Praying at a spatial distance

Nick Moore writes: With ever stronger advice against social interaction and the prospect of restrictions on personal movement along the lines of those seen in China and other European countries, the concepts of ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ have become everyday talk. Then in the last couple of days, as the Church of England has suspended public worship, we suddenly find ourselves asking what praying at a distance looks like.

It is worth stating at the outset that we should not in fact be practising social distancing but spatial distancing (I owe this phrase to my diocesan bishop, Paul Butler, who has emphasized it numerous times, though doubtless others are saying it as well). Social interaction is fundamental to human wellbeing, and indeed fundamental to the sharing and living of the gospel, and wonderfully we have so many means at our disposal to stay socially connected – whether at 2 metres’ physical distance, singing from city balconies, or by phone, emails, messages, video calls, and the like. Indeed, one prayer and hope is that the current crisis will bring communities closer together socially even as it distances them spatially for a season. From my own family’s experience, we have already had more social contact with some relatives and neighbours in the past week than we would otherwise have had.


When it comes to prayer and worship, spatial distancing is not a new problem. When the people of Israel were carried off into exile by the Babylonians early in the sixth century BC, they were spatially distant from the land and the city of Jerusalem. This was not only the place God had given them as home, but was also where he had promised to make his home with them, which he did through his presence in Solomon’s Temple. The distance between Babylon and Jerusalem was compounded by the fact that the Babylonians destroyed the Temple, seemingly breaking off the spatial presence of God with his people.

In the Book of Daniel, which is set during the exile, we read of Daniel’s prayers at several points. Daniel 6:10 records his practice of praying three times a day, with the windows of his house opened towards Jerusalem – far off, but not forgotten. In chapter 9, following Daniel’s impassioned prayer for his nation, we read this:

while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen before in a vision, came to me in swift flightat the time of the evening sacrifice. (Dan 9:21)

What is striking here is that even though the Temple has been destroyed and Daniel is miles from Jerusalem, he has synchronized one of his daily prayer times with the evening sacrifice. This was one of two daily Temple sacrifices, known as the tamid (see Exod 29:38-46). It is precisely at this time that he prays, and that God answers him by sending the angel Gabriel. It seems likely that Daniel’s two other daily prayer times would have taken place at the time of the morning sacrifice and at noon (cf. Ps 55:17). Because in Israelite belief the daily sacrifices reflected the cosmic, never-failing worship of God by his angels in heaven, praying at those times still made sense even when there was no earthly Temple and no actual sacrifices were being offered.

A similar practice is found in the apocryphal/deuterocanonical Book of Judith, which is set after the return from exile. Here, at a similar time of great need for the people of God, who are threatened by an Assyrian general, we find the main character Judith praying to God:

At the very time when the evening incense was being offered in the house of God in Jerusalem, Judith cried out to the Lord with a loud voice, and said … (Judith 9:1)

You might be wondering what relevance this has for Christians today. Well, Jews continued this practice after their return from exile, both in the resettled land and across the Jewish diaspora as well. It was also continued by the earliest believers in Jesus, who were all Jews. The ending of Luke’s Gospel describes the believers meeting in Jerusalem, and says ‘they were continually in the temple blessing God’ (Luke 24:53). The word ‘continually’ here is the Greek phrase dia pantos, and it should be understood as ‘regularly’ (as the notion that they were continuously or ceaselessly in the temple is hardly plausible, a point Dennis Hamm makes well).


There is more we can say: in the Greek Old Testament, dia pantos translates the Hebrew phrase tamid, which also means ‘regularly’, but which became a kind of technical term for the twice-daily Temple sacrifices, as mentioned above. So we should understand Luke 24:53 as saying that the very first Jesus followers, after his ascension, prayed twice daily in the Jerusalem Temple at the times of the sacrifices. This inference is confirmed by Luke’s second volume, the Book of Acts, where we find Peter and John ‘going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon [literally the ninth hour, i.e. the time of the evening sacrifice]’(Acts 3:1).

This is not just a practice for those in Jerusalem. Later in Acts we meet Cornelius. He is described as ‘a devout man who feared God … gave alms … and prayed constantly to God’ (Acts 10:2). The word translated ‘constantly’ in the NRSV is, you guessed it, that same dia pantos/ twice-daily term. That is not all. In the very next verse, we read that ‘one afternoon at about three o’clock [again, the ninth hour/evening sacrifice] he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God’ (Acts 10:3). Just like Daniel, Cornelius receives an angelic visitor during his evening prayers.

We find the dia pantos phrase in a context of prayer and worship in the Letter to the Hebrews as well. The author speaks at length about the old covenant sacrificial system, and shows knowledge of the tamid/ twice daily sacrifice (Heb 9:6). Both the daily, ongoing sacrifices of the ordinary priests and the once-a-year Day of Atonement sacrifice of the high priest (Heb 9:7) are fulfilled in Jesus’ saving work, given that he entered heaven once-for-all and obtained eternal redemption (Heb 9:11-12), and is always making intercession for his people (Heb 7:25).

The author of Hebrews doesn’t think the daily sacrifices are fulfilled only in Jesus. He also connects them with believers:

Through Jesus, then, let us continually [dia pantos] offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Heb 13:15-16)

Here we are encouraged to make a twice-daily offering of praise. Christian sacrifices are not limited to praise, however, but include doing good and sharing what we have.

This practice of daily prayer didn’t disappear, of course, but continued into the church. We find both thrice-daily and twice-daily patterns in the early church, and over time this developed into the fully orbed Liturgy of the Hours within the monastic tradition, with one nighttime and seven daytime offices. In the English Reformation, Thomas Cranmer revised the medieval Roman Catholic daily offices into twice-daily prayer, partly on the basis of ancient Jewish and early Christian practice, and partly to make prayer accessible and achievable for ordinary working people and not just the clergy and those in religious communities.

All of this shows that down the ages God’s people have had to deal with spatial distance in their prayer and worship. One of the primary ways in which they sought to overcome spatial distance was through temporal proximity. By synchronizing their times of prayer and worship with the Temple’s twice-daily pattern, they put themselves literally ‘in sync’ with rhythms of divine and cosmic worship that preceded and transcended any crisis in the present moment. This kept them close to God, and also meant they were close to their fellow believers, no matter where they found themselves in the world.


So what might this mean for people working at home, self-isolating, spatially distant from the sports clubs, social groups, churches, and other communities that form such an essential part of our daily lives? Here are five suggestions for what it might look like in terms of prayer (though this could be extended to other activities as well!).

First, you may not be meeting in your church building, but why not keep the same service time and have a Bible reading, sing, and pray, either on your own or in your household. If your church has a scheduled sermon series or follows the lectionary, or is producing some kind of resource or live stream, you could even be reading, singing, and praying the same things at the same time. Via online videoconferencing such as Skype or Zoom, you could even pray together in small to medium-sized groups. Don’t underestimate the power of synchronization!

Secondly, Archbishops Justin and Sentamu have called for this Sunday 22 March to be set aside as a day of prayer and action. They recommend lighting a candle and placing it visibly in a window at 7pm as a sign of solidarity and hope in Christ. Don’t underestimate the power of synchronization!

Thirdly, if you find that the current circumstances mean more time has been freed up in your calendar, or at least that your usual schedule or framework has become much more fluid, this could be a great opportunity for you to take up or recommit to daily times of prayer. The Church of England’s Daily Prayer services are available online and via an app, and there are many other freely available resources out there to help you pray regularly. Again, your church may have had regular morning and/or evening services on weekdays, so why not commit to praying at the time those would have taken place? Don’t underestimate the power of synchronization!

Fourthly, it is also very easy to share reflections or comments on readings and prayers, as well as prayer requests, through a whole range of media from PrayerMate to Facebook groups to WhatsApp, and perhaps you could commit to sharing with a group of fellow church members after your act of worship on Sunday. The exhortation from Hebrews 13 also encourages us not to stop at prayer, but to do good and to share what we have – a timely and sobering reminder at time of panic buying and stockpiling. The point is that our regular prayer lives should drive us on to these other responses. Don’t underestimate the power of synchronization!

Finally, recall that in Daniel and Judith their impassioned daily prayers at times of national crisis led to God’s gracious and saving intervention, in his good timing. And in the case of Cornelius, God chose this Gentile soldier’s regular afternoon quiet time to show up and change the course of salvation history. In all of these cases, the disciplined commitment to regular prayer has its part to play in God’s wider purposes. Above all, don’t underestimate the power of prayer!


Dr Nick Moore is Director of the MA Programmes at Cranmer Hall, and teaches Biblical Studies, Anglicanism, and (whenever he gets the chance!) Patristics. He is passionate about conveying the wealth of the biblical and Christian tradition to each and every person, and carrying the gospel across languages and cultures. Nick is married to Bekah, who shares his love of languages and ministry, and they have two primary-aged children.


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19 thoughts on “Praying at a spatial distance”

  1. The above is good. However, it’s in relation to the fait accompli, and tacitly within the assumption that the Church, almost worldwide, has done right in suspending collective, public worship. I am appalled. In my opinion this is a time for the Church to say to the world, “Worshipping God is more important than life itself, because he is life itself. The world is passing away. Fear God, not death.” If the rest of society is commanded to worship God (Rev 14:7), how much more is the Church (Matt 4:10). We are to love God with all one’s being, regardless of the cost. In countries where the Church is persecuted, faithful believers meet to declare his praise and encourage one another despite pressure not to, despite knowing that they may be arrested, isolated from society, beaten and killed. They do not say, “Our health and safety is our first priority.” God sees, and God will reward.

    Surely Heb 13:15, quoted above, is not to be taken as licence to suspend corporate worship, or to confine the ‘fruit of lips that acknowledge his name’ to the walls of the closet. It is a call not to ‘shrink back’ (Heb 10:39), to meet together and encourage one another (Heb 10:15) – indeed all the more as the Day draws near – and to remember that this life is transitory. We bear witness that we are citizens of another city, ruled by another lord (Heb 13:14). Worship is not merely a social activity; it is a meeting with God, a declaration to the world that there is no other God and no other hope. We, both the world and the Church, are being visited with disease because we do not worship him above all else. But instead of seeing this (II Chron 7:13, Ex 5:3), we dishonour God and bring down on our heads more trouble. Compared to what is to come (Rev 8-9), this present affliction is minor.

    In Old Testament times, the few Israelites who remained faithful to God did not worship him in synagogues or churches. They worshipped at the Temple at the prescribed times, and otherwise in their homes, not least by observing the sabbath. Daniel lived in pagan Babylon and worked early on as chief of the magicians, later as a minister of state – but still he worshipped. The lesson for us Christians who have buildings where we can freely meet together is that we should worship our Saviour come what may, whatever the price, even if the law of the land says that it is forbidden. Publicly, as well as daily in our homes.

    I suspect that never before in its two thousand years has the Church voluntarily ceased to meet together for worship. What we are now assenting to, as we withdraw our horns and persuade ourselves that private ‘virtual’ worship is virtually as good, is therefore of extraordinary significance. Judgement is coming on the world because it does not fear God and worship him as the creator of all things (Rev 14:7). By the same token it is also coming on the church (I Pet 4:17). God will purify his Bride one way or another.

    Reply
    • Steven,
      Thank you for that, even as one of those identified as a vulnerable adult at risk of death every year from seasonal flu.
      Wisdom is in short supply, fear is rampant, but not fear of God.

      Reply
  2. ‘The current crisis’ – what a travesty that Christians are buying into worldly hysteria and paranoia over a virus that has now been shown to be no more severe than any other seasonal flu virus.

    Reply
  3. 1 Ouch…”which planet are you living on.”
    Doesn’t that breach your own protocols for engagement?
    Come on Ian,
    Where is the readily, accurate and digestible info on epidemiology, stats and computer modeling.
    I’d heard on TV, a few days ago someone say there were so many hundred thousand with the virus in UK? England/Wales? Based on what? Actual evidence? testing? Computer modeling, research? What is the methodology? Are there not so many assumptions and presumptions, factored in? A where is this London Uni that’s been referred to in the daily governmental bulletins, in accurate, condensed, understandable form?
    Does Italy and it’s culture, ways of life differ in any material ways from the UK. What are the demographics of those who have died and levels of co-morbidities, (smoking, alcohol perhaps) clusters.
    Perhaps I wouldn’t understand or be able to understand, if I live on another planet.
    I worked in the public health section of the NHS in 2009 during the swine flu outbreak, when the Department of Health was reluctant to implement “command and control” measures within the NHS, let alone the sweeping Emergency laws that have come into being which if implemented would bring in command and control, the like of which has not been seen outside war-time or even during war time. And yes, the outbreak then differs from now. Then a vaccine was available.
    My main concern is the reliability of information, particularly the way it is presented, reported. Invariably, the worst case scenario.
    Where is the wisdom? There appears to be little in the language which transmits viral fear and panick-demic. Lock-down, self isolate (generally, stay in) social distancing (avoiding others).
    Am I to be criminalised for walking or cycling in the country, by myself or with my wife?
    A friend in his 80’s, a lifelong walker, continues to walk to the shops, over a mile away, for himself and similarly aged wife. Careless, reckless, negligent? Volenti fit non injuria?
    2 Fear (of the Lord):
    2.1 Wisdom seems to be a rare commodity.
    2.2 The work of John Owen stands the test of time, in times of testing. Two abridge works Communion with God and the Glory of Christ (Banner of Truth) are a testament to a man who knew his God in hard times and provides much wisdom, sustenance, and ballast today.
    2.3.1 More contemporary wisdom was found from Tim Keller, based on Job 28:20-24, 28)
    “Even though supreme wisdom is not available, practical wisdom is, through the fear of the Lord. This gives you basic answers about questions of meaning, broad principles for guidance, and most of all the presence of God that you will need to get through life.
    If you have the loving gaze of Jesus’ face, what other circumstances do you think you need in order to be content?
    List them,
    Now repent for resting in them too much.” :
    The Way of Wisdom(TWoW): Tim Keller with Kathy Keller, March 19th
    Just when I think I’ve cracked it, I’m shown that I’m irreducibly prone to seek, contentment, comfort, security, identity, safety apart from him. Such a time is this.
    2.3.3 Fear of the Lord: described as ” not mere belief in him. It is to be so filled with joyful awe before the magnificence of God that we tremble at the privilege of knowing, serving, and pleasing him…fear of God and self-understanding grow or diminish together. Indifference toward God is a form of self-deceit. To feel no need for God is to be out of touch with reality -such people have ceased to be wise.” Keller, My Rock My Refuge March 11
    2. 3.4 And from TWoW, March 11 “Finally don’t mourn over youth and vigour when they fade. “To idolise the state of youth and to dread the loss of it is disastrous; it spoils the gift even while we have it.
    Timor mortis conurbat me is the refrain in many poems. It means”Fear of death disturbs me.” Are you afraid of ageing, sickness, and death? Will you be facing them alone or with Jesus at your side?”
    Wisdom in Christ, all for such a time as this. Christ himself, for such a time as this.

    Reply
    • Geoff, I might have slightly crossed the line—but I am responding to ill-informed view that appears related to conspiracy theories. I mention the academic research that informs my view. You can find a summary here:

      https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/196234/covid19-imperial-researchers-model-likely-impact/

      Key is this:

      ‘The report details that for the first scenario (slowing the spread), the optimal policy would combine home isolation of cases, home quarantine and social distancing of those over 70 years. This could reduce the peak healthcare demand by two-thirds and reduce deaths by half. However, the resulting epidemic would still likely result in an estimated 250,000 deaths and therefore overwhelm the health system (most notably intensive care units).’

      I have mentioned elsewhere that Christians meeting together in one large church in South Korea were responsible for one third of *all* the infections in that country.

      And there are still people saying ‘we should keep meeting!’ ‘We must keep our church buildings open!’ ‘This is hysteria and the work of the devil saying we cannot meet!’

      These are all dangerous lies.

      The Telegraph analysis of numbers (which it is updating) shows that Italy has faired far worse than China—and that we are currently on a *worse* trajectory than they are.

      So we should not fear—but we should not dissemble and contribute to false complacency.

      Reply
        • Ian, here is a Telegraph article which sheds some significant epidemiology on death in Italy.

          Why have so many coronavirus patients died in Italy?

          Sarah Newey 16 hrs ago
          The link doesn’t seem to work but it is from MSN news. It contains this:
          “The coronavirus pandemic is exacting a heavy toll on Italy, with hospitals overwhelmed and a nationwide lockdown imposed. But experts are also concerned about a seemingly high death rate, with the number of fatalities outstripping the total reported in China.
          Of the 41,035 people confirmed coronavirus patients in Italy, 3,405 so far have died – an increase of 427 in the last 24 hours. By contrast China has almost twice as many cases, 81,155, but 3,245 fatalities.
          In very crude terms, this means that around eight per cent of confirmed coronavirus patients have died in Italy, compared to four per cent in China. By this measure Germany, which has so far identified 13,000 cases and 42 deaths, has a fatality rate of just 0.3 per cent.
          So why the disparity?
          According to Prof Walter Ricciardi, scientific adviser to Italy’s minister of health, the country’s mortality rate is far higher due to demographics – the nation has the second oldest population worldwide – and the manner in which hospitals record deaths.
          “The age of our patients in hospitals is substantially older – the median is 67, while in China it was 46,” Prof Ricciardi says. “So essentially the age distribution of our patients is substantially squeezed to an older age and this is substantial in increasing the lethality.”
          A study in JAMA this week found that almost 40 per cent of infections and 87 per cent of deaths in the country have been in patients over 70 years old.
          According to modelling the majority of this age group are likely to need critical hospital care – including 80 per cent of 80-somethings – putting immense pressure on the health system.
          But Prof Ricciardi added that Italy’s death rate may also appear high because of how doctors record fatalities.
          “The way in which we code deaths in our country is very generous in the sense that all the people who die in hospitals with the coronavirus are deemed to be dying of the coronavirus.
          “On re-evaluation by the National Institute of Health, only 12 per cent of death certificates have shown a direct causality from coronavirus, while 88 per cent of patients who have died have at least one pre-morbidity – many had two or three,” he says.
          Other experts have also expressed scepticism about the available data. Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says that countries do not yet have a good indication of how many mild infections they have. If further testing finds more asymptomatic cases spreading undetected, the mortality rate will drop.
          “It’s too early to make a comparison across Europe,” he says. “We do not have detailed sero-surveillance [additional testing] of the population and we do not know how many asymptomatic people are spreading it.”
          Prof McKee adds that testing was not consistent continent-wide. “In Germany, epidemiological surveillance is more challenging – simply because of the complexity of working in a federal state and because public health is organised very much at the local level.”
          Sign in

          Why have so many coronavirus patients died in Italy?

          Sarah Newey 16 hrs ago
          Italy’s novel coronavirus death toll surpasses China’s

          The coronavirus pandemic is exacting a heavy toll on Italy, with hospitals overwhelmed and a nationwide lockdown imposed. But experts are also concerned about a seemingly high death rate, with the number of fatalities outstripping the total reported in China.
          Of the 41,035 people confirmed coronavirus patients in Italy, 3,405 so far have died – an increase of 427 in the last 24 hours. By contrast China has almost twice as many cases, 81,155, but 3,245 fatalities.

          In very crude terms, this means that around eight per cent of confirmed coronavirus patients have died in Italy, compared to four per cent in China. By this measure Germany, which has so far identified 13,000 cases and 42 deaths, has a fatality rate of just 0.3 per cent. Why the disparity?
          According to Prof Walter Ricciardi, scientific adviser to Italy’s minister of health, the country’s mortality rate is far higher due to demographics – the nation has the second oldest population worldwide – and the manner in which hospitals record deaths.
          “The age of our patients in hospitals is substantially older – the median is 67, while in China it was 46,” Prof Ricciardi says. “So essentially the age distribution of our patients is substantially squeezed to an older age and this is substantial in increasing the lethality.”
          A study in JAMA this week found that almost 40 per cent of infections and 87 per cent of deaths in the country have been in patients over 70 years old.
          According to modelling the majority of this age group are likely to need critical hospital care – including 80 per cent of 80-somethings – putting immense pressure on the health system.
          But Prof Ricciardi added that Italy’s death rate may also appear high because of how doctors record fatalities.
          Related: Coronavirus myths busted (Photos)

          Slide 1 of 18: An employee disinfecting a station of Tbilisi Metro as a measure to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus in Tbilisi, Georgia, 03 March 2020.The Covid-19 epidemic that has killed more than 2,500 people mostly in China, has been linked to wild animals carrying a coronavirus and sold in a Wuhan wet market for food. (Photo by Zurab Kurtsikidze/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
          Next Slide
          Full Screen

          1/18 SLIDES © Zurab Kurtsikidze/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
          The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was first reported in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31, 2019. It causes illnesses ranging from the common cold to the more severe Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued some guidelines to negate misconceptions among people regarding the current outbreak of the COVID-19. Click through to get more information on some of the common myths surrounding the virus.
          All captions taken from the WHO website. The organization is assessing ongoing research on the ways COVID-19 is spread and will continue to share new findings.

          “The way in which we code deaths in our country is very generous in the sense that all the people who die in hospitals with the coronavirus are deemed to be dying of the coronavirus.
          “On re-evaluation by the National Institute of Health, only 12 per cent of death certificates have shown a direct causality from coronavirus, while 88 per cent of patients who have died have at least one pre-morbidity – many had two or three,” he says.
          Other experts have also expressed scepticism about the available data. Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says that countries do not yet have a good indication of how many mild infections they have. If further testing finds more asymptomatic cases spreading undetected, the mortality rate will drop.
          “It’s too early to make a comparison across Europe,” he says. “We do not have detailed sero-surveillance [additional testing] of the population and we do not know how many asymptomatic people are spreading it.”
          Prof McKee adds that testing was not consistent continent-wide. “In Germany, epidemiological surveillance is more challenging – simply because of the complexity of working in a federal state and because public health is organised very much at the local level.”

          © Provided by The Telegraph Workers stand next to coffins and remains of the coronavirus victims, in Bergamo, Italy – FOTOGRAMMA/EPA-EFE
          But there are other factors that may have contributed to Italy’s fatality rates, experts say. This includes a high rate of smoking and pollution – the majority of deaths have been in the northern region Lombardy region, which is notorious for poor air quality.
          And there’s also no question that parts of Italy’s health system have been overwhelmed with a surge of coronavirus patients and are struggling to cope.
          “Doctors in Italy haven’t been dealing with one or two patients in care.. but up to 1,200,” says Dr Mike Ryan, health emergencies programme executive director at the World Health Organization. “The fact they’re saving so many is a small miracle in itself.”
          This pressure is likely to get worse as more healthcare workers are infected and have to isolate – already, 2,000 have contracted the virus.
          “Based on Italy’s experience, there is a real concern for the UK,” adds Prof McKee. “Compared to almost every other European country we have a relative shortage of ventilators and medical staff.”

          Reply
  4. I think that the underlying principles of Leviticus encouraging quarantine and washing in the case of infectious things, and return to normal life only after the sanctioning by a neutral public health official (a paying service) should still be a default setting in terms of civic duty.

    Reply
  5. Thanks for that, Ian. There seems to have been more going on under the surface of which I wasn’t aware.
    In my naivety, I wasn’t looking at conspiracy theories. I’ve no time for them.
    I was raised at a time when “coughs and sneezes spread diseases” was a commonplace public health advert as was basic hand hygiene.
    I’ve been particularly careful over a number of years to wear gloves on public transport. My wife and I have stayed away from church when infected with cold/flu out of concern to not pass it on. Others made it clear that we were consider to be wimps.
    However, church has been a place, at times, when there has been much unguarded coughing, sneezing and spluttering, long before this outbreak, much to our unsettlement. And we have been wary of drinking from the common cup of wine in communion. (In Methodism it was invariably from individual cups.)
    It appears that what was once accepted as simple public health common sense, is far less common, even within the church.
    My wife and I also have the protection of being able to not engage with children.
    The upshot is that, notwithstanding Mat Hancock’s statement of including churches and other faith groups (after discussion with them) in barring group meetings, I believe that with rigorous checks and hygiene measures and exclusions, churches at their discretion could continue to meet in various settings, times and sizes to worship together. I don’t think that is being complacent. The UK church is unlike S Korea. Practical measures could be put in place.
    At the chemist today, queues were formed outside (but not 2 metres apart). Only three people at any one time were allowed in, following arrows on the floor, to stand one at a time in a marked out square a certain distance from the counter. Practical steps. Any ideas as to how practical measures could be put in place in church, per -person- per- square metre, with all the other health and safety measures, 5, 10, 15, 20 per meeting? Is that really so complacent?
    (Just heard from a friend that the CoE is limiting Wedding services to 5 people, so it can be done and that her retired URC minister husband has been told he can’t take a funeral scheduled for next week as he’s over 70. No other URC minister could be found, but Methodist minister has stepped in.)
    Is a funeral service not included in meetings of worship?

    I’d still like to see more comparative epidemiological information behind the numbers, more qualitative analysis and difference between absolute (personal) risk and relative risk being made clearer and differences between improvement methodology and research methodology drawn out.
    In industrial Italy, I’ve heard that some workers have come from Wuhan (don’t know if it is correct?) In other parts there may be other factors; multi -occupancy buildings, family sizes and age groups living together? and much more: figures have faces!
    Anyway, we have what we have and prayer is needed for the heavy burden on decision makers and for responsible (media) influencers.
    To leave with this:
    I was reminded of this superb rendition of Psalm 91 by Sons of Korah, some musical worship at it’s gentle, contemplative best, in my view. And no, it’s not a song of complacency if listened to the end, set in it’s whole biblical context:
    https://youtu.be/iUZhTMZF_1I

    Reply
  6. The government, and everyone else, thinks that it can ‘save lives’. The truth is that it can only prolong lives, by how much depending on age. Coronavirus is a nasty disease. It kills people, but it is also a nasty fact that we will all die sooner or later. So there is a calculation to be made, just as, in deciding how much money to give the NHS and what drugs to make available on the NHS, there always has been.

    How nasty coronavirus is I really don’t know. I recall the days when some of the most intelligent, rational, sceptical people in government were convinced that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It turned out that they had deceived themselves. A terrible idea had taken hold, and there was no stopping it. So I listen to what Imperial College and the government is advising with some caution.

    The issue before us cannot simply be: “We must save lives, however many or few are at risk, whatever the cost.” In the second world war, we would have surrendered had we taken that view, and ‘saved’ many lives. A terrible calculation had to be made, and as a nation we decided that a certain number of deaths was the price that had to be paid for preserving our society and way of life.

    Today we are committing national suicide. The economy is being brought to its knees in the name of “whatever it takes”. Society itself is being destroyed – whole sectors of the economy are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, schools and universities have been indefinitely closed, pubs and restaurants closed, churches closed, train companies are reducing their services, supermarkets are reducing their food ranges and opening hours, even speaking to people face to face is discouraged unless essential. In some countries you are not now even allowed to leave your house. We are building up a national debt that will take decades to bring down, as great as in the second world war if not greater. …

    The Church should be taking a stand, including not giving in to fear and continuing to meet bodily for worship and prayer, to demonstrate that we do not love our lives unto death but love God and take him at his word (Rev 12:11). Meeting together does not mean ignoring proper precautions. The virus was a God-given opportunity to witness to the world and restore our credibility. We have fluffed it.

    Reply
  7. “The government, and everyone else, thinks that it can ‘save lives’. The truth is that it can only prolong lives”

    I really don’t think the government believes it’s creating an immortality. I would agree that the secular world tends to run away from the reality of death. But I see compassion in this, a care for others that puts mammon second. No doubt the financial steps could be faulty and they will have longer term consequences. The Gospel might well be able to use this reawakening…

    Is Coronavirus nasty? Well, if its anything like some forms of pneumonia people, effectively, drown in the resulting fluids…. even at 59 with no underlying conditions. It happened in my family. Let’s not treat death so lightly.

    The opposite of faith in Jesus and the hope he brings isn’t an abandonment of care for the body this side of resurrection. I can’t see the Jesus of the New Testament giving up on anybody on that basis.

    I’m about to hit 70 (Happy birthday to me on Monday ). I’m not (qualify by “currently”) afraid of dying but the flavour that “some people are expendable because of the cost” is more concerning. That’s not the same as pushing to survive at all costs especially where little extra time is gained.

    I don’t think your use of Revelation is quite right. The abandonment of people is not martyrdom.

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  8. Thanks for the lively exchange of views. While I was reading them, four scriptures came to mind which may help us find and walk in God’s Way at this time:
    1. Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them
    2. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
    3. For who has stood in the counsel of the LORD, and has perceived His word? Who has marked His word and heard it?
    4. Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.
    (Matthew 18:20, Hebrews 10:23-25, Jeremiah 23:18, see also v19-24, Isaiah 55:7-9)

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  9. Thanks for this article!
    I came across the idea of all Christians praying at noon each day- even just for a moment- as a way of feeling solidarity and interceding before God- thought it was worth passing on in context of the article

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  10. Regarding Italy, which features extensively in the above discussions: the average age of victims is currently 78.5 (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-51991972).
    Average life expectancy is Male 80.5, Female 84.9 (https://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/italy-life-expectancy).
    For every 8 men whose death is linked to the virus there are 5 women (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/20/health/coronavirus-italy-men-risk.html).
    Thus the life expectancy is weighted for this ratio is 82.2.

    Before the virus the life expectancy was 82.2. It still is for most people. But for those infected by the virus, the life expectancy falls to 78.5.

    The following BBC article (21/03/20) is worth reading:
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-51979654

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