Visit the sick, bury the dead

Kevin McGinnell VF, Episcopal Vicar for Education and Formation in the Diocese of Northampton, reflects on changes to funeral practice as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

The Church has always seen caring for the dying, the dead and the bereaved as essential to her mission. Facing the Covid-19 crisis has meant considerable changes in our pastoral practices. This is a situation we could never have imagined, and we have no precedent on which to base our detailed practice. We do, however, have the example of the Church which has always responded with care to crises, plague and epidemic. Religious, clergy and laity have given themselves generously in such situations. St John Henry Newman and his confreres served in Bilston during the cholera outbreak in 1849, and we will be able to list many others through the ages.

Clearly the current context is different. This is a pandemic in a world of easy global communication. That aids the spread of information and hopefully helps the way people respond to try to stem the spread of the virus. At the same time, sharing conflicting views and attitudes can lead to unnecessary tension. I write in the eighth week of lockdown while we are still waiting for news of whether churches can open even for private prayer. Today society has a complex understanding of the place of the Church and what it means, especially to certain generations and cultures. At the same time there is a distancing from sickness and death by our peers that affects how many see dying and death itself. All of these issues challenge the way we can serve and are understood. As we move forward it is important for us to reflect on what we are doing, how we are meeting people’s needs, and what lessons can be learned for pastoral practice in the future, the ‘new normal’ as well as in crisis.

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