I am glad that for most of us, and for most of our lives, we may live as time passes, but we do not live through ‘history in the making.’ The Chinese proverb puts it like this, “may you not live in interesting times.”
‘History-in-the-making’ times are those epoch-changing, world-altering events that transform our world as we know it: the outbreak of World War One in 1914, or the Fall of Communism in Europe in 1989, for instance.
We may well be living in one such time, but with an even greater global reach. The first great pandemic of the third millennium, and the first for over a century, the coronavirus crisis has seen unprecedented interventions by governments throughout the world in an attempt to slow its spread. Our freedoms have been severely restricted, stock markets have collapsed in ways even more dramatic than at the height of the 2008–9 Financial Crisis, and the ability to fight this virus with medical skills and science has been astonishing, compared with the struggle with so-called ‘Spanish’ flu that took at least 50 million lives in 1918–9. The ability to identify who carries the virus, and who has recovered with (we dare to hope) subsequent immunity; the medical care that enables many to be cared for through the worst symptomatic stages and recover, and the search for a vaccine, are all markedly different from the 1918 pandemic.
We pray that the death toll will be small by comparison — although that does not mean we lack compassion for the family and friends of the many thousands who have or will die from the disease SARS Covid-19 that the coronavirus infection produces. Every life matters and every death is a tragedy. And all bets are off in forecasting how this will change our world, its powers and cultures.
Our churches have been swift to respond, both in following government guidance and regulations, and in seeking to be part of the wider community in caring for the most vulnerable. Even before the Prime Minister’s statement on Monday 23rd March that closed church buildings, many churches had already switched to on-line services. Certainly now, church buildings are closed for gatherings for worship and prayer, and even private prayer, although there is still at present the possibility of holding small funerals according to Government information. Many of us are getting used to conducting our interactions in front of a smart phone or laptop, sharing in prayer, worship and fellowship… and looking forward to the easing of restrictions when we can once again meet in person.
Presidents of CTE initiated a call to prayer for Sunday 23rd March, and tens of thousands lit candles and prayed. The response was a request to continue the practice, and so until this crisis is over, we will continue to pray at 7.00 every Sunday evening, with some member churches live streaming prayer services, and Premier Radio providing an ecumenical alternative for those who have no denominational one. A resource which can be used throughout the week is a downloadable prayer posters placing it in a window where passers-by can see it.
Church leaders throughout Britain and Ireland have also issued a letter at the start of Holy Week.
At the heart of the churches’ response has been a determination to continue to care for one another, and for our wider communities. In this edition of CTe-News you can read about some of these, and maybe find inspiration to do likewise. Much of the response has been ecumenical in its work, and I sense that the crisis this Spring has put some ‘spring’ into ecumenism also.
At a national level the churches have been regularly in touch with one another through their National Ecumenical Officers and equivalents, church leaders have ‘met’ and prayed on-line, and in many localities local ministers and pastors groups have found encouragement in similar ways, leading to an ecumenical response to need.
Every strand of the work of CTE has been engaged in this crisis — engaging together in mission, supporting intermediate ecumenism, building relationships and doing theology together. All of this communicated to our members as we seek to be ‘fleet of foot’ in getting the messages across and fulfil our calling to be the ecumenical instrument for England.
This editorial appeared in the CTe-News special Coronavirus edition in April 2020.