The coronavirus has changed the landscape of life for everyone in the UK – and more or less everyone across the world. One part of life that has been hard hit is religious observance. Footage of a Catholic priest administering Holy Communion via water gun to car-bound congregants has excited not just amusement, but the question of how else the practices of faith have changed during lockdown. We interviewed two young Brits of different faiths about their altered experiences of religion during lockdown.
Heba, 21, Muslim student from London
One of the most difficult things was trying to be frugal with food. Like many people, we were disinfecting all our shopping when it was brought home and the process was quite tiresome. We were focused on trying to stretch our food supply as far as possible. When you’re fasting, you want to break your fast with food that’s exciting and special because it’s your only proper meal of the day. It was a little difficult when that meal ended up being leftovers or things from the freezer.
Eid was particularly affected by lockdown. We all knew there was no chance of being able to attend Eid prayers or see family in the evening for dinner as we usually would. We did manage to keep some Eid traditions alive. We all got dressed up in nice clothes on the day and we had breakfast as a family. A common thing that Muslim families do on Eid is to distribute food to friends and family. We packaged up several boxes of a dessert called seviyan and went to friends’ and family’s houses in our area to make a few socially distanced deliveries. It was quite a nice thing to do seeing as we hadn’t met with anyone outside of our house since before lockdown began and it helped the day feel a bit more like a normal Eid.
One of the things I learned is how much Ramadan is a time for being united with the Muslim community. We were definitely all missing being able to go the mosque and break our fast with others. I also learned about my privileged experience of Ramadan. I come from a middle-class household, and by not being able to shop as often, we received only a tiny glimpse of what it is like for those who struggle to put food on the table during Ramadan every year. I definitely thought a lot about how different fasting is for those who don’t get to look forward to a special meal on most days of Ramadan.
Jill, 22, Christian ministry trainee from Northern Ireland
I think the main thing that has made Christians very conscious of the coronavirus is the lack of being able to gather together physically, which is quite a defining part of the church. The core truths we’re meeting to learn about and affirm together haven’t changed and the church services online still follow the same structure: we still have someone preach from the Bible, recorded videos of singing and prayers. We would normally have four services on a Sunday and four different congregations. Now we have one virtual Sunday Service. But after it, we have four virtual “Zoom coffees” where members of the different congregations can chat to each other after the service.
Not meeting together physically has proved really challenging. It’s something the Bible prizes highly because church family is so significant. Supporting those without internet has been difficult too, particularly elderly members. They can now phone in to hear our services on Zoom and we have church staff and members phoning them every day. Staff members have been involved in a lot more pastoral support: virtually reading the Bible with people, running a marriage counselling course for couples struggling in lockdown. It’s a fairly big church, so that’s just a snapshot of some of the areas I’m involved in. But broadly we’ve been seeking to unite and encourage each other in the truths of the Gospel that Christians view as remaining the same in the midst of this, and to encourage each other to keep going in the faith.
I think it’s just really highlighted how Christianity isn’t meant to just be a personal faith. The church is a corporate community to be a part of and bear each other’s burdens.