Photo Credit: Diocese of Edinburgh / Scottish Episcopal Church
Anglican provinces around the world have joined Churches of other denominations to suspend public worship as the global Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread. The death toll on Tuesday morning (24 March) stood at 14,510 people, according to the latest figures issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is working with governments around the world to limit the effects of the virus.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Justin Welby and John Sentamu, called for Christians to be a radically different type of church as they announced the suspension of public worship in England. They said that this was not about “shutting up shop” but about adopting to a different way of worship. “Being a part of the Church of England is going to look very different in the days ahead,” they wrote in a letter to clergy. “Our life is going to be less characterised by attendance at church on Sunday, and more characterised by the prayer and service we offer each day.
“We may not be able to pray with people in the ways that we are used to, but we can certainly pray for people. And we can certainly offer practical care and support. . . There are many very encouraging schemes happening right across our country in communities to focus on caring for the most vulnerable and do continue to play your part in those.
“Then by our service, and by our love, Jesus Christ will be made known, and the hope of the gospel – a hope that can counter fear and isolation - will spread across our land.”
Many other Anglican provinces have also suspended public worship in response to government requests to limit social interaction to prevent the spread of the disease.
In Uganda, the newest primate in the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba, said: “People have asked me, ‘if we can’t meet for worship in church on Sundays and mid-week, how will we have church?’ Yes, it will be hard to not meet together on Sundays, but we should be assured of Jesus’ words, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.’”
The Archbishop of South East Asia, Melter Tais, said: “There is no need to panic. On the contrary, let us each draw ever nearer to God in fervent prayers, for God’s divine intervention, protection, and healing for those who are infected by the Coronavirus.”
The Primate of Kenya, Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, said that Covid-19 was hitting the country at a time when it was being devastated by locusts; and called for a day of prayer last Sunday (22 March). He said: “We have put in place mechanisms to mitigate the impact of the prevailing situation on matters regarding worship and other essential services that are provided by the Church such as Sunday Worship, burials and weddings.”
At the time of writing, the Covid-19 virus wasn’t rampant everywhere in the world, but even in such places, precautions are being taken to limit its spread. Services were continuing in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. The Bishop of Dunedin, Dr Steven Benford, who was a medical specialist before becoming a priest, affirmed the New Zealand Health Ministry’s precautions, and warned that “there may come a time when physically meeting together may not be possible.
The Primate of the Anglican Church of Melanesia, Archbishop Leonard Dawea, welcomed the Solomon Islands health ministry’s guidance, and told Anglicans that “we must not wait for a positive cases of the virus to be reported before we start practicing these healthy habits.”
He asked Anglicans to “show understanding” if changes had to be made to worship and liturgical practices, and added: “I would like to once again appeal to all ACOM members, all Christian people and friends to support the efforts of the government authorities and other stakeholders by complying with instructions and follow public health messages issued to date. I understand that as Christians we have faith, I am asking us all to express our faith by taking full responsibility to work together with the Government, not only for our personal health but also for our families, communities and our nation of Solomon Islands.”
Many provinces are arranging special services broadcast on local and national media, and streamed. online. The Anglican Communion Office will share links to these on its website: anglicancommunion.org. Staff at the Anglican Communion Office have been asked to work from home to comply with official UK government advice on Covid-19.