*** DEBUG END ***

Angela Tilby: So began the end of our exile

10 July 2020

diocese of portsmouth

The Vicar of St George’s, Waterlooville, in Portsmouth diocese, the Revd Colin Lawlor, administers communion, on Sunday. It was the first day that public worship had taken place in the church for three months

The Vicar of St George’s, Waterlooville, in Portsmouth diocese, the Revd Colin Lawlor, administers communion, on Sunday. It was the first day that pub...

ON SUNDAY, nearly 20 of us queued in the rain for the 8 a.m. traditional-language service of holy communion. Portsmouth Cathedral eight-o’clockers are friendly. We smiled and waved, enquired about how we had been since the end of March, and lamented the state of our hair. On this first Sunday of restored worship, we kept our patronal festival in honour of St Thomas of Canterbury. In the event, we were a full house. More eucharists followed on the hour, the last at noon.

I was glad that I had chosen to go at 8 a.m.; 1662 (with, in our case, 1928 additions) seemed right for the end of the lockdown. Its sober Protestantism reminded us that God is transcendent, majestic, and free; that we have a civic duty as well as our duty to God; that we cannot escape the constant struggle for sanity and balance; that, in spite of adversity, we have many reasons for gratitude; and that, in spite of our best efforts, we always fall short.

As the well-known phrases resonated through the socially distanced spaces, I had a new appreciation of how complete Cranmer’s rite is, even without music. I have to confess, with a smidgen of shame, that the well-spaced chairs provided a perfect environment for semi-gregarious introverts like me.

Yet it was just so good to hear each other’s voice again. In the lofty emptiness of our cathedral nave, the responses sounded as though they came from thousands, not tens. It was possible, once more, to believe that, even in our mortal frailty, we were, indeed, accompanied by angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.

It had not been the first time that I had received communion since the beginning of the lockdown. I had celebrated for an online service, and “answered the mass” on other occasions.

But our common communion on Sunday made me aware once again of how physical the sacraments are. We know the Lord in the breaking of the bread, and being present to one another is an inescapable part of that knowing. Sunday began the end of our exile. We got through. There were some tears. And the awkwardness of distancing, the screens enabling communion to be safe, the ritual hand-sanitising — all still carried an inescapable note of regret and sadness.

One of our congregation, who cannot yet get to church and watched one of the later services online, messaged that she was reminded of the scene described in the book of Ezra (3.11-13), when the foundation stone of the new temple was laid. While many shouted aloud for joy, others wept, remembering how glorious the old had been. I think that there will be a great deal of weeping and rejoicing in the days and weeks to come.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM: 

Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE


Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Church Times/Canterbury Press:

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

Early bird tickets available



The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)