Frightened people have been soul-searching and looking for answers to the threat of COVID-19 across the country. However with Churches throughout Britain being asked not to hold services on Sunday, many citizens of the UK are left with the dilemma of not being able to go to the usual bastion of peace and hope that is a natural go to when seeking some divine inspiration.
We spoke to several Pastors across the country to see what was on offer to their local communities and what help local churches were doing in response to COVID-19.
Revd Paula Preston who is Acting Team Rector to he Parish of Chigwell and Chigwell Row and The Vale of Roding Benefice, spoke with us she said:
“But the good news is: Heaven is not closed and God is not self isolating and the churches in Chigwell and Chigwell Row will be opening for private prayer and meditation at the following times until further notice.
“Everyone is welcome, but obviously we ask people to follow guidance to stay at home if you are vulnerable or their are symptoms in your household:
An independent church in the East of England has stopped their regular services and began a series of much smaller house groups led by key people within the church. The Pastor spoke with BACA and said:
“Come on Church now is the time, the perfect time to prove your God, to put your faith into action, to practice what we preach.
“It’s Guaranteed that this crisis will pass only for another like it to come, probably within the next decade (remember Sars and Ebola).
“So the faith you exercise now will determine how you face the future.
“When this present virus subsides and ‘we the church’ return from self-imposed caves to lift up holy hands in corporate worship again how hollow will be that worship for the many who in their heart of hearts will know that allowed fear to compromise their dependence on God’s Word.
“Therefore use common sense, wash your hands, exercise social distancing where necessary but don’t allow this present crisis to compromise your faith in God’s ability to defend and protect you in the day of calamity.
“Be a New Testament believer, do church as it was originally designed, in small groups and don’t allow the world and its godless agenda to mould you into the faithless hollow shell of empty religion that looks good on the outside but on the inside is full of death!”
The Pastor, shared this verse with us:
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:23-25
A Pastor in a London Baptist Church is also opening his Church for prayer on a Sunday where people will sit leaving large spaces between one another as the phenomenon of social-distancing is temporarily introduced to church. Particular prayer leaders will lead smaller groups of 5 (some via a social media link) in prayers for our community. Hand sanitizer will be found at entrances, doors left open to avoid unnecessary infection points and a deep cleanse will take place post-service.
Leighton Medley our BACA missionary for Pakistan, told us about how his local church in Manchester, has coped with government guidelines to close down churches. He described a very novel online was to meet government guidelines without having to lose the fellowship and communal aspect of church, he said:
“Union Hall Evangelical Church this morning conducted a live service on zoom and youtube at 10.30 am.
“This was done in order to counter the Coronavirus outbreak, where many people are forced to stay at home in case of infection.
“There were 3 worship songs sung, a time of prayer plus a sermon on Genesis 32:22-32 – titled wrestling with God.
“The sermon lasted for 1 hour approximately, with a short time of fellowship online in different groups.”
He shared a video message to encourage us:
Asian Christian churches up and down the country have closed their doors though some will be holding an online interactive church bible study/service. All of our churches do not own their own building and usage is determined by the Church denomination they are working with.
What is being done by all churches across the country is as much of a business as usual practice, as they can under extremely difficult circumstances. Government intervention into the practice of worshipping God has never been so demanding in Britain, even during the great plague and the two World Wars the choice of holding services, was the remit of the denominational bodies and local leadership.
The Anglican church were the first to accede their services in response to COVID-19 but others soon followed suit. What is alarming for BACA is that this termination of services is indefinite and with church attendance in the UK so low already, how long will it take till the practice of going to church becomes a forgotten history. Whatever churches choose to do from here on is so important and decisions will have to be prayerfully considered and appropriate in measure.
What has been heartening during this whole episode has been the refocusing of churches on their communities. Up and down the country local churches of all denominations are offering support and help. A group of Asian Churches in the north of England have offered support to self-isolating +70’s and other vulnerable people living in their community under the title ‘Christian Community Action Group’. Led by Pastor Victor Sohail and spearheaded by Kenneth Massey this group from the town of Nelson have posted a flyer to local homes that leads with a scriptural verse.
“My command of this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:12
They are offering Pastoral support and ‘If you need help picking u your medication, groceries or any other support.’
Ilford Asian Church have been offering similar support but only to those within their church membership, which for them is an appropriate scale of support within their limits. The church has a lot of elderly people with existing conditions and with the leader of their Church Shaheen Zar being a Food Hygiene expert, he is very aware of the dangers of the current coronavirus pandemic. The church is in no way insular looking and are involved in a small scale homeless project via their youth.
Ilford High Road Baptist Church, will be offering prayer and counselling over the telephone and have also indicated that in some cases they will offer help with small errands. They have been distributing leaflets in their community with the details of a local helper for direct contact and support on a road by road basis.
BACA itself has been offering a mixture of pastoral support and more practical support and have been able to galvanise volunteers from a wide base of groups. Even a local councillor and the local Rotary club have now joined forces in an attempt to make the impact on those forced into self-isolation more palatable during what is the worst crises the UK has faced since World War II.
We as a group will be praying that the global church is able to stay strong through all the many pressures that befall us as we engage with the threat of COVID-19. We are praying that our churches make the right decisions as they endeavour to ensure the custom of going to church is one that does not disappear from our regular identity and that more of our communities come to know God through all this situation. Only he has the power to save and His Kingdom will never fall to COVI