Chinese Christians in the UK tell of racism as Churches urge prayer and caution over coronavirus

People wearing protective masks are seen at a subway station in Shanghai, China January 23, 2020.(Photo: Reuters)

Chinese Christians in the UK are experiencing racism as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, a church leader in London has reported. 

Rev Kong Ching Hii, who leads the King's Cross Methodist Church (KXMC) in London, told the Methodist podcast: "In the north east, one community has stopped the Sunday worship service and also the community in Birmingham, one of the ministers was shouted at: 'you Chinese, go home' and also some of my church members face different kinds of discrimination." 

He said that some students wearing face masks have received a "strange look" or "verbal abuse", while one of his church members was "chased after by a group of people asking them to return home".

The pastor said that many members of KXMC appear to be staying away from services.

"I didn't expect many changes until I arrived at the church on Sunday morning and realised that half of the community did not turn up for the Sunday worship service and last week, coupled with the thunderstorm, three-quarters of them were missing on Sunday," he said. 

The church, which runs weekly services in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, has advised Chinese members of the congregation not to return to China for the timebeing in light of the outbreak. Anyone who has returned from China recently should self-quarantine for 14 days before coming to services, the advisory states. 

"In view of the outbreak and spread of the new Coronavirus, designated 2019-nCoV, we need to work together and focus on the trends of the epidemic and how to take care of the health of individuals and families," it states.

It continues: "We need to take this situation very seriously and learn how to pray for the situation."

The advisory goes on to ask for prayer for the World Health Organisation (WHO), China's political leaders and everyone affected by the coronavirus.

"Pray for God's mercy to heal this earth, and let the epidemic subside soon," it says. 

Other Church organisations are also asking Christians to pray. 

Bishop Efraim Tendero, head of the World Evangelical Alliance, said he had been following news of the outbreak with concern and that many in the organisation's global constituency are praying for those affected, as well as an end to the crisis. 

"We would like to now specifically call on churches and individual believers to take time to pray for God to intervene in this crisis and stop the virus from spreading any further," he said. 

He continued: "We are saddened by the daily increasing numbers of infected people and those who lost their lives due to the virus and pray with urgent heart for a fast turn-around of the situation, but we also hold onto hope in our loving God who intervenes in visible and invisible ways in times of tragedy.

"We are thankful for a much speedier response to the current virus than what had been seen in the past; we are grateful that the vast majority of infected people are experiencing full recovery; and we pray that God's presence and his all-surpassing peace and comfort would be with those who have lost loved ones. Together with the Psalmist, we pray: 'Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.'" (Psalm 62:5)

In addition to calling for prayer, the World Council of Churches (WCC) is urging people to make every effort to share accurate information - specifically updates from WHO - and not hearsay or rumours. 

Dr Mwai Makoka, WCC programme executive for Health and Healing, warned that fake news was hampering an effective response.

"During an outbreak like this, fake news raises false alarms and false confidence alike. There has been a misinformation boom," he said. 

Dr Manoj Kurian, coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, said that individual church leaders had a responsibility to provide only accurate information to their members. 

"It's important that church leaders read and depend on reliable information before they make statements and before they declare something. It's important not to depend on hearsay," he said.

"It's also very clear that we need to be in solidarity with those affected."

He added: "Pray for people affected by coronavirus, and try not to discriminate or exclude people who may be perceived as having this infection but in fact do not." 

The Church of England's Mission and Public Affairs division this week published advice to parishes on practical steps to reduce the risk of infection from coronavirus. 

The guidance has been made available on a dedicated web page and advises simple precautions and hygiene practices that churches can incorporate into their worship services, particularly during the celebration of the Eucharist.

The guidance advises against shaking hands during the Peace and the practice of intinction - dipping bread into the wine - during Communion.

Priests should use hand sanitiser before Holy Communion, while parishioners with symptoms should receive Communion in one kind only. 

The Bishop of Carlisle, James Newcome, the Church of England's lead bishop on health issues, said: "We pray for all those affected by Coronavirus (COVID-19) here and around the world, particularly in China, and for all those caring for them.

"The virus not been declared a pandemic and at present the risk in this country is assesses as 'moderate'. However, there are, of course some practical measures churches can take.

"Much of that is simply maintaining good hygiene including, for example, priests and servers washing their hands and using alcohol-based hand-sanitiser before Holy Communion."