by David Quinn
Monday, 25
May 2020
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07:00

Why do our church leaders worship at the altar of health and safety?

They are so attached to the idea that everything else is obscured
by David Quinn
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby delivers Easter Sunday Service from his kitchen

All over Europe public worship has returned, or soon will, albeit with strong social distancing and hygiene measures in place. But not in Britain or Ireland. In Britain places of worship will not be allowed to open their doors again, even for private prayer, until July 4. No date for the restoration of public worship has been announced yet.

In Ireland where I live, you can wander into a church and say a prayer but public religious services won’t be back until July 20, which is one of the latest dates in Europe, despite the fact that Ireland didn’t have a severe outbreak.

The worrying thing has been the lack of push-back by Church leaders on both islands. In Ireland, there hasn’t been a peep from the Catholic hierarchy. The contrast with their counterparts else in Europe has been extremely striking.

In Italy for example, the Catholic bishops attacked Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, when he seemed to be giving low priority to a return to public Masses. Almost immediately Conte relented and Italians have been allowed to go to Mass again, with a limit on numbers, since May 18.

In France, a group of Catholics took a case to court and the court announced that public worship had to be restored again, that the Government’s ban was disproportionate. Public Masses, with proper safety measures, have been taking place again in France since Saturday.

What explains the astonishing timidity of Church leaders on these islands compared with their counterparts elsewhere? Let me offer a suggestion: they have become so attached to the idea of health and safety that all other goods have been obscured, including freedom of worship.

They appear to believe that keeping the faithful absolutely safe is the only way to be good pastors. Hairdressers, publicans, restaurateurs, hoteliers might all be pushing for a safe, earlier return than is currently planned, but Church leaders, certainly in Ireland, seem to think it is more responsible not to make a fuss.

They have forgotten that all life involves risk. When public worship is finally restored, it will be far safer to have 40 people in a church that can fit 400 than to have a hairdresser hovering over your head for 30 minutes.

This being so, why aren’t Church leaders in Britain and Ireland pressing for a faster return to religious services? If a measure of what we value is the level of risk we are willing to take for it, then the bishops are effectively telling people that almost anything, even getting a haircut, is more important than public worship. Their message seems to be: it’s not worth the risk.

David Quinn is a columnist with The Sunday Times (Ireland)

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margaret
margaret
2 years ago

Their obsession with H.and S.arises in part from knowing that even minute breaches or lapses -which will be sought out- will be telescoped by hostile Irish media. That might be described as level one persecution which is where Ireland finds itself currently.
The other reason is frankly loss of faith, something that is not confined to laity, as is commonly thought.

jasminebirtles
jasminebirtles
2 years ago

I agree. The Anglican church near me in central London is apparently considering staying closed until December. Madness. Even given the fact that the majority of church-goers tend to be older, it’s sadly not hard to social distance in most places of worship as they tend to be sparcely frequented anyway.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
2 years ago

In recent years, my answer to any question beginning “why are Church leaders doing … ?” has been, because they don’t believe in God any more. Am I wrong?

pauline.k
pauline.k
2 years ago

Sadly, their response to the current pandemic leads me to the same conclusion. They do not worship or believe in God, but worship the great God Safety. I am tired of hearing this word (Safety).

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
2 years ago

Why? Because they are bunch of authoritarian, virtue-signalling twits.

David Bardell
David Bardell
2 years ago

The lack of any action by the Church if England is shameful.
To allow politicians and civil servants to consider worship in the same category as the Hospitality sector is disgraceful. Unfortunately it is part of a pattern of attitudes and behaviours from Welby who sees himself as little more than a manager.

Philip Burrell
Philip Burrell
2 years ago
Reply to  David Bardell

Why should worship be treated any differently from hospitality? Attendance at religious services is on a steady decline and frankly the majority of the UK population will be a lot more interested in when pubs and restaurants are reopened than churches. Personally I take that as an example of their good sense!

pauline.k
pauline.k
2 years ago
Reply to  Philip Burrell

But some of us are still believers. I feel let down by our church leaders, who have not led but followed. This may not matter to you Burrell, but it does to me.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
2 years ago

I think this article describes an issue which points to a deep problem in the Church which is the generally play-safe and risk averse attitude of its bishops. Health and safety is not the only altar at which they worship. Political correctness is another. Every week in the Church Times this worship can be witnessed as the bishops and others pronounce on political,social and moral issues in such a way that will be acceptable to the secular liberal establishment.It is so bland and predictable. These views may well be held sincerely but I believe there is also fear about contradicting the apparent majority. It would seem that to be a bishop today you need to be left of centre theologically and politically.
The nation and the Church needs bishops who have the courage and prophetic anointing to question the prevailing secular liberal culture, the moral chaos, and the alienation from God which characterises our society today and point to a better, far better way.

pauline.k
pauline.k
2 years ago

Brilliant comment, Mr Whittock. Our church leaders have behaved like timid sheep; as you to say, not just confined to coronavirus, but to everything.

thomasbcarver
thomasbcarver
2 years ago

The Christian church stopped believing in itself a long time ago, it’s now more concerned with green issues and identity politics; it has become a department of the social services and is very happy in that role.

Dennis Wheeler
Dennis Wheeler
2 years ago
Reply to  thomasbcarver

Anglicans, and Protestants in general maybe. Not Catholics or Orthodox.

pauline.k
pauline.k
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Wheeler

Don’t think there is any difference.

Trevor Q
Trevor Q
2 years ago

Is this the way the Church of England ends – not with a bang but a whimper. At a time when it could actually have a role it is abdicating it’s responsibility and writing its own DNR.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
2 years ago

It is not all that surprising that churches of various denominations are siding with the “every death is a tragedy” brigade. I find the reluctance to reopen schools more worrying than the reluctance to reopen churches. In England, according to NHS England figures, just 16 under 20 year olds have died – about 0.7% of all deaths. 50% of all deaths have been in the over 80s – the proportion normally seen anyway. Teachers are at no more and probably far less risk of catching Covid than supermarket checkout staff – nobody seems to be worried about them.

I would not be at all surprised to see that all cause excess deaths for the week just gone are roughly zero ie back on the 5 year average and I would not be surprised to see us running below average for the next few months – Covid has simply advanced a lot of deaths that would have occurred in the next few months anyway. There is a concern that we may see excess all cause deaths start to rise later in the year because of all the other treatments that have been delayed. Cancer, Heart disease and Stroke deaths later in the year could easily see more excess deaths than Covid has delivered over the last 2 months.

We need to get as many things back to as normal as possible as quickly as possible. However there are a number of good things which should stay – working from home where possible (much easier when the kids are at school) and not having people rudely jostling, barging and invading your personal space so they can save themselves a few seconds by getting ahead of you.

Esmon Dinucci
Esmon Dinucci
2 years ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

A very good analysis – I particularly liked your last paragraph.

Simon Adams
Simon Adams
2 years ago

There is so much hysteria in the British media, some of which seems to be a leftover from Brexit, and some is the innate political bias of all newspapers (+ their readers) that we have in this country. Is it really the churches place to pick this battle in public, rather than dialogue via the bishops?

Most parishes are doing well with virtual services that will need to continue for vulnerable people anyway. I’m not sure god would want the church throwing its weight around on this subject either. Just because you’re less afraid of death, doesn’t mean you should trample on other peoples fears.

pauline.k
pauline.k
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Adams

But the church should reassure its flock, not pander to unnecessary fear.

KP Hunter
KP Hunter
2 years ago

The Protestant churches have a different ecclesiology from the RC church. For Catholics, congregating in the church building is much more important. For most Protestants, the church is not the building, it’s the community of faith, the people (that’s over simplified). And the people are still worshipping, via Zoom, watch parties, Skype, and recorded or televised services. There are still many churches in the country with small buildings and a large proportion of elderly members, so we have to be cautious about reopening. (Speaking as a Methodist preacher) I think we will need to continue to provide for people worshipping at home as an equal option to worshipping in church.

Dennis Wheeler
Dennis Wheeler
2 years ago
Reply to  KP Hunter

It’s not about “the building,” but the Eucharist. The only point of going to mass is the Sacraments. Protestants can just as well make do with a Skype sermon.

That pic of “Archbishop” Welby in his kitchen might be the perfect avatar for Anglicanism. Banal, bland, domesticated, pointless.

pauline.k
pauline.k
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Wheeler

That’s just timid Welby, not Anglicanism per se.

Paul Dobbs
Paul Dobbs
2 years ago

Wall Street Journal ,24 May: “At least 107 people have been found to be infected with the new coronavirus after some of them attended Sunday services at a church in Frankfurt two weeks ago, according to German officials, highlighting the growing risk of new outbreaks of the virus . . .” Could it be that this “obsession” is, at this point in the game, not such a bad thing. Just asking. Contact tracing, when it is really up and running is going to tell us a lot about how this thing really works. I’m inclined to wait until that happens. Could Church leaders feel the same way?

pauline.k
pauline.k
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Dobbs

No. Church leaders have shown no leadership or reassurance to a frightened population.

Derek M
Derek M
2 years ago

Because they have given up on religion and instead have substituted left/liberal ideology and woke virtue signalling

Michael Baldwin
Michael Baldwin
2 years ago

I think the answer to this is that the cause of political correctness which is now embodied by much of the media and political parties, is far more advanced in the predominantly English speaking countries – America, the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia even.

Mainland Europe is still largely Catholic, so it’s less powerful there, meaning the resistance to the PC reality view is far greater, and America is we could say on the cusp, as the near election of Hilary Clinton showed – she allegedly got the most votes, but gladly did not win the election, as regardless of the shortcoming of President Trump, he seems to have been the lesser of the two “evils.”

This is all made clearer when you follow the narrative of Douglas Murray, who plausibly argues that the PC culture is basically an attempt – and a very successful and nearly all pervasive one too in the West – to enforce a new “religion” (an atheist religion, so to speak) on the whole world.

One that seeks to get rid of all God believing religions, and replace them with “enlightened atheism” and all their moral rules with ones of its own, which it believes are far superior and unquestionably right.

It tolerates existing religions only to the extent they can be infiltrated with PC people, which obviously means women priests, gay/lesbian clergy, etc, etc. which is the state of the C of E for quite some time now.

One might ask why the C of E gave in to these “reforms” and the RC Church didn’t – which of course is why the PC people are gunning for it.

And I think the simple answer is state support.

The C of E though largely independent due to financial assets and investments is still somewhat dependent on the state financially (a huge repair bill etc.), and also an organ of the state as the official national religion which the Queen is the head of.

So it is politically linked to the state which the RC Church is not, which probably is at the root of the difficulty.

Why the RC Church in either England or Ireland is not more vocal is I think partly also due to the multiculturalism situation, as there are a lot of other religious groups now, many of which have much larger attendances and would thus find social distancing rules imposed by the government far harder to implement.

But it is also in fear of the condemnation of the PC dominated media that the RC Churches have backed down too it appears, especially after losing the referendum on abortion in Ireland, which really announced the end of Ireland as a mainly Catholic country in my view, but like the UK, mostly considers churches just “venues” to hold marriages, funerals and possibly christenings.

I think for the moment, Churches have to face the fact that they can no longer dominate the political agenda, but need to be politically active in a different sense.

The majority in the UK do not support the PC agenda, with its unquestioning rubber stamping of almost every PC issue, and that will be somewhat true in Ireland also, which as we know resisted voting for EU membership several times till after being forced to vote again and again it finally succumbed to it.

It’s likely however that the majority of Irish people still would prefer to have their independence, as in England, and almost certainly voted for the EU only in fear of economic consequences of not doing so, which amounts really to extortion and blackmail, more or less a “gangster protection racket.”

I personally would favour a purely economic alliance between the UK and Ireland, which would make both nations far more independent, as Ireland has such agricultural potential.

No doubt Ireland’s electoral system is corrupt like the UK’s, so that ordinary people who represent most of the public do not get properly represented.

I can’t believe for example how the government was so easily able to close the pubs, without mass protest, which I can’t believe the majority of Irish people would have supported, especially when officially told that the virus (like any seasonal flu) was only much dangerous to the old and already in poor health.

The Churches everywhere missed their opportunity to oppose government tyranny in imposing the lockdown, which could not have been excused lest this were really a plague of the order of the Bubonic one or similar.

We had Hong Kong flu in 1968 which killed more people in Britain, but no lock down was apparently required, and it is very likely that the lockdown is going to kill a lot more people than the virus would have done even had their been no lockdown, as for example in Canada, a doctor reported recently they had more suicides there in one month of lockdown than they usually get in the whole year normally.

The lockdown has been a devastating attack on the old, under the guise of claiming to save them, who should merely have been warned and allowed to choose for themselves if they wanted to risk catching the virus or not, which is a situation incidentally they are faced with every year.

The lockdown was an act of tyranny, especially against the old, unable to see their friends or families as well as get solace in either the Church or the pub (or indeed both), and put in fear of death if they dared go out of the house just to get survival provisions, which has become terribly difficult for people who were already struggling to do so under “normal” conditions.

The Churches have shown themselves really useless during this lockdown, by failing to speak out for the old and vulnerable, and today we even have a C of E bishop attacking Dominic Cummings, when instead they should have been attacking the lockdown, which on so many levels has been a crime against humanity.

Gerald gwarcuri
Gerald gwarcuri
2 years ago

As a conservative American Christian ( Reformed ), I am saddened when I read about how spineless many progressive clerics in the UK seem to be. Where are the Thomas Mores? “Being nice” and “not offending” anyone seem to be their highest priorities. This is not Christianity. It is smarmy, lukewarm pabulum. Jesus was confrontational. He exhibited towering courage. Not so the men and women who love to parade around in colorful vestments and make soft pronouncements on all manner of things mostly outside their purview. Heaven forbid they should take a controversial position – or worse – actually preach the New Testament gospel!

The UK church “leaders” would do well to read and ponder this article by Dennis Prager: https://www.dailysignal.com

666bobtodd
666bobtodd
2 years ago

why do church leaders use 16th century english to pray to their imaginary “god” who do they think they are fooling ?

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  666bobtodd

Themselves.

pauline.k
pauline.k
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

That is your opinion. Others think differently.