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Is it time to challenge the Church Leaderships about Health & Safety?

Posted by admin at 2:31 PM on May 26, 2020

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With the announcements over the weekend about further easing of the lockdown including schools re-opening and open-air markets being allowed to re-start on June 01st (although some have managed to keep going with innovative and effective social distancing measures), and non-essential shops from 15th June, most of us involved in Chaplaincy are champing at the bit about an impending return to our own clientele. Our sense of frustration is added to by being confined to informal contact via video conferencing platforms, social media, emails or the telephone. Little if any face to face contact – even at 2m intervals – has been possible, and for people for whom this is a key aspect to their ministry, only adds to the frustrations. But as the country begins to open up, there are perhaps some possibilities that a few of us may be able to do what God has called us to do in the short term. However much relies not only on those organisations for whom we serve but also the attitude of our religious leaders and their approach to health & safety.

Yesterday (May 25th), I came across an article on the discussion website www.Unherd.com by David Quinn, who writes for The Sunday Times in Ireland entitled, Why do our church leaders worship at the altar of health and safety? In it, he questions the attitudes of church leaders on both sides of the Irish Sea for not doing more to challenge those in political authority about opening up churches to public worship compared to other European countries which have, albeit with the appropriate distancing and hygiene measures in place. In Ireland public worship is unlikely to take place until July 20th here in the UK it is July 04th at the earliest. As usual with these articles and this being a discussion website, the comments at the end from readers can often be as informative as the articles which inspired them in the first place. Click on the link above and judge for yourself.

From a personal viewpoint as a type 2 diabetic, I am also considered to be in an at-risk category – not that I consider myself to be in any way vulnerable - but while nobody wants to be seen to be cavalier about potential risks around public gatherings, as the writer himself puts it, “They have forgotten that all life involves risk. When public worship is finally restored, it will be far safer to have 40 people in a church that can fit 400 than to have a hairdresser hovering over your head for 30 minutes.

The streaming of services particularly for our mostly elderly congregations many of whom have underlying medical conditions, is an innovation which is here to stay not only during the crisis, but I would hope, for those who cannot attend church under normal conditions. But as workplace chaplains we are also worshippers, and it is just as important for us to be seen at our churches and other places of worship as it is as at our workplaces!

In a previous blog posting, The Nuances of Workplace Chaplaincy, I raised the question about what would have happened had the early disciples practised a culture of safety first when taking the Gospel of Christ out to their dangerous and uncertain world.

Being cautious during times of uncertainty is a natural inclination, but to the population at large, surely it would be of immense benefit if public worship were seen to be taking place here now like it is in Europe. In this instance the message for all to see religious and secular alike, would be of a people whose faith in God and willingness to share its practice publicly even in times of crisis, is endorsed and actively encouraged by those who lead us.

As Jesus put it in Matthew 16:3b, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times”.

Or can they?

Michael Cronogue