Coronavirus: Missional and Theological reflections

We are now beyond the 12th week of lockdown and the initial flurry of blogposts and reflections on covid-19 is beginning to slow.

Coronavirus continues to have a profound impact right across our world.
For a number of years Christians have been considering how we re-imagine church in a post-Christendom landscape. The rupture to our normal lives from the COVID-19 pandemic has been dramatic. The way in which normal life is being changed and shut down provides an opportunity for the church to practice the two greatest commandments.  
During a crisis there are both dangers and opportunities. In a national emergency we have the chance to counter fear with peace and panic with the reassurance of God’s presence and love. In this period, new blogs, prayers and reflections have been produced that might help us in an era of social distancing and isolation to start rethinking the mission of the church in these strange new times.

Theological Reflections

  • Sanjee Perera from the University of Birmingham reflects on her research with the Minority Anglican Project and what the BAME death toll in the current COVID-19 pandemic reveals about how far both church and society still have to go. Read here.
  • An excellent vimeo video from Robert Beckford entitled Better Must Come! Black Pentecostals, the Pandemic and the future of Christianity. Beckford reminds us that ‘less visible are commentators from black churches on social issues.’ So the video counters the silence with some black church noise! It’s really good to hear some Pentecostal reflections and prophetic challenges around coronavirus and the unequitable effects it has had on BAME communities.
  • The Theologian Ruard Ganzvoort from the Netherlands has posted a short video on YouTube about the virus of shortsightedness in Dutch with English subtitles.
  • Bishop Dr Joe Aldred reflects during an interview with the Woolf Institute in Cambridge on how his own faith community have been affected by the pandemic having lost close personal friends and mentors during this time. In Joe’s personal blog too he reflects on Easter Sunday and COVID-19.
  • There are other general theological blogposts around coronavirus that help us think about the issue in broader brush strokes and the kind of questions we might be asking. Israel Olofinjana (Baptist minister in Woolwich and leader of the Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World) has blogged around 6 responses to Coronavirus.
  • Steve Latham’s (Baptist Minister in King’s Cross) Corona Theology post is helpful too.
  • Paul Bradbury (Leader of Poole Missional Communities) has blogged on the parallel between our atomised society and the virus.

Biblical themed reflections

  • Katherine Dell (writing in Church Times) rightly reminds us not to compare the current pandemic with the plagues of Egypt. Important to be reminded that the coronavirus is NOT an act of God.
  • One theme that is cropping up in the blogs of Ruth Gee (Assistant Secretary of the Methodist Conference) the subject of Babylonian Exile. Ruth reflects on a people in exile and a people of hope.
  • CMS have created an excellent virtual lament space which is being added to on a daily basis and can be found here. Intended, perhaps, for lent initially this is a good place to browse. The heavy weight theologians have begun to offer reflections this week.
  • New Testament scholar and former Bishop of Durham N T Wright’s article for Time magazine entitled Christianity offers no answers about the coronavirus: it’s not supposed to has been widely hailed. Wright says, ‘the mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments. Some Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in his world. That’s not the picture we get in the Bible.’

Isolation and Trauma

  • The issue of the Eucharist and rages on some social media feeds. Revd Alice Watson writes poignantly about the loss she feels. She writes, ‘My spirituality is centred on receiving God in the Eucharist and I feel strange and empty.  Deprived even, of the guilt that comes with having willingly skipped mass. Guilt I can deal with. Gloom is harder to shift.’ Read here.

It’s clear that the sustained period of lockdown is both a gift to some and traumatising to others. Some have been reflecting on the idea of being isolated and at home.

  • A great post from Evangelist Canon J John is on being home alone can be found here.
  • Theologian Karen O’Donnell has blogged on doing theology from a place that hurts and is worth a read from the perspective of trauma theology. It reminds us not to rush towards resurrection.
  • Again the reflections produced by tragedy and congregations is helpful is the unfolding of trauma for larger groups like congregations, charities and other organisation.
  • The Methodist church blog on mental health is also worth checking out.
  • There is also thoughtful piece by Dr Sanjee Perera (Cognitive psychologist and Research fellow, of the Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion) who shares out of her own experience growing up in Sri Lanka and her Gethsemane moment.
  • Dr Grace Milton from Queens reflects on how COVID-19 reveals that, ‘many religious ceremonies and rituals have found new centres.  Predominantly in two places that have in some traditions been viewed as secondary to the ‘official’ space of a religious building.  These are 1) online and 2) the home. Each is finding a renewed importance during this time of crisis.’ Read more here.

Missiological and future church reflections

  • Jason Mandryk from Operation World has produced a helpful free ebook entitled Global Transmission, Global Mission available to download here. In compiling this analysis, the Operation World team interacted with ministry and mission leaders in every region of the world, getting input on how to pray for different nations afflicted by CoVid-19 as well as strategic considerations from a wide array of missiological contexts.
  • James Butler from The Susanna Wesley Foundation reflects on issues around practical theology in a Zoom orientated world with a great blog post entitled Has the Holy Spirit made it online? Practical Theology in a Zoom Room: Part 1
  • Rachel Mann’s blog asks some simulating questions about the future of the C of E but will resonate with those from many denominations she says. ‘The church which comes out of lockdown will, I think, be digitally promising, physically smaller, more financially precarious and tentative, and potentially more flexible and interesting.’ Read more of her Where do we go from here blog.
  • Missiologist Michael Frost provocatively asks whether coronavirus could set the church back 25 years? Frost suggests that the spike in numbers attending online services may just add to the consumer mentality many have of the church.  Frost says, ‘this spike in online attendance will be as illusory as the growth of megachurches last century. It will serve to mask the reality that less and less people are devoted to a wholehearted commitment to Christ, and more and more people see church as an event, a shot in the arm, a convenient uplift that doesn’t challenge their everyday life in any way.’
  • Stephen March (Pioneer based in Leicester) has written on Thin Places and how Celtic spirituality might be a gift at this moment.

Being a Good Neighbour

  • The team at Life on the breadline continue to update their blog with some great reflections. Experiences of being a priest in a Pandemic is a great reflection by Suzanne Vernon Yorke. 
  • Yourneighbour is an excellent website allowing people to connect with a number of resources including a helpline.
  • An excellent blog on being neighbourly during coronavirus from The Life Beyond the Breadline Research Team at Coventry University.  Also a helpful page by MTAG (Mission Theology Advisory group) which includes thoughts on being a good neighbour.

Easter during lockdown

  • Bishop Stephen Cottrell (Archbishop of York elect) writes on Holy week without Church in the US edition of the Spectator.
  • Continuing the theme of isolation Saturday is a poem by Naomi J. (Naomi is a disabled part-time social researcher).
  • Baptist minister Steve Holmes suggests that Holy Saturday might be a good day for us in the present conditions.