back in the spring. Apparently the Georgian government wanted the Orthodox church there to close down for Easter, but Patriarch Ilia basically told them to go forth and multiply and opened up anyway on the grounds that Holy Communion is the best medicine.

I had a look at the stats later and, as I suspected, no tidal wave of Covid infections followed.

Chris Hudson
Chris Hudson
3 years ago

In his Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe paid tribute to clergy of different denominations in London, who defiantly stuck at their posts and served their congregations well through the epidemic. Many died.

Steve Bouchard
Steve Bouchard
3 years ago

I recently saw a bumper sticker that said “No Jesus, No peace. Know Jesus, Know peace!”. How true.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago

Well done.

Brian Clegg
Brian Clegg
3 years ago

Our church is also not closing – but the majority of the congregation are attending by Zoom and I would not want that to be belittled. It also feels like a cheap shot at government restrictions to say ‘Forced to travel the 90 or so miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to comply with some absurd government directive’ – apart from anything else, you know perfectly well there never were such government directives during a Roman census.

kathyungar2
kathyungar2
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Clegg

May be a side-issue and I’m no expert but Daryn Graham has this to say about the census for anyone who’s interested:

“it is possible to translate Luke 2:2 into English simply as, ‘This census was the one before that which took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. … a ‘census’ as such could not have taken place in Judaea prior to AD 6, but what is certain is that there was indeed a Roman Empire-wide registration that took place as part of a census that meets all the criteria in both Luke and Matthew perfectly. This census had varying purposes. In fact, those who took part in the strict census aspect of it were Roman citizens alone”Luke’s immediate audience”but all subjects of the entire Roman world were also expected to register their allegiance to the emperor Caesar Augustus in the same empire-wide registration.”

vince porter
vince porter
3 years ago

Those whom the gods wish to destroy taunt evolution. That was my first thought. But, then… Covid has placed another layer of misery upon too many people who were already miserable. No money. No jobs. No christmas gifts for kids. Addiction. Etc. We, who are warm and comfortable and secure, can hardly appreciate the other half. If religion can salve some of it, who am I to deny its offerings?

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
3 years ago

Yet supermarkets have been able to adapt and continue. Secular temples seem to have had a better record of serving people than religious temples. Is there any evidence of mass infection arising in Waitrose, or Sainsbury’s? I have seen none. The major source of infection has been in hospitals. Recently I read that 25% of people being treated in hospital for Covid-19 became infected whilst in hospital being treated for something else.
Perhaps churches should have asked their local supermarket manager to advise them on layout to minimise risk.

Peter Shaw
Peter Shaw
3 years ago

Well done for staying open.
fear that once Churches are allowed to re -open, the fall in numbers attending Church will be huge. Some people will forever feel frightened of being in close company with relative strangers. The lockdown will have blessed them with life-long OCD or other anxiety disorder. But another portion will have received a message form the Church itself, that physical attendance is not that important. For example in the Catholic Church attendance at Sunday Mass and on Holy Days of Obligation is compulsory. For the last 9 months however Catholics have been told it isn’t. They have been invited to be spectators at a TV event. A message has been sent about how the Church itself regards the Mass. They should not be surprised if they never see attendance very much reduced.

jk6
jk6
3 years ago

It seems to me that the moment one commits to true Christian belief, that belief must necessarily become the most important aspect of one’s life: more important than anything else, including one’s life itself. I mean, this is God we’re talking about, right?

Giles Fraser doesn’t need to seek any reason to stay open because for a real Christian there is never (and never has been) any real reason for any church that means anything to close.

Before now, Christians have been sent to the lions and burned at the stake; can we not, now, face the people who so furiously rage together – from behind their masks? It is they who imagine a vain thing, not us, remember?

If the church is true, then how can its clergy even contemplate closing it? And if it isn’t, then nothing matters and you can close if you like: who cares.

Teo
Teo
3 years ago

Racked my conscience for weeks whether to travel to Milan earlier this year. On arrival and unbeknown – our accommodation was next to a church linked to the Camillians. In a sense that sort of endorsed the decision to travel.

Ben Scott
Ben Scott
3 years ago

Well done and we’ll said Giles. Thank you for your priorities.

Virginia McGough
Virginia McGough
3 years ago

Thank you, Giles, for a moving and thought-provoking article. I applaud your moral courage.

Malcolm dunn
Malcolm dunn
3 years ago

Well done you Giles. One thing that has brought sadness to me during this pandemic has been the performance of the Church of England. My church. It largely went missing in the early months and since then the only news reported is when one or more of the bishops has something to say about politics.. The leadership has been truly lamentable.

James N
James N
3 years ago

The lockdown propagandists love to sensationalize every “covid death”, but they won’t go anywhere near examining how these people spent the final days avoiding their friends and family, all for nothing.

Miriam UĂ­
Miriam UĂ­
3 years ago

Love this Giles. Yes, the incarnation is God’s response to our cries for help. He comes into the mess and chaos with us. And I am sure your congregation will appreciate your willingness to be there for there for them. Personally I’m so looking forward to being able to worship with people at church again. It is essential. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Otto Christensen
Otto Christensen
3 years ago

So it seems the freedom to infect trumps the well being of the greater community, how selfish.

rev.pdileo
rev.pdileo
3 years ago

Dear Giles, thank you for your article. In being allowed to keep our churches open we have been given a gift/talent. Our churches are places of hope, peace, respite, and forgiveness. May we use this gift/talent for the wellbeing of all and any that need our prayer and practical support. We need to be mindful of Matthew 25:14-30 where it is clear that any gift/talent given must be used and invested and not simply hidden or ‘shut down’ out of fear of failure or risk aversion in the face of a challenge.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago

Well done for showing courage and conviction. Too many churches seem to have complied unthinkingly with the removal of religious and societal freedoms,
My home church closed its doors in March. I have found another that has decided to follow the teachings that we should gather and worship together as we were instructed, and the reason for that, and its value, was all the clearer this Christmas.

Thomas Laird
Thomas Laird
3 years ago

“Monstrous Pestilence”?. Jesus!

Not even God can help you Giles.

Louise Henson
Louise Henson
3 years ago
Reply to  Thomas Laird

I like the article overall but I did rather baulk at that. Over-exaggeration doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Karen Lindquist
Karen Lindquist
3 years ago

Great, make sure you and your congregation opt out of burdening the nurses and doctors who are bone tired from having to take in the geniuses who wont stay home to stop this pandemic.

Peter Shaw
Peter Shaw
3 years ago

Actually, further to my post below, thank you for a wonderful piece about what the incarnation must surely mean . And I think you are right. In hard times the opportunity for holiness remains strong. Your parishioners are lucky to have you .

Peter KE
Peter KE
3 years ago

Thank you.

david.kirk2291
david.kirk2291
3 years ago

Before starting this reply I do recognise that covid 19 is a particularly virulent and highly transmittable virus, and do extend my sympathy to anyone who has lost a friend or relative or suffered from it themselves. However it would be helpful to assess what has happened in the past before making decisions.
1)Various plagues throughout the Middle ages killed 30%-50% of the population.
2)Spanish flu had a 5% -10% mortality rate. The UK had about 228k deaths (1918-20)
which would equate to approx. 340k for the present. And these were mainly young heathy adults.
3)Misrepresentation of the death statistics. Over 90% of victims are already suffering from ill health and have been reported as dying ‘from’ covid19 when they have actually died ‘with’ covid 19 and any other number of illnesses. If those who are already ill are excluded we can see the number of deaths is approx. 6k and not 60k.
4)More misrepresentation by reporting all positive cases of C19 when it has been found that 85%-95% are asymptomatic. An article in the Washington Post (8/8/20) noted
asymptomatic cases of 88 percent in a homeless shelter, 95 percent in a meat factory
and 96 percent in a prison. Indicating that this illness is a minor irritation for most people.
Question. If a person is asymptomatic and doesn’t know they have the illness, do they have it??

5)An insightful comment about the delusional danger this virus poses was made by a
WW2 veteran who was being stopped from marching through Whitehall on
Remembrance Day. ‘My Jeep was blown up in France, and I was blown over a hedge,
but now I’m being told it is too dangerous to walk down Whitehall.’!!!!

6)Another group who have been denied their rights have been students. On returning to Uni in Oct there was mass media attention on the potentially dangerous ‘rise’ in student cases. Which of course was dutifully found to be true by our authorities The Mail 12/10/20 noted. Infection rates have shot up since the return of thousands of students and staff ” Sheffield’s has soared by 13 times in the space of a month.’ This resulted in 100’s being confined to their blocks to prevent infecting other people. Except, all students were infected as they were now a social bubble and had ongoing parties to celebrate their confinement.

7)Lord Sumption noted: the only coherent position is locking down without limit”or Not locking down at all. The truth is that the loss of life resulting from this virus is very small except for people with serious physical vulnerabilities who can isolate themselves voluntarily.

8)Religion Media centre Linda Woodward (1/4/20) commented “When faced with a biblical plague, the British turn not to God but the National Health Service. It is our national religion, the one thing sacred. It is here rather than in our national churches that we now affirm our shared values, reinforce a sense of collective identity, deal with evil and suffering, reaffirm hope.” Witness the creation of Nightingale hosps in weeks to show that NHS is our unfailing Saviour. Except of course, we had no staff to work in them.
9)What has Church said, or not said.
10)Been lots and lots and lots about obeying Government guidelines.
11)Nothing heard about the churches mandate of: ‘Go into the world and make disciples of all peoples’
12)Nothing heard about the reality that: part of life is dying.
13)Nothing about: The Rich Fool who had plans for career, success, building bigger barns, yet, This very night your life will be demanded from you.
14)Nothing heard about: It is appointed for man to die once and then judgement
15)As one American churchgoer said. ‘ Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die to get there’.
16)The silence from the British churches around their central mandate and man’s eternal destiny has been absolutely deafening.
17)Ravi Zaccharias made a comment about who we worship, or whose ‘world view’ we follow. He said ‘People will worship ‘something,” we will worship God or the state or ourselves. We are either a theist, an extreme nationalist, or a libertine.’ Where do we see our churches amongst these 3 choices? The church has let the rest of the world dictate it’s mandate to us. What a tragic state.

18)On the other side, it could be suggested that part of the Western’ problem is they are victims of their own success with their sophisticated health care systems keeping people alive far longer than they would have 100 years ago.
19)It is because of this specialization and covid distancing in hospitals that it takes so long to treat one admission, which then leads to queues of ambulances waiting to discharge patients outside hospitals.
20) And it is for this reason, to stop the collapse of the NHS at the point of entry, that
the governments have brought in the lockdowns.

So, where does this leave us?
1)A virus which has killed approx. 6k normal healthy people in comparison to the Spanish flu which killed the equivalent to 340k people. Most of the population being isolated for no reason and being put into a state of perpetual alarm and anxiety
2)Spending up by £390bn (approx.?). The equivalent of throwing 2 x £500m hospitals in English Channel every day. About 9m jobs furloughed and 2 Ă‚Âœ m self-employed furloughed.
AND then we have churches not being opened.

This is all only a matter of common sense and not fear.
1)Any area that has a high footfall should have limited numbers and be well ventilated. Closing down numerous venues and businesses is totally disproportionate.
2)Other than that, those who have medical conditions must stay in total confinement.

Conclusion. Night clubs and venues which have a high footfall for a significant time can be open with restrictions. Churches and other venues with lower footfall can stay open with minor restrictions if they are well ventilated.
AND
I have been very very very concerned about the lack of critical thinking by numerous people over the past 9 months, which bodes ill for our future methinks.

david.kirk2291
david.kirk2291
3 years ago

Before starting this reply I do recognise that covid 19 is a particularly virulent and highly transmittable virus, and do extend my sympathy to anyone who has lost a friend or relative or suffered from it themselves. However it would be helpful to assess what has happened in the past before making decisions.
1)Various plagues throughout the Middle ages killed 30%-50% of the population.
2)Spanish flu had a 5% -10% mortality rate. The UK had about 228k deaths (1918-20)
which would equate to approx. 340k for the present. And these were mainly young heathy adults.
3)Misrepresentation of the death statistics. Over 90% of victims are already suffering from ill health and have been reported as dying ‘from’ covid19 when they have actually died ‘with’ covid 19 and any other number of illnesses. If those who are already ill are excluded we can see the number of deaths is approx. 6k and not 60k.
4)More misrepresentation by reporting all positive cases of C19 when it has been found that 85%-95% are asymptomatic. An article in the Washington Post (8/8/20) noted
asymptomatic cases of 88 percent in a homeless shelter, 95 percent in a meat factory
and 96 percent in a prison. Indicating that this illness is a minor irritation for most people.
Question. If a person is asymptomatic and doesn’t know they have the illness, do they have it??

5)An insightful comment about the delusional danger this virus poses was made by a
WW2 veteran who was being stopped from marching through Whitehall on
Remembrance Day. ‘My Jeep was blown up in France, and I was blown over a hedge,
but now I’m being told it is too dangerous to walk down Whitehall.’!!!!

6)Another group who have been denied their rights have been students. On returning to Uni in Oct there was mass media attention on the potentially dangerous ‘rise’ in student cases. Which of course was dutifully found to be true by our authorities The Mail 12/10/20 noted. Infection rates have shot up since the return of thousands of students and staff ” Sheffield’s has soared by 13 times in the space of a month.’ This resulted in 100’s being confined to their blocks to prevent infecting other people. Except, all students became infected as they were now a social bubble and had ongoing parties to celebrate their confinement.

7)Lord Sumption noted: the only coherent position is locking down without limit”or Not locking down at all. The truth is that the loss of life resulting from this virus is very small except for people with serious physical vulnerabilities who can isolate themselves voluntarily.

8)Religion Media centre Linda Woodward (1/4/20) commented “When faced with a biblical plague, the British turn not to God but the National Health Service. It is our national religion, the one thing sacred. It is here rather than in our national churches that we now affirm our shared values, reinforce a sense of collective identity, deal with evil and suffering, reaffirm hope.” Witness the creation of Nightingale hosps in weeks to show that NHS is our unfailing Saviour. Except of course, we had no staff to work in them.
9)What has Church said, or not said.
10)Been lots and lots and lots about obeying Government guidelines.
11)Nothing heard about the churches mandate of ‘Go into the world and make disciples of all peoples’
12)Nothing heard about the reality that: part of life is dying.
13)Nothing about: The Rich Fool who had plans for career, success, building bigger barns, yet, This very night your life will be demanded from you.
14)Nothing heard about: It is appointed for man to die once and then judgement
15)As one American churchgoer said. ‘ Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die to get there’.
16)The silence from the British churches around their central mandate and man’s eternal destiny has been absolutely deafening.
17)Ravi Zaccharias made a comment about who we worship, or whose ‘world view’ we follow. He said ‘People will worship ‘something,” we will worship God or the state or ourselves. We are either a theist, an extreme nationalist, or a libertine.’ Where do we see our churches amongst these 3 choices? The church has let the rest of the world dictate it’s mandate to us. What a tragic state.

18)On the other side, it could be suggested that part of the Western’ problem is they are victims of their own success with their sophisticated health care systems keeping people alive far longer than they would have 100 years ago.
19)It is because of this specialisation and covid distancing in hospitals that it takes so long to treat one admission, which then leads to queues of ambulances waiting to discharge patients outside hospitals.
20) And it is for this reason, to stop the collapse of the NHS at the point of entry, that
the governments have brought in the lockdowns.

So, where does this leave us?
1)A virus which has killed approx. 6k normal healthy people in comparison to the Spanish flu which killed the equivalent to 340k people. Most of the population being isolated for no reason and being put into a state of perpetual alarm and anxiety
2)Spending up by £390bn (approx.?). The equivalent of throwing 2 x £500m hospitals in English Channel every day. About 9m jobs furloughed and 2 Ă‚Âœ m self-employed furloughed.
AND then we have churches not being opened.

This is all only a matter of common sense and not fear.
1)Any venue that has a high footfall should have limited numbers and be well ventilated. Closing down numerous venues and businesses is totally disproportionate.
2)Other than that, those who have medical conditions must stay in total confinement.

Conclusion. Night clubs and venues which have a high footfall for a significant time can be open with restrictions. Churches and other venues with lower footfall can stay open with minor restrictions if they are well ventilated.
AND
I have been very very very concerned about the lack of critical thinking by numerous people over the past 9 months, which bodes ill for our future methinks.

Alan Powell
Alan Powell
3 years ago

I’m afraid the author is very far off the mark in my opinion. If the Church really does emerge from this virus “with diminished credit” it wont be because people are looking back and asking where were the clergy, it will be because they’re asking where was God?

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Powell

Your error is to presume on the purpose and intent of God. You presume that He thinks like you and acts like you. Is God unwilling to address the problem of evil? But in fact He has already done so. Irrevocably and finally in the Cross of Christ. Is God unable to address the problem of Evil? But in fact He has already done so. Irrevocably and finally in the Cross of Christ. It is God who will uncover each man from the dust of the Earth and call him forth to judgment. It is God who will visit punishment on men for the evil they have done. It is God who redeems men from evil through the work of Christ.”š”š

Your problem is not with the willingness or capability or power of God to do these things. Your problem originates in the firm conviction that a Just and Righteous and Omnipotent God ought to produce certain outcomes at certain times in accordance with your expectations. You want a Bread King. You implicitly state “If I was God, this is how things would be. Things aren’t that way. Where then is this ‘god?’ “”š”šBut you are not God. Your thoughts are not His thoughts. Your ways are not His ways. Your purposes are not His purposes. It was God who actively purposed good to come from Joseph being sold into Egyptian slavery. It was God who actively purposed good to come from the crucifixion of Christ. It is God who works all things together to the good of those who love Him, who are called according to his purpose.”š”š

If you do not understand the divine purpose of the things you see around you, then reflect on the fact that you are a limited finite transient creature who cannot see and does not know and does not understand the things of God. You would make God into a man that you could occupy His place. But you are not God. You never will be God. And so you have no standing to judge Him.

As it is written:”š”š

Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud and abase him. Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you. Job 40:7-14

Alan Powell
Alan Powell
3 years ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

“Your error is….. “, “You presume that…. “, “Your problem is…. “

Thank you for the Christmas lecture.

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
3 years ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

The Evidential Argument from Evil is usually phrased in this way (due to William Rowe):

There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

Conclusion: There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

This is a valid argument (the conclusion follows from the 2 premises), and sound (i.e. valid and the premises are true). Therefore God does not exist.

It’s not clear how mentioning the crucifixion responds to this argument.

You write:

Your problem originates in the firm conviction that a Just and Righteous and Omnipotent God ought to produce certain outcomes at certain times in accordance with your expectations

Rowe’s argument is that immense suffering with no apparent greater good outcome has no such greater good outcome (and therefore God does not exist, since God, being good, wouldn’t permit such gratuitious suffering).

Rather than attempting to say why God permitted the COVID19 pandemic, the Holocaust, the Lisbon Earthquake, the Asian Tsunami etc., you seem to be going for a “mysterious/higher ways” sort of defence, where you deny our ability to judge that something (such as the pandemic) is gratuitous suffering.

One good response to that is Hume’s: if we were certain beforehand that God existed and were shown the suffering we see in the world, we’d concede the greater purpose being served existed but eluded our limited understanding. However, as Hume says, the real case is that we find ourselves in the world not convinced of anything very much and learning by experience. Our experience does not tell us that God is good: possibly there is some greater purpose to the suffering we see, but why think so? Emphasising our limited understanding won’t help, as Hume says that a person

may be fully convinced of the narrow limits of his understanding; but this will not help him in forming an inference concerning the goodness of superior powers, since he must form that inference from what he knows, not from what he is ignorant of. The more you exaggerate his weakness and ignorance, the more diffident you render him, and give him the greater suspicion that such subjects are beyond the reach of his faculties.

(Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Part 11).

Given our understanding of good and evil is, you say, so limited, why think that the creator of the universe is good?

Campbell P
Campbell P
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Powell

might I direct you to the booklet ‘Where is God in a Coronavirus World’ by Professor John Lennox where you will find logical, reasonable, and inspiring arguments and answers to the question. And anyway, what’s with all this nonsensical God-blaming narrative? Didn’t you know that life is suffering and tragedy but that it’s all about how we face it, about character and the development of character, and about how we love our neighbour – even our enemies in the most tragic and perplexing of circumstances. Would you really want a perpetual bed of roses for a life? You won’t find peace and joy in a rose-bed, at least not for very long; and if you havn’t discovered that already, then you havn’t really lived. Jesus called it ‘life in abundance’: it’s one of those uncomfortable paradoxes of his which only really make sense once you begin to step out in faith and experience it.

Viva R
Viva R
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Powell

God did not abandon me during the deep distress of 2020 but the church did.

Mike Lotrean
Mike Lotrean
3 years ago

This is pure arrogance and irresponsibility on your part. It is the mentality of Donald Trump couched in religious, pious language. Because you are keeping your church open this year, there may be dozens of parishioners you will not see the following Christmas and many more to come. Their deaths will not only affect themselves but their loved ones as well. There is no equivalence here between the Black Death and the response of the clergy at the time and the current pandemic and our response to it. We can have an informed response. They couldn’t in the Middle Ages. And there are other options to bring people together. Patience is also a virtue. Wait for the vaccine.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

It constantly amazes me the way deranged anti-Trump persons manage to shout him into so many dialogues, no matter the issue at hand.

Mike Lotrean
Mike Lotrean
3 years ago
Reply to  stephen f.

One of your supporters brought “calm Trump” into the discussion. Is your supporter also deranged?

Mike Lotrean
Mike Lotrean
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

If Christmas is the only time God responds to “cries for help” then God is not who you and other clergy claim him to be.

Mike Lotrean
Mike Lotrean
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

In my village in Serbia, as a result of a baptism and an accompanying “feast” most of the village got infected with covid-19 and many died, just a few weeks ago.

peers.lilian
peers.lilian
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

They chose to attend!

Miriam UĂ­
Miriam UĂ­
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

I’m so so sorry to hear this Michael. My heartfelt sympathies for your losses. May your loved ones rest in peace. I understand your anger now.

Robin P
Robin P
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

most of the village got infected with covid-19 and many died

You should have pubilshed this in the Brit Med Journal. They would have refused it on the grounds of being just an anecdotal report with no control group let alone verification by testing. Meanwhile I must get back to helping Boris and Co with preventing anyone ever dying again.

peterdebarra
peterdebarra
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

… ask the Rochdale and Rotherham Anglo girl victims …

David Slade
David Slade
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

Sorry, but that really is an example of the kind of hysteria that has plunged us in to a new dark age this year. Ironic that it’s being done here in condemnation of a religious institution. The idea that you can just turn life off until there is a vaccine has caused incalculable damage globally.

To be honest – and this is from an atheist – so many people have nothing other than their faith and if the author wishes to keep meeting their needs then good luck to him.

Mike Lotrean
Mike Lotrean
3 years ago
Reply to  David Slade

What arrogance again. ALL institutions of gathering, schools, sports clubs, weddings, etc, are asked to be responsible and not gather. Why should churches be exempt?

David Slade
David Slade
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

The rule is unjust for all – especially schools, whose victimisation in this has been to the detriment of the youngest and most vulnerable in our society.

But I see no point in an equality of misery just for the sake of cohesion. If the church can find an exemption then all power to them.

Mike Lotrean
Mike Lotrean
3 years ago
Reply to  David Slade

Recently in a Serbian village a couple baptisms were held and a “feast” followed. Church goers came from surrounding villages. As a result of this gathering most of the village people got infected with the covid virus and many elderly people died. Dozens of family members were devastated. I see no answer from God to their cries for help when they needed Him.

Simon Newman
Simon Newman
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

‘Many’?

Miriam UĂ­
Miriam UĂ­
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

More likely that the feast is the source of infection than the church service. That’s why pubs have been shut here.
Also, the hope of life after death, which is the message of the church, is precisely the solace believers drawn on in the face of tragedies such as this pandemic. You may not believe, but who are you to prevent others from worshipping?

Robin P
Robin P
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

As a result of this gathering most of the village people got infected with the covid virus and many elderly people died.

You should have pubilshed this in the Brit Med Journal. They would have refused it on the grounds of being just an anecdotal report with no control group let alone verification by testing. Meanwhile I must get back to helping Boris and Co with preventing anyone ever dying again.

Miriam UĂ­
Miriam UĂ­
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

Shops are open for essential purposes. Schools are open within guidelines. Churches may open to provide essential support too. Here in Ireland churches follow particular health guidelines, and people can choose whether or not to attend. So far not a single Covid case has been linked to church going. I presume this is what Giles means.

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

Schools, churches, funerals, etc. should not be shut down. It seems we like being told what to do and wait for it … a vaccine to the rescue. Rubbish.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago
Reply to  David Slade

Well said sir.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

We can have an informed response.

I’m glad you think so. From my viewpoint we have, unjustifiably, the same sort of hysteria (justified) that surrounded the black death.

The majority of the media have whipped up a full blown panicdemic and continue to do so.

At 69 I hop I live to see the historical take on this.

peers.lilian
peers.lilian
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

No one forces anyone to go church. It is by choice only!

Mike Lotrean
Mike Lotrean
3 years ago
Reply to  peers.lilian

You’re missing part of the point. Most of the infected were not church goers nor were many of those who died. The church goers infected the rest of the village, people who had nothing to do with the gathering.

Miriam UĂ­
Miriam UĂ­
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

Where? No cases have been linked to churches following guidelines here.

Never Mind
Never Mind
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Lotrean

surely it is the parishioners choice to accept the risk of attending. If the parishioner takes the risk who am I to chastise them.

Mark Lilly
Mark Lilly
3 years ago

Why in the 21st century does this anti-rationalist hypocrite get to have a regular column full of nauseating sentiment and mendacity? He writes, unbelievably: ” Many here, struggling with loneliness and an ingrained sense of misery and isolation, rely on the church for their mental health.” Can we at least have a serious journalist balancing out this poison with accounts of the millions of people murdered, mutilated, abused, denounced, executed and persecuted for two millenia non-stop from the pre-Crusades to the Catholic death gangs of today in East Africa? (13 gay men killed last month alone.)

peterdebarra
peterdebarra
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Lilly

… for your Christmas good works is suggested active participation in the paltry efforts currently in play to save the persecuted Christians in North Nigeria …

William MacDougall
William MacDougall
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Lilly

And the millions of believers killed by Communists and other secularists? Far more than killed by Christians. Anyway, you are free to read other articles and believe what you want, and suffer the consequences later…

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Lilly

Didn’t get past your first sentence … look up ‘ad hominem’ or ‘tu quoque’ to learn what to avoid if you want people to read your stuff.

Mark Lilly
Mark Lilly
3 years ago
Reply to  Gordon Black

I was dubious about Kant’s synthetic a priori before I even got to the sixth form, and eventually got a job, teaching … inter alia, philosophy. But thanks for the tip.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Lilly

There are far more Christians and other innocents being killed by Boko Haram and various other Islamic death squads In Africa than there are Christians killing other people.

Miriam UĂ­
Miriam UĂ­
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Lilly

Eighty percent of religious believers who are being persecuted around the world are Christians, and in some regions the scale and nature of the persecution approaches the international definition of genocide, according to a report commissioned by Britain’s foreign office in 2019. There are simply no comparable figures of Christians persecuting others today – that would go against everything Christ taught.

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Lilly

Oh so it is a Gay thing. You might be interested to know that Giles has been quite an advocate for Gays in the Church.

Not that I agree with him on that one.