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Three cathedrals open as vaccination centres

18 January 2021

Blackburn, Salisbury, and Lichfield extend their ministry

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People queue outside Lichfield Cathedral, to receive an injection of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, last Friday

People queue outside Lichfield Cathedral, to receive an injection of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, last Friday

BLACKBURN CATHEDRAL opened its crypt as a vaccinations centre on Monday, joining Salisbury and Lichfield, who opened at the weekend. Blackburn has a six-month booking which could possibly extend to a year. Like the other two cathedrals, it had been discussing feasibilities with the health authorities for several months (News, 13 November 2020).

Blackburn Cathedral is built on a hill, and so most of the crypt is directly accessed at ground level. “It is exactly the same footprint as the cathedral itself; so it’s an enormous space, with plenty of height, numerous doors, even a kitchen for extra fridges,” the Dean, the Very Revd Peter Howell-Jones, said on Monday.

“The response has been phenomenal. Because it’s such a familiar place to be, people know it for other than medicine. They know it for good things, like weddings, and they have this positive experience of the building, which extends across all faiths.

“No matter how nice people are in hospitals, you go in and you feel that sense of anxiety. So the people coming in here are all quite chirpy about it. It’s changed the dynamic, really. When you come in, even though the booths are quite clinical, you can still see the archways in the crypt. It’s not a bland, clinical environment. Lots of people are commenting on that.”

PAFormer RAF Flight Sergeant Louis Godwin receives an injection of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at Salisbury Cathedral, last Friday

Lichfield Cathedral issued its offer of help as soon as it heard of the vaccine last summer, and has been in negotiation with GP practices and the health authorities since that time (News, 12 November): 1200 people were vaccinated on Saturday. The Dean, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, said that the period coincided with the cathedral’s quieter months, when the nave was often cleared of furniture so that people could get an uninterrupted view of the space.

“This has been a really fortuitous coming together of our availability and local need,” he said. “We’ve got some well-drilled volunteers and a really capable staff, who have just kind of gone into battle action and done it.” Daily worship is currently taking place online, and the building is expected to be closed to public worship for about two months. Some scheduled maintenance work is taking place, and so it will not be open for vaccinations every day.

The MP for Lichfield, Michael Fabricant, tweeted: “This just has to be the most glamorous vaccine centre in Britain. They came in the Middle Ages for the cure. They still come today.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury tweeted of the Lichfield opening: “A historic moment. Praise be to God. Thank you, Lichfield Cathedral, for serving your community in such a beautiful way, and thank you, NHS.” The Rt Revd Jan McFarlane, now a cathedral canon and assistant bishop in the diocese, tweeted on Friday: “In the Cathedral setting up for the vaccination clinic. Feel strangely emotional. Working together to beat to this vile common enemy. A beacon of hope.”

At Salisbury, those arriving for vaccinations were treated to music throughout the day on the cathedral’s organ. Bach, Handel, and Pachelbel proved popular. The director of music, David Halls, said on Monday: “Both John Challenger [assistant director of music] and I felt enormously privileged to be providing live organ music during the vaccinations in Salisbury Cathedral.

Ash MillsVaccination booths set up in Salisbury Cathedral

“The past ten months or so have been so stressful for everyone that we have enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to play soothing . . . classical music as our contribution to the joy and good news of the vaccination programme.”

One thousand people received a vaccination in Salisbury on Saturday. The Dean, the Very Revd Nicholas Papadopulos, described the vaccine as “a real sign of hope at the end of this very difficult year. I doubt that anyone is having a jab in surroundings more beautiful than this; so I hope it will ease people as it come into the building.

“This place has been here for 800 years to give glory to God and to serve the city and the region. What better way could there be of doing that than hosting Salisbury’s stage in the vaccination programme? It is absolutely wonderful.”

C of E guidance states that churches and cathedrals do not contact public-health authorities to offer to host clinics. They will be contacted directly by the local authority if deemed suitable.

PAJohn Mason, aged 82, receiving a Covid-19 vaccination from Annie Santillan in the crypt of Blackburn Cathedral on Monday morning

The latest government figures show that 3.8 million people — care-home residents, front-line health-care staff, and those aged 80 and over — have had a first dose of the vaccine; about 400,000 have had two doses. Ten new mass-vaccination centres have now opened in England. People in England aged 70 or over, and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals, are now receiving offers of a vaccine this week, adding more than five million people to those scheduled to receive the vaccine before mid-February.

Archbishop Welby received his first shot of the Covid-19 vaccine on Saturday, in his capacity as a volunteer member of the chaplaincy team at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. He has worked periodically at St Thomas’ during the pandemic, offering spiritual care and support to patients, staff, and visitors.

He said on Monday: “Staff across the NHS, and health workers across the world, are under immense pressure on the front lines of this pandemic. They deserve not just our admiration but our support — and getting the vaccine when we have the opportunity is something we can all do to help relieve the burden on them.

“To everyone in this country and across the world, I want to say please, please accept the invitation to get the jab when it comes, and encourage everyone around you to do the same.”

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