Don’t panic

This message might be a little too late really but it seems rich, comfortable people are all in a dither about this coronavirus.

There are 68 million people in the UK and 321 cases of coronavirus. Somebody who can be bothered can tell me what percentage that is but it’s not very big. Sweden with a much smaller population has had 260 cases so the percentage is higher but it’s still really small.

In Sweden, there is a cultural habit that might help us out:

Yet I’ve had friends and relatives in the UK and Australia show me pictures of supermarket shelves emptied of toilet rolls as people stock up as if the end of the world is coming. Maybe it is but you if that’s the best you can do at prepping, then well, best of luck to you.

Yet panic is close to what we are seeing. Not yet full-on chaos. But isolated pockets of people being gripped by fear and acting disproportionately to the risk that they face.

The coronavirus is quite simply, and almost exclusively, a moral panic. This is so in the most literal sense. Human bodies, minds, societies, systems of meaning, norms, and morality have co-evolved with pathogens. Determining who drove whom in this dark scenario is currently unclear.

Dr Samuel Paul Veissière

And as far as the media goes, well I think this video sums up the media reporting of this virus.

The words say ‘Don’t panic’ but everything else about this constant, never-ending, from the very first moment unrelenting coverage of this virus, has stoked fear. In fact, it is entirely unsurprising that people are reacting badly not just because they may be badly misinformed but equally because they have been substantially over-informed. If all you’ve heard for nearly two months is how deadly this virus is and watched markets fall and cities shut down then why wouldn’t you panic if you thought your country was about to be overrun by a disease for which there is no cure?

As the church that shouldn’t be our paradigm. There’s no need to be reckless because the last we want to do is infect (the word give hardly seems fitting, it’s not a great gift!) someone with the virus but neither do we need to be ruled by fear. Others have said the same thing already and better so I’m just going to quote them here.

Firstly, Andrew Haslam:

Giving way to fear is therefore atheistic, and I would encourage you to keep that in mind as the days and weeks unfold. One of the defining marks of believers in Jesus – especially marked at points in history when they faced threats and diseases that made Coronavirus look insipid – is that they faced life with courage because of the certainty of our future with Jesus and his lordship in the present moment. An anxious and fearful Christian has too small a view of Christ in his absolute authority and sovereignty.

Secondly, Ian Paul:

So how should we respond? Wash your hands, and recite the Lord’s Prayer as you do (it is better than singing ‘Happy birthday’ twice). Trust in God, care for the sick, and share your hope of life beyond death. Remember Psalm 91

Some churches are thinking about communion and advice is conflicting. Some are banning it, some are changing how they administer it, and some are not sure.

I want us to go on celebrating the supper regularly – I’m theologically, ecclesiologically and hermeneutically committed to that. I’d much rather use real wine and real bread, but don’t want to exclude those for whom this is difficult. I don’t want a range of ‘offers’ in the elements as that is so damaging to the enacted sermon of partaking in one loaf, and one cup. I don’t want to be hygiene obsessed, but recognise the cultural significance of hygiene in our context. My natural tendency would be to tell people to stop missing the wood for the trees, take the supper in faith, and not worry about allergies or viruses – but pastorally I probably need to be more flexible than that. It’s a communion conundrum!

Matt Hosier

And as Matt says you’re more likely to catch something talking to someone over coffee than from the cup. Anyway, we’ve decided to go the route of intinction. As Dr Fiona Head says,

A search on the (admittedly very small) academic literature on infection risks associated with communion reveals only one good study where the actual differences between sipping from a common cup and intinction are assessed in terms of the resultant microbial load. Whilst the risk of infection passing from person to person through sharing a common cup is very low overall, not surprisingly intinction produced less microbial load than sipping. I say “not surprisingly” as it is a much shorter pathway for a bug to hop from chest to spit to communion cup than for a bug to hop chest-spit-hands-bread-cup. The advice to avoid intinction as a way to reduce infection makes little scientific sense to me.

We have asked a couple of medical professionals in the church to keep the leadership advised and we’ll be following their guidance where necessary, after all, I’m a pastor, not a doctor.

So be sensible, not scared.

Previous posts by me on this subject:

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