Economics of Faith – Practices around COVID-19

This blog is part of a series relating to the economic impacts of the COVID-19, novel coronavirus outbreak of 2020.

Belief and faith are very much part of our culture and also our economy. Many Christians today are observing fasting in preparation for Easter. 

Easter is a period when sales of everything chocolate, yellow, bird or rabbit-like is purchased. It is a religious feast of the crucifixion and raising of Jesus. Many Christians in Australia and worldwide practice this feast and many others also observe. Easter hunts and hat parades are commonplace and a number of industries rely on this holiday for their revenue.  

How does this have anything to do with the Coronavirus? 

For churches around the world, this period is their busiest time. They celebrate mass on a daily basis with some observing multiple sessions on the same day. In addition, during the major days of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday – the number of people attending church can run into the tens of thousands. Easter is considered a more important spiritual period than Christmas. 

Greek Orthodox, and many of the other Orthodox faiths, practice the same tradition of giving the Eucharist, body and blood of Christ, as wine with holy bread. This is passed out to parishioners by the priest by the use of a spoon while he recites a special prayer. The one spoon is used for all in the service. This translates to potentially in the local church you may share the spoon with 200 to 300 other people ranging in age and medical conditions. For the majority of the church attendees, they are aged and/or have some health conditions and turn to their faith and/or the church.

In a time when we are concerned to be in the same room or stadium and we are not shaking hands what is the potential impact of the Coronavirus on the church? 

Debate had raged in the different orthodox communities on whether there would be any changes made on the ritual of worshippers sipping from the same spoon. On the 10th of March, the Holy Synod, the ruling body of the Church, stated that the receipt of the Eucharist cannot be the cause of the spread of the illness and that communion is to continue as per the traditional form [1]. This sent a most confusing message to practitioners on what to do at this time. The media and their government is directing them to socially distance but their church is supporting the continued sharing of the spoon. We are being told not to stay in close contact with others for extended periods of time by our health scientists while being directed to attend our church on a daily basis for masses that may be for up to 2 to 3 hours long in a closed space. 

What are the implications of these mixed messages? For many people that I spoke to, it caused them to question their faith. It made them shy away from their church given the blaring evidence of the spread and the effects of the Coronavirus. Churches, particularly ones that practice traditional faiths, have had the challenge in recent times of maintaining their practitioners and regular church attendee numbers. Will this virus have an effect beyond the health impact but a broader economic bearing on the church? 

On a wider economic scale, the Easter shows, the school holiday activities, travel within and outside the country, and the surge in retail and restaurant trade are ones that many look forward to during this time. We have seen the cancellation of many customary events held at this time such as  the Easter Show in Sydney, and other shows around the country have also been cancelled or are likely to be cancelled. Restaurant trade has been declining as people shy away from gathering in closed or public places. The remaining question is what will happen to retail trade during this time and will consumer sentiment about the virus be offset by the government stimulus package. 

  1. Kambas, M., Georgiopoulos, G. (2020), In era of coronavirus, Greek church says Holy Communion will carry on, Reuters, 10 March 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-greece-church/in-era-of-coronavirus-greek-church-says-holy-communion-will-carry-on-idUSKBN20W2N1 [Accessed 16 March 2020 at 5:30pm]

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