*** DEBUG END ***

Clergy comedy helps to raise lockdown spirits

29 May 2020

Canterbury Cathedral

Leo the cat makes his appearance for morning prayer with the Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd Robert Willis

Leo the cat makes his appearance for morning prayer with the Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd Robert Willis

IF LAUGHTER is the best medicine, churches and their clergy have been dispensing it — deliberately or not — during the pandemic.

They range from the husband-and-wife clergy team at Coventry Cathedral who head-butted each other accidentally during a live-streamed service to the Detroit priest who used a water pistol to spray his congregation with holy water.

A video that shows the Dean of Coventry, the Very Revd John Witcombe, and his wife, the Revd Ricarda Witcombe, clash heads at the nave altar as they exchange the peace has been viewed more than 16,000 times. “Peas be with you”, in response to a suggestion that a pack of frozen peas might be applied to the bump, was one of the witticisms on Twitter.

Coventry CathedralThe Dean of Coventry, the Very Revd John Witcombe, and his wife, the Revd Ricarda Witcombe, clash heads at the altar

In the United States, the Revd Timothy Pelc achieved internet fame when he squirted holy water from his water pistol over worshippers in their cars during the blessing of Easter baskets at St Ambrose’s Roman Catholic Church, Detroit.

Pictures of the priest in a mask, face shield, and rubber gloves have inspired online memes. One shows him in the fires of hell aiming his pistol at demons. Fr Pelc said that he was a little concerned about how the Vatican might react, but said: “I haven’t heard anything yet.”

In the early days of the lockdown, before he was experienced in streaming services, the Vicar of St Budeaux’s, Devonport, in Plymouth, the Revd Stephen Beach, set himself alight with a candle and exclaimed “Oh dear, I just caught fire.” The video went viral. He later said: “I just felt my arm getting a bit hot. The nice thing is, it did damage my pullover and my shirt, but my arm is fine.”

Among those who have uploaded music to the internet is the Vicar of Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight, Canon Hugh Wright, who calls himself “Dylan-mad priest”. He has been reworking the singer’s classics on YouTube. “This an awful time for people suffering with the virus throughout the world,” he said.”It has affected all our lives with the lockdown, including the Church and priests too. This is a light-hearted look at some of those changes.”

He has reworked five songs so far, including “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”:

Well, it ain’t no use in turning up at church, babe,
Like we always did before.
And it ain’t no use in turning up at church, babe,
All you’ll see is a locked door.
I used to spend my Sunday mornings riding on my bike,
Going from church to church as speedy as you like,
Now I sit in my pyjamas with my computer and my mic,
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.

Professor Catherine Clarke, of the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London, has penned two Lockdown Psalms, in the style of the psalms of David. She described them as “a light-hearted diversion”, saying: “They’ve been received with enjoyment and amusement on social media.”

YouTubeSingers in Leicester provide the text with its pointing for their version of Psalm 151

In Leicester, four housemates created a version of Psalm 151 which has been viewed more than 90,000 times on YouTube since March. One of the singers, John Gull, described it as “a little choral encouragement during lockdown. At least we have singing to lift our spirits.”

Their new words include the lines:

For lo, the nation is adrift:
The princes of the people have cast us from the pub.
Thy people do run about the shops in panic:
They stockpile all the loo roll and the bakèd beans.

The great discovery of the pandemic has been the conference app Zoom. On Sunday 17 May, it crashed, disrupting live-streamed morning worship. “Imagine if door-locks in churches across the country jammed simultaneously on a Sunday morning,” the Vicar of St Mary’s and St Peter’s, Bury St Edmunds, the Revd Simon Harvey, posted. Another Twitter user remarked: “Looks like the church broke the internet.”

During morning prayers on Zoom on Tuesday, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, fell foul of his Alexa device. As he read Numbers 22.36-23.12, in which Balak, the King of Moab, questions the prophet Balaam, Alexa repeatedly interrupted to answer: “I don’t know that one.”

Meanwhile, in Canterbury last week, one of the four cathedral cats became an internet star during morning prayer with the Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd Robert Willis. More than 100,000 people have watched the footage of the cat disappearing into the Dean’s cassock as he spoke to camera, making it one of Canterbury Cathedral’s most popular social-media posts.

A cathedral spokesman said: “He [the cat] has been enjoying making our daily broadcasts since March and, whilst he would be happy to be in every one, we have tried to include the others to prevent them getting jealous. With over 20,000 visitors to the Deanery and its gardens each year — and over 1.5 million to the cathedral — he is used to being on show and, having been born in the Deanery and growing up here, he is very used to company and is a very friendly and happy little cat — if not the brightest of the four.”

A verger at Christ Church, Oxford, Jim Godfrey, has kept spirits up at the Wesley Methodist Memorial Church near by, where he worships, by drawing cartoons for its lockdown newsletter. One, “Facial Recognition in the New Normal”, shows three identical masked faces, each apparently expressing a different emotion from joy to righteous indignation.

“The reaction has been positive, and now the head verger at Christ Church is using them in his own newsletter,” he said. “Even the rather more serious people there think they are funny; so I must be doing something right.”


Faith: Lift up your hearts

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

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

tickets available


Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

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.)