Britain Ethics the Church

What is the Impact of Churches Closing Because of Coronavirus?

This weeks Christian Today Article….

church
(Photo: Unsplash/Edwin Andrade)

In many countries affected by the coronavirus churches are being closed, either on the advice or the order of government. In others they have not yet reached that stage and churches are being left to agonise over whether they should close or not. Many churches bowing to the inevitable have already announced the cancellation of their services ‘until further notice’.

For some this is no big deal, but while I agree that there are good reasons for closing, and that we should follow government guidelines, we also need to be aware of the potential consequences. In the same way as some Christians are very blasé about ‘social isolation’, joking about it being like Christmas – a two-week holiday where we don’t have to go to work and get to binge on Netflix and takeaway, others are equally blasé about church closures.

To them it’s no big deal and indeed might be a welcome respite or an opportunity to try something new. We need to think a bit more deeply, rationally and biblically.

Why cancel church services?

It is the obvious, sensible and loving thing to do for most of us. Coronavirus is a flu-like illness that is in many instances beyond the containment phase and is now in the delay phase. In other words, the imperative is to prevent so many people all getting ill at once that the health services are overwhelmed. Although 80% of those who get it will have only a mild illness, others will be serious. Even if the death rate is ‘only’ 1% of those who get it (the latest estimate) – that is still ten times the death rate of normal seasonal flu. The death rate for the elderly with pre-existing conditions is far higher – 5-10%. So the key is to prevent as much contagion as possible.

Church services are where many people gather and where it would be possible for the virus to be transmitted to many people. When I was a minister in the Highland village of Brora, I remember the local doctor saying that I was his worst enemy – because I kept visiting the sick and thus became a source of transmission. Although he was half joking, we did then have a conversation about when it was and was not appropriate to visit, and the precautions that should be taken. In the case of coronavirus, surely closing churches will help limit social interaction and thus reduce the number of transmissions?

Some argue that meeting in church is not an essential to being the church. We can do ‘virtual’ church, do ‘church at home’ and meet in small groups (unless you’re in Austria where the government has even banned groups of more than five people). There is no necessity to gather for public worship in a large building with a crowd of people. In fact this might be an exciting new way of doing church.

Why we should be concerned

Despite all the above, there are also good reasons for not closing unless we have to, and good reasons for being concerned if we do.

We need to consider carefully the cost of closing churches. Not the financial cost, but rather the psychological, emotional and spiritual costs to people. There are many people for whom the weekly gathering of the Lord’s people is a real strength and community to them. The mental harm caused by the fear pandemic, and the constant 24/7 media and online hysteria should be factored in as well. And we must be very careful not to fuel the hysteria. One clergyman told me that we need to respond to the ‘public vibe’. But when that vibe is basically panic I’m not sure that it is wise to be governed by that. We do not fear what they fear.

We need to ask if it really is the case that while hospitals, workplaces, shops and educational institutions are ‘essential’, churches are not? We dispense prayer, hope and the Word of God. We give people Christ. We also believe that human beings face a far greater danger than coronavirus. It is appointed unto men once to die and after that to face judgement (Hebrews 9:27). We are all going to die and we all need to be prepared for that. The Church is essential because while our society runs around in fear, we have good news of great joy – a Saviour for all the world. I suspect that if we give our people the message that we think gathering for worship on the Lord’s Day is not ‘essential’ they will believe us. Indeed, many of them already do.

Ah, yes, comes the retort ‘but we can have virtual church’. Virtual church is not church. Christianity was, is, and always will be incarnational. God so loved the world that he sent his actual Son, in the flesh. He did not send a video. I’m thankful that he did not send an emoij or a phone call – to the suffering, sick and dying.

It is incredible how physical Christianity is. The sacraments are physical sacraments (are we saying no more baptisms, communion for the next 12 months?). The very term ‘ecclesia’ means ‘gathered assembly’. Where there is no gathering, is there a church? We are to ‘greet one another with a holy kiss’. We give the right hand of fellowship. We sing together. Worship is physical….we stand, kneel, bow and even dance!

I’m also deeply concerned about the implications for evangelism and care for those who are not part of our church family. If our buildings are closed and we retreat into our groups, where can the frightened, questioning, lonely, seeking person turn to? Churches should be beacons of hope in a desert of darkness. Now is the time to let our light shine – not hide it under a bushel.

In that regard, I appreciate the Church of England’s call to keep church buildings open so that people can go in and pray. We are going to have to think long and hard about how best we can reach out with the Gospel in the current circumstances. I’m not convinced that just adding further to the endless screeds of information and blessed thoughts on the Internet is really going to cut it.

Who needs preachers?

Lectures can be delivered by video, entertainment shows can be delivered by video, business seminars can be delivered by video. Church cannot. I suspect that mega churches that do offer lectures, entertainment and business seminars can carry on ‘virtually’. I doubt that any biblical church can. That does not mean that a shutdown is impossible – we do after all have to obey the government. Nor does it mean that it is sinful. But when we shut down, it is surely wise to make sure that there is an opportunity for real people to meet real people, in real time and in a real space.

Small groups may be the way to go – although I see some churches are also banning small groups and pastoral visitation, including to the bereaved. The good reason for that is to avoid spreading disease but I fear this is a pre-emptive response that will have wider consequences and does not take into account the effects of cutting people off from physical contact – especially those who need it the most.

Another big question for church leaders to consider: when are we going to re-open? And when we re-open, how will things have changed? This is not going to be a two-week thing. This could go on for 12 to 18 months. If any shutdown goes beyond a few weeks, then I would suggest that there will be significant mental, social and physical disorder in the wider community which will make the toilet roll fights seem as trivial as they sound. What will the Church do if that happens?

So what to do?

When we do close, we must not see this as an opportunity for us to take a wee holiday from ‘church’, but rather we should work twice as hard to pastor, lead, teach, preach, guide and pray. Let us open up our churches for prayer (with appropriate hand sanitiser and social distancing), visit the sick, watch out for the lonely and tell people of the great physician!

For some of us, not being able to travel, or take part in conferences or seminars, might actually be a great opportunity to reconnect with the local church. For some local churches, this could be a great opportunity to reconnect with their local communities. For all of us, it is a great opportunity to reconnect with our physical neighbours.

God is shaking up our world, reminding us of our mortality and opening up doors for us to proclaim the good news. The question is whether we believe that and whether we will have the insight and courage to walk through those doors.

David Robertson is director of Third Space in Sydney and blogs at www.theweeflea.co

Three Bible passages to Replace Fear of Coronavirus with Hope in God

48 comments

  1. Can I humbly point you at this blog post?

    When I pre-emptively withdrew last week, for several reasons, I was already thinking along similar lines – particularly, of the chance to experience solidarity and witness with those for whom forced separation from the Sacraments, whether through remoteness, persecution or infirmity, has always been daily reality.

    When we do return, hopefully it will be with a new gratitude for gifts we are all too prone to take for granted.

    https://www.ibenedictines.org/2020/03/18/learning-to-pray-again/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook

  2. Your opinion is well-stated, Mr. Robertson. But the sense I get is that few in the Christian community seem to share it. While I agree that if this disease does pose a great threat worldwide, we’d want to be wise and prudent in how we proceed to “meet” and reach those who don’t yet know our Lord. And yet by so easily and quickly caving to the societal pressures here in the short term, I think the long-term impact of choices now (to meet online) will be felt by churches for many years to come. I truly believe this decision made so quickly by churches across the globe will be greatly detrimental to church growth and impact in the long run. And I believe it may do much to deepen the effort to silence our voice in proclaiming the Good News and spreading its impact in society. Yet I trust my God knows much more than me. So I hope I’m wrong. Thanks for sharing your sentiments.

  3. Our Church in Auckland has closed on Sundays with ‘live’ streaming ramping up. There are still small home groups running (8-12 people) and ‘open’ homes are available for people in the suburbs. It would be a great idea if other Churches share here what they are up to.

  4. Very good article David. No church for me means no company, no fellowship. Elim is closed… Zumba classes are off so… now what? For those who like me, live alone & on benefits it’s cutting us off socially. So I go out walking with the dog then pick up bits & pieces from the shops & head home. At home I’m on the laptop & watch Sky TV but is this it? Is this how it’s going to be? Socially isolated, and if so… for how long? Also all concert halls are closed. I’d booked tickets for me and a friend for 80’s Mania for the 29th, I was going to Whitney tribute on the 3rd of April, then to see Showaddywaddy on May 3rd in Arbroath. All off. Plus… I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this… but I’d booked to go see Jason Donovan in Aberdeen in September. Hope that can still go ahead. But you see what I mean… everything’s cancelled. Might as well cancel life as we know it then.
    It’s filling me with a sense of hopelessness & frustration. Feels like I’m having my life and everything I enjoy stripped away bare, leaving a great sense of nothingness in its place.

    Maggie

    1. Maggie, I’m praying for you this morning from a small corner of the U.S. I like what Hilary suggested below. See if there are people in your community that you could hand-write a note of encouragement to. Here in the States, many are taking to the idea of writing to nursing home residents, since they are no longer allowed to have outside visitors. 🙁

      I’m with you in that it feels like life as we’ve known it (in my case, 46 years) has grinded to a halt. That makes me really sad. Though an introvert by nature, I still love deep interaction with others. FaceTime or conference calls doesn’t do it for me. I love face-to-face interaction in small group settings. My heart is heavy right now.

      But God is pulling me to reach out to others with a word of hope. Jesus really is our hope and comfort in these confusing times. I love the passage of Matthew 6:25-34, where He reminds us to look at the birds. If Jesus cares for them, how much more does he love and care for us. Maybe read it in several translations and let God speak to your heart.
      Thinking of you today!

    2. Maggie, I sense the loneliness and emptiness setting in. God did create humans to be social beings and as that aspect of life is for a time or longer being removed, we need to re-focus our hearts and minds to a new way of life with Godly purpose.

      Our hope is in God 24/7, our desire is to be with Him and rejoice in His presence. Yet, God has given man purpose on earth. A purpose that in all things now already rejoices in His presence, although at the moment in a world that is groaning under the burden of sin.

      How can we re-focus our hearts and minds?
      1. Continue in devotion to the Lord. Each day, morning, noon and night, read His Word of life, study it and examine ones own life in the revealed will of God for our lives.
      2. Pray deeply for your pastor, office bearers of the Church, your church family, your family, your friends and loved ones, the church of the Lord throughout the world, Mission work, governments that the Lord has place in authority over us. This list could go on and on, but in your prayer, never forget to ask that the Lord be with you, walk with you, encourage you and continue to dwell with you to lead you in the path of faith, love and hope; hope in the things not yet seen but promised to those who go on in faith.
      3. Each day call a friend or two and encourage them in the hope of life.
      4. Each day call someone who you know may be struggling in life because of illness, loss of a loved one, family struggles… the list could go on and on.
      4. Write a poem about your faith and hope in God. Carry that out over a few days, savor the thought of making the words precious in the eyes of God and encouragement for those after you.
      5. Exercise regularly.
      6. Eat balanced meals and regularly.
      7. Sleep as one aught to maintain your strength and good courage.
      8. If you have a hobby… continue on in it… it gives purpose and satisfaction.
      9. Maintain a somewhat regular schedule each day, although one day of being random is great!!

      And above all… Rejoice, yes Rejoice in God’s amazing love for us; a love so deep, so profound, that I need to search it out in His Word; a love so deep and profound that once it is known will cause us to rejoice in Him through all circumstances of life.

      Please never forget that this event that has circled the globe is not by chance, but comes by the will of our Heavenly Father… rejoice that He refines us day by day to prepare us for a glory to be revealed on the last day!!

      May God dwell near to you day by day!!

  5. As a retired Gp with a naturally questioning attitude, I have followed DR John Campbell on YouTube and educated myself re the covid 19 . A friend quoted a M Luther statement on the Black Death re the combination of social responsibility and theology which was spot on. We can access a nearby minister with online streaming, our church recordings and BBC, what’s wrong with that?

  6. Thank you, David ..Dear Maggie Scott, I feel very sad reading your comments. I think David will want to reply, but may I offer a few thoughts. After walking your dog and going to the shop – which not everyone can do, you have time on your hands and presumably a computer. Could you reach out to others who may be lonely, via email, or phone an elderly neighbour, or write a note of encouragement etc?
    I have a small flip-over calendar which has a thought for each day. Today’s was very appropriate:
    “Our lives may be busy at times, but when God orders our steps and puts His purposes in our hearts, our lives will never be meaningless.” Could you, and all of us pray, that God would order our steps and put His purpose in our hearts?
    You mention a stripping bare, and I think a lot of us will feel elements of that just now. I have a small grapevine in my garden. (Oxfordshire). Right now, its twigs and branches are bare and stark-looking, but very soon, it will sprout new leaves, which will provide shade and look beautiful, and in some months time, some purple grapes will appear. So hang in there, Maggie. The barren time will be for a season, but let’s look to Jesus, the true Vine, to continue to fill us with his Spirit, so that we will be fruitful, even in dry times. Love and prayers, Hilary.

  7. In the streets the children screamed
    The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed
    But not a word was spoken
    The church bells all were broken
    And the three men I admire most
    The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost
    They caught the last train for the coast
    The day the music died
    #ChurchBan

  8. Churches need to get much more creative in this current crisis. As well as a phone call, it’s possible to visit someone who has to be isolated and talk through an open window of their living room for example. Live streaming a sermon is great but don’t forget about the kids – provide material for the parents to have Sunday school at home (a great way to encourage a culture of parents taking more responsibility for discipling their kids). Point people to good Christian books to read if they have to isolate. Help them think about integrity when working from home. Think about how we hold share the hope of Christ in crisis when people are often more open to God. And consider how the measures we have taken will work out when the crisis is over – remember the power of unintended consequences. For example, we don’t want people to get into the habit of staying at home because we’ve upped our game at livestreaming but we do want parents to continue to be more involved in instructing their kids from the Bible and shaping them as disciples of Jesus. Let the light of Christ shine in the crisis in a multitude of ways – and keep shining when it’s over.

    1. Today, in my community, there has been a positive explosion of helpfulness on Facebook, WhatsApp email and phone calls. Christian and non Christian friends are phoning to check on people who are alone. An associate minister is committed to daily bible readings on Facebook,and our interim moderator is determined to record a sermon in our church every Sunday . What has often happened in countries where churches were ordered to shut? Christians found other ways to “meet “and even thrive.

      1. Thats all great Rhona – and very helpful. It still doesn’t take away from the main point – that Christians need to meet together. In fact in the countries you talked about Christians valued this so highly that they often ended up in jail for daring to meet….

      2. Seems incredible that only5 days ago I was waking up feeling dreadful, I couldn’t name it. It took me 2 days to realise that it was social isolation. I live alone and all my groups, singing, cycling, church were closing. I have a brother who lives 20+ miles away. I understand the need for all of this, I’m a retired gp, and had been urging my session clerk to cancel the stated annual meeting, then 121 said the same. I can still go for a walk, have a conversation at a distance or on the phone, but I look forward to the day when we can touch another person once again. You’d think I’d be used to it? Not so. So a friends posting of the woman who washed and kissed Jesus feet had a new resonance this am

  9. The most notable reaction from Christianity’s perspective is the view that Church and attendance is not considered essential.

    This must be somewhat of a hard-to-swallow wake up call for all those involved – and especially religious professionals such as ministers, pastors etc who are facing the reality that, unlike those on the real front line, medical professionals and those directly involved with managing this pandemic, just how little they are needed and inconsequential their role is.

    Herein lies the hardcore truth of Christianity and all religion. If its places of worship are obliged to close their doors and missionary work and evangelism were to cease then Christianity (and all religion) would eventually die out, to be considered as something we once did or took the kids to on Sundays.

    A sense of community aside, the current crisis also highlights that the primary motivation for attendance /participation is governed almost exclusively by death anxiety/fear – the constant reminder that if one is outside the fold one cannot be saved and there is every chance one will got to hell (in whichever form one’s particular church teaches).

    The core of Christianity is much like a business maxim: see a need and fulfill it, and if no need is apparent then create one.

    Ark.

    1. And yet historically and demonstrably that is not the case. For example after the Second World War the Chinese Church lost its buildings, missionaries and leaders. And yet it thrived. You can’t keep truth down -no matter how hard you try!

      1. You mention this ”Truth” but continually fail to identify what it is.

        As has been pointed out time and again the more advanced nations are moving toward secularism. This is just another brick in the wall to paraphrase Roger Waters.
        Furthermore, there is a keen difference between the current church closures and self- imposed restrictions on most forms of physical evangelicalism and missionary work to the violent state-imposed actions of the Chinese government post WWII.

        Also, it is telling that, (aside from the social aspects as identified by Maggie and which I also mentioned) you failed to address the primary motivation driving people to maintain some sort of fellowship – that of death anxiety and the threat of Hell.

        I have no doubt that things will return to normal in a relatively short time, but it is a given there will also be noticeable changes.

        As I mentioned in my comment, this crisis highlights just how ineffective church and all its doctrinal accouterments, including prayer and the professionals that staff the organisations are.

        Ark

      2. You keep pointing out that ‘advanced nations’ move towards secularism….apart from the prejudice inherent in that comment – its also not true…the number of atheists is projected to decline by 50% by 2050. You also pronounce falsely about the reasons for people believing. Strange how your prejudice continually distorts reality…

      3. You keep pointing out that ‘advanced nations’ move towards secularism….apart from the prejudice inherent in that comment

        What prejudice?
        While I acknowledge that the US for example might be considered an outlier those that identify as having ”no religion” are considered to be one f the fastest growing demographics.

        https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/04/160422-atheism-agnostic-secular-nones-rising-religion/

        And that article is from 2016! Four years ago.

        In fact, you have posted numerous times about the demise of the church in Scotland and waxed lyrical as for the reasons why secularism is beginning to hold centre stage.

        And yet again you STILL do not address the issue of death/anxiety and indoctrinated fear as reasons for belief.

        If you cannot understand why the revolting doctrine of Hell is ”distorting reality” then it’s high time you had a major rethink about what your true role ought to be !

        Oh, and stay safe – remember, practicality before prayer David. If you want to do something useful with your hands – wash them.

      4. I live in Africa so why would I regard the West as The World for goodness’ sake?
        But is a fact the more socially developed countries – those that take on more and more aspects of secular humanism and regard religion as somewhat irrelevant to the functioning of their societies are the benchmark of how societies evolve.

        It is simply a natural progression. And we can see evidence of this all the time.

        We are witnessing just how non-essential religion is during this pandemic and your attempts at justifying physical gatherings is not only reckless but comes across as somewhat desperate.

        Even my mother, whom I spoke to this morning, a devout Christian who goes to church several times a week recognises the need to stay away.

        I don’t think it will diminish her individual faith one iota, but what staying away will do is highlight how crucial church attendance and ministry is for the purpose of evangelizing.

        It also puts the spotlight on the supposed omniscience of God, the complete ineffectiveness of prayer and calls for divine intercession and also his inability to conduct affairs without people such as you.

      5. `No – it is not a natural progression….it is a regression and it is not natural or evident. Anyway I am tiring of your constant posting and sniping….please feel free to comment on your own site. Your comments here will be restricted to the few that are sensible and relevant…

      6. David,
        by getting the wrong end of the stick and holding onto it so desperately, Ark is inadvertently illustrating another danger of abandoning the gathering of the church. Ark’s blog is an echo chamber where much space is given to things that Christians say and do. He comes to theweeflea foraging for bones that his followers can pick over in their characteristic ways and there is no way that his cyber community is an internet bubble; quite the opposite.
        Now just as the bubble effect can be seen in other media — such as newspapers and cable news channels — so there are echo chambers everywhere that ideas are set up with the sole purpose of bringing them down by every means possible. It behoves all of us to ensure that ours does not become/remain a bubble-effect church but we must avoid the opposite danger with equal vigilance. The safe path lies between both pitfalls and it is much easier to acknowledge differences of opinion — in politics, for example — when we could actually sit on the same pew with socialists, nationalists and/or conservatives; it is harder to vilify our neighbours when we live in the same locality.
        It seems to me — to get back to Ark’s posts — that an inability to let things lie is a characteristic feature of echo chambers. Having said:

        your attempts at justifying physical gatherings is not only reckless but comes across as somewhat desperate.

        Ark is now very unlikely to ever admit that he is leveraging your caution about abandoning who we are into a call of defiance against reason that you never made. Having got hold of the wrong end of the stick he can’t let go.
        Let those who stand take heed lest we fall but we will be right to be glad when they are once again able to say to us: ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’
        Yours,
        John/.

    2. Here’s what your dystopian view is up against, Ark:
      • Fellowship: we gather together because fellowship is one of the fundamental disciplines of Christian living. It’s what we do.
      • Promises: Jesus said, ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’ and ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst.’
      • Separation: The command not to forsake gathering is accompanied by the qualification: ‘As the manner of some is.’ Sickness and imprisonment are two separating factors that don’t carry the opprobrium of desertion but knowing when the church meets and being with the believers in spirit has been of great comfort to both shut-ins and the congregations that feel their absence. Agreed separation for a time ought to be accompanied by a commitment to pray and the whole point of a benediction is to send us out in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
      • Assembly: The Greek word ‘ἐκκλησία’ which is generally translated ‘church’ has the proper meaning of ‘Assembly’. It’s who we are.
      • Hope: ‘… [T]he dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.’
      • Mission: The reproductive product of a church is a new church. When individuals come to faith in a church gathering, Paul talks about them being convinced by all, not just the person preaching. [1 Cor. 14:24]
      • Life: It is true that the normal, prosperous, self-satisfied citizen finds the idea of gathering with Christians irrelevant or even repugnant but when something goes wrong it is often a different story. One of the tests of New Life is that we find in ourselves a love for other believers that has no other reason than that they are believers.
      Yours,
      John/.

    3. Arkenaten, do you realise how far out you’re sticking your neck with this? Have you seen how many churches have already live-streamed their services to the worldwide audience today? The physical gathering together of Christians has been prevented but look what’s happened instead! Christians who had never ever dreamed that they would be broadcasting their Christian message to the world instantly have done just that today, to millions of people. Many have sent out the message that God so loves the world that He gave His only Son – to die in agony in their place – and by doing that they can be sure of eternal life, no matter what kind of pestilence might overtake them in this life. It’s a message of life, love, comfort and promise. I challenge you to match a message like that.

  10. An interesting article . However The early church largely met in houses and evangelised as the gospel was gossiped to people outside the confines of any building Perhaps this situation we find ourselves in is god speaking to us to question some of the institutional structures that we call biblical but are merely traditional .”this exciting new way of doing church” surely was the apostolic way. No big buildings to waste money on. How many times have we heard the true words the church is not the building but the body. It is an organism not an organisation. We have created many man made structures and pronounced them biblical and created many of the problems we are presently trying to solve. Maybe god is saying to us in the words of the Old Testament prophet. “ consider your ways” How we do local church may as ever need to be critiqued and actioned. The church should ever be reforming

    1. Alan – that may be true but it is not the point of the article. We are not talking about meeting in big church buildings – we are just talking about physically meeting. Which the early church did – not just in homes – but in the temple, on the beach, in the marketplace! Virtual church is not more real than virtual friendship or virtual sex! The internet is a useful tool – especially at this time – but lets not make it a replacement for the reality of the Lord’s people actually meeting together.

  11. Thanks David
    Meeting in small groups at this time I think is the way forward. Most congregations have buildings which can seat at least 100 people ( some cases maybe 500-1000).
    Taking the necessary precautions (hand sanitising, distancing, ) i would think that it should be possible for people to be meeting in small groups at different times in these buildings. But maybe I’m wrong?

    1. Hi Duncan,
      I think that’s what my congregation is planning, stopping the usual small groups which are in people’s homes and can’t meet the four square metre rule, but starting new smallish gatherings in the church building. I don’t have any idea at the moment how often they would be, but given that we’re told this is a matter of months rather than weeks, it seems rather pressing to organise something sustainable for the longer haul.

  12. I am an unpaid deacon in my local church. This is a weird time where I can hopefully enjoy a few weekends away from church work, but then that’s what my life revolves around; the build-up of information gathering, preparing printed sheets, sorting out the PowerPoint, confirming the church diary, arranging the church heating. I therefore have nothing to worry about for a week or four. But I also have nothing to do, and am now reassessing what ‘church’ means to me. Maybe I need to be taking stock and making big changes. Maybe I need to be aware that the rest of the world has no eternal security and many people around me are truly terrified that the Coronavirus pandemic could spell a hopeless end for them – a helplessness and hopelessness which the truly-saved Christian can smugly brush off. Maybe now is the time to go outside and gossip the Gospel with my neighbours – even if we do stand two metres apart – because now is when my neighbours are likely to be more open to it than ever before.

  13. We need to remember that this is a temporary closure. The most important question we need to ask is, what do we do here and now, in this moment to be church? When the Jews went into exile, they needed to know what to do in that moment. When the church was scattered after the stoning of Stephen, the apostles needed to know what to do in that moment. Things have changed, accept the reality and engage with it. That’s what God’s people are called to do. We are not called to follow the world into selfish panic buying or to carry on as if nothing has happened. Yes, meeting together is an essential part of being church for all sorts of biblical and theological reasons – but in this temporary moment in which we can’t do that, let’s do what we can do, what we are called to do and be.

  14. When 50% of your small groups are over 70, leaving only two or three others, cancelling them is the only sensible option.

  15. @ David.
    This was just released on the South African Coronavirus hotline.

    Perhaps you will understand why your dithering is a menace!
    If this takes off in rural areas in South Africa there will be s***storm.

    In the Free State, five people who attended a church gathering have tested positive for the novel coronavirus – the provincial health department is now preparing to test up to 600 people who may have been in contact with the congregants.

    1. Again a simplistic and dishonest comment. I note that you make no comment about people going to pubs or Bondi beach. Nor was I advocating that the churches should disobey the government. And yes it will hit the poor in Africa more (as it will hit the poor here)…I just wonder if you showed the same outrage/care for the 1.6 million people (mostly poor) who died of TB last year…

  16. David

    I think your concerns are right if this isolation is more than a few months. Indeed, if it is longer, many will find it very hard. It’s questionable to my mind if the public will accept much beyond a few months.

    Having said that I think as churches we should follow government instructions on this as best we can. It would not do our witness much good to be apparently irresponsible spreaders of the virus.

    Churches are being closed for good humanitarian reasons. If it were persecution that would, of course, be different.

    1. If it is more than four weeks we will see significant social unrest, domestic abuse, increase in suicides etc…Yes we have to follow government instructions – but we should not be blind to, or blase about, the costs.

      1. I’m referring re costs to society – the collapse of economies, the loss of jobs, the increased domestic abuse, the harm to the poor, the increase in suicides, the cancellation of operations. this all affects the churches because this is where we work…

      2. Are you suggesting that all of the above will effect those who work for the church, ie misister, pastors priests etc?

    2. “Having said that I think as churches we should follow government instructions on this as best we can. It would not do our witness much good to be apparently irresponsible spreaders of the virus.“

      There was an article which I read yesterday on, I think, http://www.news.com.au which talked about one church having had seven people who were confirmed cases of COVID-19.

      When I saw the headline, I was a bit curious about what church it was, so I clicked on it and read. (I don’t think that the article mentioned the name of the church, so I had wasted my time.)

      But worse than reading the article, I then stupidly read the comments. And every single comment was an attack on the church in general, or on Christians, or on Christianity, or on God.

      I think that it’s too late to do much more damage than has already been done. And society in general cannot wait to give us a kick.

  17. Thank you. We are of one body and share one spirit. God is still at work in his church so the pastors and elders etc will be responding to the virus the way he wants them to. Thanks all the same.

  18. I am in Spain where we have been in a very strict shutdown for over 2 weeks now with at least another 12 days to go if Pedro Sanchez doesn’t request another extension.

    One of the first places mentioned to be banned for meeting was churches, no surprise there with Sanchez being an athiest and Pablo Iglesias, one of his deputies, a communist, he doesn’t believe going to church is necessary, I can’t remember his exact words.

    This Sunday will be the 4th week of being unable to worship. Well I for one need going to church. I need meeting with my brethern, I need to talk of Jesus unhindered, not being patronized for my faith etc.

    Here is not like the UK, US, Aus etc. Christians here are very few and far between, scattered over many many miles. I attend a very very small congregation of we oldies (now just a couple of us, with my pastor staying open even for one) and not one lives within 50-60kms to me. So a small group meeting, which in effect we really are is not even allowed here, nothing. You just can’t go out driving as there are police stopping cars regularly asking why you’re out, where you are going etc.

    I am not bothered about the cancellation of ‘wordly entertainment’ things as it doesn’t impact me but I am bothered about no place open for my spiritual wellbeing. Machines are not the same.

    One more thing, the difference here in Spain, you just can’t visit people to help. If language is not the issue, getting behind peoples garden walls and gates is and the funny thing here, if people know you are a Christian, a proper one that is, they tend to keep a wide berth!

    Send China the bill for all this mess……..my self-employed husband is not allowed to work but still expected to pay social security, that’s a very left, social justice government for you yet give the privately owned TV channels 15m euros, work that one out.

    Maranatha.

  19. That’s a lot there about what *you* need, and *your* spiritual well being – what are you driving all that way to give TO this little congregation of “proper Christians” who are so much more congenial than your neighbours? I hope you are at least keeping in touch and supporting them with prayer.

    Why not take it as a rather special Lent, an opportunity to experience solidarity with those for whom denied access to fellowship – often with violence – is simply business as usual, and whose plight we so often read about and then turn over. And of course the multitude of forgotten “shut-ins” and those voluntarily living under vows, who can teach us and humble us with their wisdom and patience.

    May we learn from this desert time as Jesus and John did.

    1. Karen, ouch, that came across as a bit of a personal attack, actually not a bit but a lot.

      I am merely making the point that Spain is very different to the UK, US, Aus etc. Spain is a very dark dry place spiritually and I think you have to live here to understand that. It tends to affect most pastors and congregants thoughout their time here. I would love to have brethern nearby however the reality is different. My husband is not a believer neither are my family nor neighbours and unless the Holy Spirit awakens them then …….

      Maybe you should ask my pastor as to what I bring to the small congregation to which I belong and yes they very much are true brethern which is a great blessing. Maybe you should ask those I have worshipped with for 3 years if I am humble, my pastor has a gift of discernment. I do not drive an hour down the coast for nothing, it took me 6 years to find a Bible teaching pastor who is faithful to God’s Word. Yes, really, there are very few Christians here, most churches are nothing more than social clubs and that is the difference I was stating though not clearly.

      It tends not to be wise to attack personally when you do not know the person in question, not the circumstances in which they live or even time of devotion. Jesus himself knows me only too well and He has had me in a desert for some years now.

      As for lent, it is a Church of England, Roman tradition and as a protestant Scot growing up lent was not noted, neither do I do so today which I believe has to do with conscience.

      1. I didn’t expect you to enjoy what I wrote: but “the wounds of a friend are faithful” and I thought I should warn you that, to someone who knows of you only what you wrote in that one comment, you might be portraying rather less of a person than you are.
        I have always been the only Churchgoer in my family, and at times endured at best incomprehension and at worst hostility, so I do sympathise with your loneliness: but to move to a Catholic country and complain it lacks the sort of churches you had at home does seem rather unfair to your neighbours. You have already implied that only your own chosen companions are “proper Christians” – personally, I would leave Our Lord to be the Judge of that. He didn’t restrict contact to only those of his own faith and nation and good moral standing – and especially not when outside His own native patch in e.g. Sidon or Samaria. An experience that taught me much was discovering, in a time of trouble, that I had numerous friends at distance (due to work) but nobody close enough to ask for (or offer) actual help. I changed my life significantly from that time forward.
        On the other point: You need not observe “Roman” Lent to benefit from a time of quiet retreat – Pastor David would know better than I but surely every tradition does something of the kind, if not always all at the same time. And regardless of one’s own particular tradition it can’t but do us good to reflect on the plight of those for whom loneliness, hostile relatives and neighbours, and ongoing spiritual short commons are simply the road God walks with them every day.
        May God make this time of separation and discipline fruitful for us all.

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