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Easter Day services at Canterbury Cathedral viewed 1.3 million times

09 April 2021

Churches and cathedrals harness new online worshipping communities


The Archbishop of Canterbury celebrates the eucharist in his cathedral on Easter morning

The Archbishop of Canterbury celebrates the eucharist in his cathedral on Easter morning

THE Easter Day services at Canterbury Cathedral, which were broadcast on national television and radio on Sunday, have been viewed at least 1.3 million times on BBC and Church of England platforms since the weekend.

The two morning services, at which the Archbishop of Canterbury presided and preached (see separate story), had a choir but no congregation, owing to the current coronavirus restrictions. They were broadcast live on BBC1, Radio 4, local radio, and iPlayer — the first time on all platforms — and live-streamed on the C of E website and social-media platforms. The boys’ choir and lay clerks sang live; music from the girls’ choir and the gospel choir was pre-recorded.

The BBC1 broadcast has been viewed 700,000 times — almost double the figure for the last time the BBC broadcast an Easter service, in 2019, when 400,000 tuned in. This was similar to the Christmas Day service 2020, which had a BBC audience of 786,000. A further 606,000 people have viewed the Easter Day service on C of E platforms (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube). Listening figures for individual programmes on Radio 4 are not measured, but Church House, Westminster, estimates that the service had 600,000 listeners on BBC Local Radio.

The head of digital for the C of E, Amaris Cole, said: “We cannot wait for a time when we all worship together once again, but it has been really encouraging so many people have joined together to celebrate Easter with worship from Canterbury Cathedral in their own homes. This is the first time that Easter worship has been broadcast across so many platforms. . . This is just one small part of a much larger picture; thousands of services up and down the country have celebrated Easter in different ways — both online and in person.”

Christopher LockwoodThe congregation at Lichfield Cathedral hold candles lit from the Easter Fire at an Easter Eve service

All other Holy Week services live-streamed from Canterbury Cathedral have been viewed 244,400 times — mostly in the United States (33 per cent) and the UK (32 per cent). Some of these were also online only to allow for a choir; a congregation of 120 people was permitted for cantor-led services, including the Easter Day sung eucharist in the evening.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, Canterbury Cathedral has released about 800 worship videos, which have been viewed more than six million times on YouTube and social media. Its YouTube subscribers have increased by more than 16,000 — almost 1000 per cent — thanks, in part, to video reflections from the Dean, the Very Revd Robert Willis, filmed in his garden and featuring cats drinking milk or disappearing under his cassock (News, 29 May 2020).

Other cathedrals have also gathered new online worshipping communities. The Easter Day eucharist in York Minster, where the choir was socially distanced, was attended by 106 people, with 3591 online views; solemn evensong allowed for 120 in the congregation, and more than 4000 watched online.

The Canon Pastor of York Minster, Canon Michael Smith, said that its Holy Week services had had “special resonance” during the pandemic. “We reflected on isolation, fear, and mortality. On Easter Day . . . we were looking out of a dark tomb to a renewed life that will be lived far better in the future.”

Easter services at Truro Cathedral were watched by 3800 people, most of whom (2700) tuned in after the live stream had ended. The annual Proclaiming of the Easter Light service, which was live-streamed via Facebook, has accrued almost 1000 views since Easter Day. Music by the cathedral choir was recorded separately, as just 51 people were able to attend in-person services.

Friends of Coventry CathedralA 650-metre-long Chain of Hope decorates Coventry Cathedral on Easter Day and remains in situ this month. The paper chains, said to be a UK record for length, were created by volunteers working for the charity Share, which supports disadvantaged children in Transylvania, one of the poorest regions of Europe

The Dean of Truro, the Very Revd Roger Bush, said: “Due to lockdown regulations, this Easter’s services had about them a spare quality which actually made them more poignant and, in their own way, more beautiful and meaningful. . . The celebration of Easter may have been more muted than usual, but its deeper significance shone out in ways that were both unexpected and a sign of God’s grace and love for us all.”

Salisbury Cathedral has been a Covid vaccination centre since January (News, 22 January); but the programme was suspended for Holy Week and Easter to make room for worship: 60 people attended the dawn paschal vigil, and 160 people attended the main services on Good Friday on Easter Day. More than 2800 watched these and other Holy Week services online.

The Dean of Salisbury, the Very Revd Nicholas Papadopulos, said: “It was wonderful to be back in the cathedral ‘in person’ this year. Of course, we would have loved a full return to normal. There is nothing more glorious than a cathedral congregation in full voice, but our combination of ‘in person’ and live streamed/recorded services were well attended.”

Southwell Minster services were live-streaming from Palm Sunday. While congregation numbers were restricted to between 20 and 50 people in the cathedral during Holy Week, an average of 150 people watched online.

Diocese of ExeterThis sand art on Bigbury Beach, near Modbury, Devon, seen from a drone, was created by the farmer John Tucker with his tractor, and inspired by the Revd Matt Rowland. The “#TPWK” stands for Treat People With Kindness

More than 300 people visited the sermon by the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Williams, which could be watched on the diocesan website. About 160 people attended a children and families activity in the grounds of the Minster on Good Friday morning.

The Dean of Southwell, the Very Revd Nicola Sullivan, said: “We are hugely encouraged by the wider participation of worshippers and their very positive feedback. So many appreciate the experience of ‘live’, and feeling as if they are there in the minster. . . Despite many restrictions, it has been a profound and joyous Easter which we will never forget.”

Bradford Cathedral also reopened for in-person worship on Palm Sunday. On Easter Day, people had to be turned away as they exceeded the permitted numbers, but all its services were live-streamed. This would continue after normal attendance resumed, dependent on funding, the Dean, the Very Revd Jerry Lepine, said.

“Clearly, people were very pleased to be back in the cathedral, and Easter certainly felt more positive than Christmas. At that stage, most people knew what was coming, I think. Like Christmas, we sang outside in the Close at the end of the service, although we also had lay clerks singing inside.”

Ian Faulds & Chris LockeThe sunrise that greeted those attending the dawn service on Easter Day at Cape Pembroke, on the Falkland Islands

Similar numbers were recorded at Ripon Cathedral, where the first large services since Christmas were held. Each also had singing by three lay clerks. The Dean, the Very Revd John Dobson, said: “We have had the most wonderful Holy Week and Easter. It was clear that everyone really valued being back with others in a cathedral full of liturgy and music.”

Other churches, such as the Temple Church, in London, also pre-recorded their main Easter services without a congregation. As elsewhere, it is expected that services will continue to be recorded after congregations are permitted to return at full capacity. This is likely to be from 21 June, when the Government plans to lift all social restrictions.

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