Where were the Churches as the pandemic raged?

Hugh Dougherty argues Christians should have fought harder to be heard during the Covid years.

In all the disasters I’ve ever known, the Church, our Church, and all the others, have always prayed, in public, for those lost and affected. You saw that clearly, when Glasgow’s Clutha bar was struck tragically by a police helicopter, for there was the late Archbishop Philip Tartaglia both on the scene, and, later, celebrating an official public Mass for all the victims of that terrible tragedy.

But, throughout the pandemic, our Church, and all the other churches, seem to have been absent. Where was the national day of prayer for a successful resolution of the crisis? Where was a national service for all the vic- tims and their families? And, where was an exhortation to pray nationally, to lead us out of this national crisis?

This has been the first national emergency in which the churches haven’t been seen to be, or called to be, in the forefront of the nation’s response. It’s almost as if the churches, reeling from the impact of the pandemic, went to ground, and it must have been Heaven for the unholy alliance of secularists, atheists and those of an anti-Catholic persuasion, to witness the official side-lining of religion at the very time when we needed it most.

Trawl through Nicola Sturgeon’s many Covid briefings, and you’ll not hear faith, churches or religion mentioned. A confirmed secularist, she only got round to it last Easter, and that was after the courageous Canon Tom White took the Scottish Government to court to reopen our church doors.

Of course individual bishops and priests achieved wonders in the early days of the pan- demic, when closure of churches saw many adapt to Mass online. We were afraid. Afraid to go to Mass, to go out even, and the Church rightly didn’t want to put a foot wrong.

But it’s true that organised religion was seen to have no official role to play at the very time when it could offer leadership to a country crying out for spiritual reawakening and comfort. It’s worth pondering on the fact that the Church of Scotland — Scotland’s national Church — was never asked to organise a Scotland-wide day of prayer, or to bring together

all denominations, something which would have been expected not so long ago. You could argue that the Kirk, like all Churches, failed to use the pandemic as an opportunity to evangelise and return this country to Christian values.

I worry that this might be a foretaste of the future, as secularists tighten their grip. They must be greatly encouraged in their crusade to consign the Churches to the dustbin of his- tory, given the seeming rush by the moderator and our own bishops, to wave the white fiag, and shut church doors at a time when, in any other century, the government would have been asking for the support of the Churches in steadying a country in turmoil.

Instead, the country has been asked to have faith in science, and science alone, when it is patently obvious that science, for all its boasts and partial success with vaccines, can- not seem to carry out the simple and most basic task of exterminating this virus.

It is worth pondering, perhaps, that some scholars pin the flourishing of Christianity in the Roman Empire on the effects of plagues that raged throughout the empire, possibly Ebola, flu or smallpox. It was the inspiring sight of Christians, looking after the sick and the dying, and praying, that swung the balance in favour of what, until about 200AD, had been a persecuted faith.

Maybe that’s why secular officialdom didn’t ask the churches to become involved in the national response. Too much publicity for the churches and the good deeds done by them, so often at parish level, throughout the pandemic, might just have encouraged a religious revival.

Looking back to last year, it was awful to have been cut off by government decree from receiving the sacraments. Mass online was a poor substitute, despite the heroic efforts of priests to make it as meaningful as possible, with an emphasis on spiritual Communion. We must make sure that, now, the Church demands its rightful place of playing its full part in dealing with this most viscous pandemic, and we must, if, God forbid, draconian restrictions are proposed again, that we apply the judgement won by Canon Tom White, and insist our churches remain open for public worship.

Above all, it’s time we proved that ecumenism really does work and pool resources with all other faiths, to run a national come back campaign not just to capitalise on the very real hunger for meaning and spiritual direction that has emerged during the pandemic, but vitally, to ensure that we persuade all those who have fallen away from church attendance during the pandemic to return. If we don’t reaffirm the key role that organised religion should play in a national crisis then we will be brushed aside even more forcibly by secularists. That’s some- thing that neither we, nor our country, can afford, now or in the future.

Hugh Dougherty is a mostly retired journalist and communication officer.

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