They seem eerie, but online funerals could prove emancipatoryby Poppy Wood / April 20, 2020 / Leave a comment
When a parish member mentioned the word Zoom to Reverend Simon White a few weeks ago, he thought they were talking about an ice lolly—specifically, the rainbow-coloured sister to the better-known Fab. “I thought, ‘oh that’s one of those ice creams you used to get for 20p or so’—I’d never heard of any video app.”
Since then, White has used the California-based streaming platform almost every day to live-stream funerals from Morpeth Parish Church in Newcastle to families forced to self-isolate at home. Last week, he used it to broadcast a child’s funeral to grieving family members around the world.
Zoom has become the unexpected buzzword of the pandemic, with daily users ballooning from 10m in December to 200m last month, as people huddled around their screens for book clubs, Easter services and even cabinet meetings. But a rather more solemn footnote of the virus has been the use of Zoom to live-stream funerals.
In his era-defining speech announcing the British lockdown three weeks ago, Boris Johnson emphatically—and rather morbidly—exempted funerals from a list of banned social events, and instead ordered attendees to comply with social distancing rules.
But as the UK death toll surpasses 16,000 fatalities, even a two metre distance seems insufficient. With councils such as Bradford and Leeds banning all funerals, and the Church of England recommending that all ceremonies be live-streamed, religious figures like Reverend White have been forced to trade their lecterns for laptops. For many religions, this has caused profound changes to long-held funerary traditions.
As Londoners gathered round their webcams to break Deliverooed matzah during Passover celebrations this month, many in the Jewish community were congregating for rather more sombre reasons. For those sitting shiva—the week-long period of collective mourning—social distancing rules have uprooted normality. Shivas usually take place within the home of the deceased, and are largely social events, revolving around food-sharing, garment-tearing and communal prayer.
For Rabbi Helen Freeman, Zoom seemed the natural substitute to sit shiva for a much-loved matriarch of her congregation at the West London Synagogue. “Doing it via Zoom meant we had about 200 participants, much…