MANY churches and cathedrals that have remained closed throughout the recent lockdown are reopening in time for in-person worship during Holy Week and Easter — but online services and events remain at the heart of festivities.
On Monday, the Government updated its guidance on places of worship in England in line with the next step of its roadmap to lifting Covid restrictions. Since Monday, the stay-at-home rule has been replaced by the rule of six: up to two households of unlimited numbers, or up to six households of six people, can now meet outdoors. This applies to outdoor worship, too.
Indoor worship has been permitted in Covid-safe churches throughout the latest lockdown, but festivals and life events are now included, such as weddings of up to six people, previously permitted only in exceptional circumstances (News, 8 January). Funerals remain limited to 30 people. Children and support groups can continue to function indoors in church buildings.
Face coverings remain mandatory, and congregations are still limited to the Covid-safe capacity of the building, allowing for social distancing. Singing, however, is now permitted in small groups, allowing church choirs to return in some form for Holy Week and Easter (see separate story).
Bath Abbey has been closed for worship since January. Since then, the floor has been restored and a new eco-heating system installed (News, 12 March). The building reopened for in-person services on Palm Sunday.
The Rector, Canon Guy Bridgewater, said: “After all the painful challenges of this last year, we look forward eagerly to celebrating the life-renewing hope of Easter. It will be a great joy to celebrate Christ’s victory over death, as a church family back in the abbey once again — especially as we weren’t able to come together at Easter last year.”
Southwell Minister, and Ripon, Bradford, and Leicester cathedrals have also reopened for the first time since January.
On Easter Monday, Salisbury Cathedral is releasing an album of organ music that was played as people received their Covid vaccinations in the building (News, 22 January), to raise money for NHS Charities Together. More than 25,000 people have been vaccinated at the cathedral.
The new album, Salisbury Meditation: Music for the NHS, features 16 tracks compiled by the director of music, David Halls, and assistant director of music, John Challenger, including pieces by Bach, Handel, and Pachelbel, and film scores. It can be bought from the cathedral website.
The cathedral is open for in-person Easter services, all with choral music, all of which will be live-streamed. This includes a family service on Easter Day, during which a virtual children’s choir will sing a new song, “Make me a light”, by Philip Wilby, as part of a joint Cathedral School and Cathedral Outreach project (News, 26 February).
The Precentor, Canon Anna Macham, said: “To be able to worship in person is wonderful, especially after worshippers were not able to access the building at all for Holy Week and Easter in 2020, during the first lockdown. We would love a full return to normal, but we will have to bide our time and be patient.”
As last year, restrictions in England do not permit a large gathering for the Trafalgar Square Passion Play, which had been running on Good Friday since 2010. Instead, the 2019 Passion of Jesus will be live-streamed tomorrow at noon and 3 p.m. on the Wintershall Facebook page. A new introduction from the producer, Charlotte de Klee, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, and the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has been recorded.
Other online events include an Easter service broadcast by the Christian British Sign Language (BSL) website christianbsl.com at 4 p.m. on Holy Saturday. The website posts videos showing how to sign words and phrases that might be useful in church, as well as prayers, reflections, and readings — all of which are presented by deaf interpreters, church leaders, and worship leaders.
A former inmate at HM Prison Winchester is to tell the story of his recovery in spoken-word poetry during an Easter Day service that will be live-streamed to more than 50 prisons. The service from Christ Church, Winchester, broadcast on the Prison TV channel at 9 a.m., will include a message from the Chief Scout, Bear Grylls. A curate at Christ Church, the Revd Craig Philbrick, said: “Prisons are often side-stepped by the community — no one really knows what to do or how to help. This service is a great example of how we can support the prisoners and staff of HM Prison Winchester.”
On Easter Monday, an international Christian radio station for children is being launched by AllstarsGO Studios. The new channel, AllstarsGO Radio, was piloted in February. It will broadcast live shows, dramas, children’s worship, Bible stories, and guest interviews for 12 days, for free, on its website, app, and Amazon Alexa.
As in England, Wales has also ended its national lockdown, which had been in place since 20 December, and under which places of worship had been permitted to open for general worship, funerals, weddings, baptisms, and private prayer. Limits on numbers are also determined by the capacity of the building.
For the many churches in Wales that remain closed, however, the Church in Wales has organised a virtual pilgrimage for Holy Week using Google Earth. E-pilgrims will be able to visit 14 churches, at each of which a video reflection and prayer have been filmed. These have been uploaded to Google Earth with photos and details of the history of the building and area.
The pilgrimage will begin at Bangor Cathedral. The Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andy John, who is the lead bishop for faith tourism, hoped that it would inspire people to visit more churches as they reopened. “Faith tourism has been hit particularly hard during Covid-19. Tourists are looking for unique ways to connect spiritually with sacred places.”
In Scotland, places of worship have reopened after national Covid restrictions that instructed their closure in January were ruled unlawful. A group of 27 church leaders filed a judicial review at the Court of Session, arguing that the Scottish government had acted beyond its emergency powers by banning in-person worship. Lord Braid agreed last week that the regulations went further than was lawful.
Field of memories. On Good Friday and Holy Saturday, between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., St James’s, Devizes, is inviting people to visit the Green outside Devizes School and place a wooden cross and heart in the ground to create a field of memories and experiences during the pandemic. On Easter Day, a posy of flowers will be attached to each cross and heart around a large floral display.
Keith BrindleThe Vicar of St James’s, Devizes, the Revd Keith Brindle, on the Green with the first crosses and hearts
The Vicar of St James’s, the Revd Keith Brindle, said: “Our hope is that the field will give the people of Devizes an opportunity to share our experiences of the pandemic in a simple and visual way. This weekend marks a year since the first lockdown, but is also Easter, which celebrates the enormity of God’s love for each one of us, demonstrated in the resurrection.”
Sue King, from St John’s Flower Guild and Devizes Flower Club, said: “After the display is finished on Monday, it will be composted and used to nourish a crocus bed, which will be planted on the site to remind us every year of the pandemic and this time in our history.”
Visitors to St John the Baptist, Royston, this weekend, are also invited to create a display to remember people who have died, are bereaved, or affected in other ways during the pandemic, by attaching a flower to the church gates, which are being covered in greenery in preparation.