Church leaders from across the UK and Ireland have issued a united call to prayer in response to the coronavirus pandemic. On April 1, a number of senior church leaders participated in a video call to address several of the issues facing the church at this crisis moment.
Following up from the call, leaders from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Churches Together in England, Cytun, ACTS and the Irish Council of Churches, released a statement in which they declared that while the world was in "the midst of an unprecedented crisis," Jesus Christ still promises to draw near to us in our suffering.
The statement reads as follows:
"God’s world is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. In the nations that make up Britain and Ireland the Covid-19 virus continues to affect people at an alarming rate, health services along with many of our institutions and organisations, both local and national, are under extreme pressure and people are getting used to living in a very different way, many in extreme isolation. As with all such crises, there is a danger that the most vulnerable in society will be most badly affected.
"Christians the world over are entering an important time in the church year as we look to the events of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. At the centre of our common faith are both the depths of despair and the heights of joy. In the Bible and in the songs and liturgies of the Church, we see Jesus entering fully into human suffering.
"In His rising again, that suffering is redeemed and transformed into hope and joy. After Jesus’ death his disciples were afraid and all seemed lost and hopeless, but the risen Christ met them in their despair and restored hope through his victory over death. We pray that the world today might know this hope in place of despair."
The leaders acknowledged the difficulty of facilitating church when congregants are physically apart, but declared that "wherever we are, whenever we pray, when we speak and think of Christ, there he is in the midst of us."
They added: "We join our prayers with all those who pray in our own churches and communities and around the world.
"As church leaders from across the many and varied churches of these Islands we urge all people to join us in prayer this Holy Week and Easter; to pray for those who suffer, those who face untimely death and all those who care for them; to celebrate our common faith at a difficult time; to help and support our neighbours in need; and to observe all the safeguards in place to slow the spread of disease."
Speaking to Premier, General Secretary of the CTBI, Bob Fyffe, revealed more about what was discussed on the video April 1 conference call, which he called an "opportunity for church leaders around Britain and Ireland to hear and see one another, and to hear the concerns and issues that each of them are having as we all confront the COVID-19 pandemic".
Fyffe said that Archbishop Justin Welby wanted to organise the conference call as a "pastoral opportunity for leaders".
He added: "I think a number of them felt that support and felt less isolated than they did before."
Fyffe said that there was discussion around how to support isolated church members and the fact that families are not able to be together even when loved ones are ill and dying. "Sometimes they are not even able to attend the funeral, if they themselves are unwell," Fyffe explained.
"There was a recognition that this is going to be a huge task moving forward. The churches are going to have an enormous job in terms of picking up families and communities who have really gone through not only the trauma of the pandemic itself, but the loss of loved ones and the inability to grieve at the time in a healthy way."
Fyffe added that the church will need to look out for those who have been working in the healthcare services, along with funeral directors, who he said could become "overwhelmed."
Speaking on how Christians should be approaching Holy Week, Fyffe said that we must remember that the essence of this time is to "walk the way of the Cross."
"This pandemic has brought a whole level of fear and questioning that I think Holy Week really engages with," he said. "Ultimately, we have to believe that we are going to prevail over the [fear], that God is with us in all of that and that we have a Good Friday."
Fyffe added that "we have to acknowledge Good Friday before we can get to Easter Sunday."
He concluded: "Good Friday and the Cross leads on to resurrection. That's something that -- perhaps more than ever -- we have to hold on to the Cross and hold on to one another however we can do that.
"This Holy Week is an opportunity to engage at a level and an intensity that perhaps we haven't had to do for a very long time."