I fully support the closure of places of worship during the coronavirus pandemic. It is sad, of course, but, as it is temporary, it is not catastrophic. Certainly, the benefits for public health far outweigh the losses for public enjoyment and a lot can be done online to continue to provide much of the church experience, at least for many church members.
However, the more I think about it, the more uncomfortable I am becoming with the stopping of pastoral care for the sick and dying. If nurses and doctors can be in contact with people with coronavirus (when appropriately protected) I cannot see why ministers of religion (with a pastoral calling) and the invalid’s close family members and friends cannot also be provided with the necessary protection and allowed to be with them. I often had to dress in protective clothing when visiting patients with immune deficiencies in hospital. I also think that there must be ways of making attendance at funerals possible, at least for the nearest and dearest.
In my opinion, having loved ones and, if you are religious, pastors visit you when you are sick and with you when you are dying is as important as life itself. Yet, in the U.K. at least, we are now in a position where the delivery of a box of chocolates or a pizza is considered essential whilst the delivery of pastoral support and the sacraments of religion is not. It appears that the secularisation of our nations is complete and that religion is now regarded by our societies and governments as a hobby choice, with no real substance, on a par with going to watch a football match.
There was a time, not long ago, when people of faith were the only ones who could be relied upon to provide care to those sick and dying from contagious diseases and many who did, died as a result. That this witness to God’s love for the human race has been swept aside as irrelevant, so quickly and completely, during this present health crisis is a terrifying indication of just how clinical, capitalistic and lacking in compassion modern western society has become.