‘Nothing will ever be the same’: how faith groups adapted to lockdown in England | Religion


With places of worship in England opening on Monday for private prayer, we spoke to people about their faith and how they’ve been coping during lockdown.

Hinduism: Janaki Mehta, compliance analyst, London

It’s up and down. I initially found it really difficult to worship alone at home. We have Zoom meetings but in the last couple of weeks I’ve felt the need for the physical aspect of community and sometimes feel I can’t do this anymore.

I’m a professional classical dancer and am used to performing in temples all over the world. Now I perform for God at home. One of the things I have tried to focus on is how my religion always emphasised on the home being a temple. It’s something I used to neglect as I was so focused on going to my local temple, but now I want to change that. I am yet to hear from the temples I visit about them welcoming us for private worship. I suspect they are busy putting safety measures in places.

I’ve lost job opportunities in the city, my dance performances have been cancelled and I can’t even continue my normal volunteer work feeding the homeless in the same way due to the pandemic. I have to focus more on God and do as much good in the world as I can.

Judaism: Rabbi Pete Tobias, 62, the Liberal Synagogue Elstree, Hertfordshire

Rabbi Pete Tobias, 62, leading the Passover Seder.
Rabbi Pete leading the Passover Seder. Photograph: Rabbi Pete Tobias

Six weeks ago I tentatively held an informal service at 6.30pm on Facebook broadcasting to around 100 members. I was anxious in case, having committed myself to offering a service every evening, I was overreaching myself and that it would be a waste of my time. There are now over 350 members – a much larger number than turned up to our weekly synagogue services before lockdown.

I have conducted relatively few funerals. Liberal and Reform rabbis made a decision early on that no mourners would be permitted at cemeteries or crematoria. Although this was very unpopular with some, experience has shown me (and them) that a Zoom funeral is actually very meaningful and satisfying as a way of saying farewell.

Places of worship reopening on Monday won’t affect us as we normally practise communal worship. It’s not unfair – we’re just different. I’ve found the ability to reach out so much more online that I don’t want to lose it by going back to just meeting in a building. I’m hoping we can have a combination.

Islam: Sharmeen Ziauddin, 40, journalist, Surrey

Sharmeen Ziauddin
Sharmeen Ziauddin Photograph: Sharmeen Ziauddin

I found the month of Ramadan a lot better than usual as I had a lot more time at home. Normally I’m running around, especially with the school run. The best thing though was being able to make up the sleep lost from waking up for suhur (the last meal before fasting). We’ve ended up having a much more spiritual and family-orientated Ramadan.

Eid was interesting. This year we visited my parents in their garden and socially distanced. I hadn’t seen them for 12 weeks – it was OK but I didn’t feel like our family missed out on anything particularly. In terms of places of worship reopening, for a lot of the elderly community who have been in isolation, I think they would like to visit the mosque and resume some kind of normality.

I missed going to the mosque for the last 10 nights of Ramadan but my son, 14, and daughter, 11, stayed up with me which we wouldn’t normally do. We prayed in the lounge at night time and watched YouTube videos. All of this because of lockdown. We need to look at the positive in any given situation.

Buddhism: Anna Clare Fisher, 56, carer, Stroud

I’ve been a Nichiren Buddhist for 20 years. We generally practise Buddhism at home, only meeting occasionally. When we do meet, we hold weekly study meetings on Zoom and communicate via WhatsApp.

Anna Clare Fisher.
Anna Clare Fisher. Photograph: Anna Clare Fisher

Being a Buddhist is about demonstrating the utmost respect for nature. We are not masters of it and believe that life and death are a continuum. It’s about being aware of your place in nature and creating value in the life cycle.

Sikhism: Gurpreet Singh Anand, 49, the Central Gurdwara (Khalsa Jatha), London

We have been livestreaming our regular services and funeral prayers to keep them in touch with the gurdwara. Where normally a funeral would be attended by up to 200 friends and family, this is now reduced to between 10 and 20.

The gurdwara would normally serve food (langar) to anyone attending. We have now switched to sending packaged hot meals to food banks, homeless hostels, the NHS and to the elderly and we distribute 500 meals daily. 

We’re getting a lot of enquiries from people abroad who do not come to our gurdwara asking if we could do something for their families, so our next programme will be for those not in the UK. Any challenging period will lead people to reach to their spiritual side. We are witnessing suffering but also a positive spirit to overcome.

Christianity: David Hallam, 65, Methodist, Smethwick

David Hallam
David Hallam. Photograph: David Hallam

Before lockdown, our congregation each Sunday morning at City Road Methodist church hovered between 15 and 20 but now that we’re online the number is now between 1,500 and 2,000. We also ensure that people who are elderly and not online are getting regular phone calls, as we just want to remind people that the church hasn’t forgotten that they’re there.

We’ve realised that nothing will ever really be the same again but perhaps that is a good thing. It’s given us an amazing opportunity to find a new audience for our faith.

Methodists started off as societies in the Anglican church, so weren’t necessarily attached to church buildings. I think we’re probably going back to our roots and showing that our faith is not a building, but a group of people and their relationship with God.


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