March 19, 2020 | Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review

A member of the Seventh-day day Adventist Church in the United Kingdom has died from coronavirus (COVID-19), according to British Union Conference (BUC) president Ian Sweeney. Sweeney, who led a special online prayer session on the evening of March 18, 2020, did not provide additional information about the deceased member.

In a March 19 e-mail to Adventist Review, Trans-European Division (TED) communication director Victor Hulbert confirmed the death of one member, adding that the person was someone living in the London area. Another church member had been reported dead in China in early February.

Hulbert also shared that “all churches in the United Kingdom and Ireland are now closed, with many working on innovative ways to continue contact and worship.” He said the same was true for most other countries across the region, even though regional leaders do not have a complete updated list at the moment. Major regional events for the next few months have been canceled.

Unusual Circumstances

In his 19-minute message and prayer on March 18, Sweeney said that current developments are forcing Adventist members to implement procedures and practice habits they’re not used to.

“Social distancing is counter-cultural to what we are as Seventh-day Adventists,” said Sweeney, who acknowledged local Adventist congregations are usually known for closeness and spending time together.

Sweeney also reminded church members that faith also implies being responsible citizens. “Our faith has to be accompanied by responsible action,” he said in reviewing some of the latest government directives to prevent and fight COVID-19.

At the same time, Sweeney asked members to go beyond current regulations to see the big picture.

“The COVID-19 crisis will pass, but the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church will go forward,” he said. “Churches may have closed, but church has not stopped; church services may have been suspended, but church is still alive, still going forward,” he added.

Coming Near to God 

During the special online prayer session, Sweeney made a resolute call to use the current crisis to get closer to God. He based His brief remarks on James 4:8, where James wrote, “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (NIV).

“If this epidemic teaches us anything, it’s about our great need to come near to God,” he said. “We have to be responsible and distance ourselves physically, but we don’t need to socially distance ourselves from God; we can come near to Him.”

When We Come Near to God

Sweeney acknowledged that the world is scared and fearful. “Nobody really knows what the world will look like at the end of this COVID-19 epidemic,” he said. But that shouldn’t prevent us from making a conscious decision to come closer to the Lord no matter what happens.

“In coming near to [God], He can—in His goodness, in His wisdom, and in His power—grant us healing. And He can grant us not only healing from the virus; He can grant us healing to our minds—to our fearfulness, to our worry, to our distress,” Sweeney emphasized.

Current developments should also become an opportunity to come closer to others as much as possible, according to Sweeney.

“Even as we take [our] responsibility seriously, if we are healthy and as we are able, as we come near to God, we can also come near to others to assist them in their needs,” he suggested.

Finally, Sweeney made an impassioned plea to pray for those who are mourning.

“For those who are grieving, we pray that God may come very near to them in a very special, very real way. Believe it or not, we all are very blessed and very fortunate—we have a God in whom we can trust and in whom we can come near,” he said.

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