Though he describes COVID-19 as “unmitigated evil,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby says the locked-down church is experiencing renewal and “making a huge impact.” As head of the Church of England, Welby recently addressed some ways that body is working to meet people’s needs during a time of social restrictions.
Phone Line Provides Connections
Because elderly people are high-risk for the virus and less likely to use the internet, they’re especially prone to loneliness while homebound. So the Church of England set up Daily Hope, a free phone line that provides resources such as full worship services, prayers, beloved hymns, and even medical advice. The line, updated regularly, offers support to people “feeling lonely and isolated, whatever age,” says Welby.
The England-based Christian charity Faith in Later Life helps support Daily Hope. Carl Knightly, the group’s chief executive, says older people face challenges even “in normal times—and these are not those.” That’s why faith-based organizations must partner with churches to “offer hope to our nation at this time,” he says. England’s COVID-19 death toll is nearing 21,000.
Pandemic Is a ‘huge learning experience’
In an April 24 interview with Premier Christian News, Archbishop Welby reveals that life in lockdown is “far busier than normal,” requiring day-to-day decisions about church operations. Though he jokes he’d be first in line to reopen, he says the Church of England must follow medical guidelines about proceeding safely. “I hope we will begin to have some very limited use [of church buildings] as soon as we can,” he says, “but I can’t put a date on it.”
Although at-home worship allows Welby to “concentrate more easily” and sit in a comfortable chair, he admits online services have disadvantages too. Speaking to people while looking into a camera is “quite difficult,” he says. “You don’t get the same engagement, and you can come away feeling a bit flat. But I’ve been deeply moved by the services I’ve participated in. They’ve reached out in a way that surprised me, and that is…the work of the Spirit.”
Lockdown has been a “huge learning experience” for Welby, and he says it provides many opportunities for the church. “There’s a renewal of the sense that we all belong to Christ,” he says, “and I hope we can build on that.” The Archbishop also points to global prayer movements as another “wonderful” thing emerging from a “very dark time.”
Prayer Event Forced to Go Virtual
Four years ago, Welby launched Thy Kingdom Come, a 10-day prayer celebration between Ascension and Pentecost. Last year, an estimated 10,000 people gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square to pray with a focus on evangelism.
Due to the pandemic, this year’s ecumenical event will look different but is still expected to touch many lives. From May 21 to 31, people in more than 100 countries and from dozens of denominations are pledging to “Light Up the World” in prayer. The global movement’s website provides specific ideas for churches that want to participate in this year’s virtual version of Thy Kingdom Come.