Churches across the UK will ‘begin an entirely new way of doing things’ this morning as they prepare to deliver Sunday services to mass audiences online amid social distancing efforts to tackle the coronavirus.
Both the Church of England and Church of Scotland have now banned mass worship and will be leading services on social media platforms such as Facebook.
This is while Catholic churches are adopting a similar approach to encourage people to maintain social distance to slow the spread of the virus.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will also be broadcasting a service on BBC Radio today.
As more and more people start to implement social distancing measures the Reverend David Meakin said the church was having to work out ‘an entirely new way of doing things’.
‘The Second World War didn’t shut the churches, but this has, so we’re in day three of trying to work out what we’re going to do,’ he said.
Mr Meakin is part of a rural team of parishes near Aylesbury comprising 11 churches who will be broadcasting morning prayer and Eucharist services online from this Sunday.
Mr Meakin is unsure, however, whether the streams will be used by all parishioners.
‘We will put stuff online, but I don’t know how much take-up there will be, because a proportion of our people are relatively old,’ he said.
‘They don’t go on to the internet, it’s not a place that they go.’
Still, Mr Meakin says it is important to maintain a church presence for as long as possible.
‘Stick a laptop somewhere and you can broadcast on Facebook within seconds, it’s very straightforward, even if it won’t be high quality,’ he said. ‘This is sustainable.
‘I think some will value it – frankly, even if a few access it, it’s still worth doing.’
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will broadcast a service on BBC local radio today, and other denominations are making similar plans.
The Most Rev Justin Welby said the UK is caught between the need to ‘keep life going’ and ‘necessary imposed isolation’ amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The service featured prayers, hymns recorded by St Martin’s Voices from St Martin-In-The-Fields, and a short sermon.
Introducing the service, the archbishop said: ‘Good morning to all of you in this strange and difficult time in the life of our world.
‘Today is Mothering Sunday, a day when, traditionally, all went back to their mother church, to the place where they were nurtured, loved and formed into the ways of God.
‘Nowadays, of course, we also often celebrate Mother’s Day, a day to thank those who have mothered us in all the ways that we needed to be cared for.
‘It is usually a day of celebration, when we draw together with family and loved ones.
‘And so this day is a strange one for those of us in the United Kingdom and indeed in most of the world, where we are drawn between our need to keep life going, to celebrate relationships and kindness, and the fear and the necessary imposed isolation that we face.
‘This is a day when we are not able to go and see those we love, or care for loved ones considered to be vulnerable or at risk.’
Mr Welby said the service had been recorded at Lambeth Palace ‘with the absolutely minimum number of staff keeping appropriate social distancing and no congregation’.
He urged people to think about how they can care for those around them.
‘At difficult times we have a choice,’ he said.
‘We can focus on fear, on ourselves and what we cannot do. Or we can turn to God and let God lead us into praying for the world, and let prayer flow into us, taking creative and loving action.
‘That’s what we want to do today, to remind ourselves that life carries on and that there is much to celebrate in our communities.
‘To listen to the voice of God’s caring love for us, and his encouragement to turn ourselves towards others, and how we can care for those around us, in person or virtually.’
He concluded: ‘Today we are separated in space but we are still worshipping together before God.’
The service also featured prayers for ‘those without adequate medical resources’, ‘those facing war’ and the ‘challenges of Covid-19’.
The Mothering Sunday service, recorded in the crypt chapel at Lambeth Palace in London, was broadcast across 39 local BBC radio stations.
The Church of Scotland has a list of 40 churches that share their services online in some way.
Catholic dioceses have also made their plans, with Shrewsbury Cathedral among those that will be broadcasting Mass.
In a letter to the congregation, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon said: ‘During these disturbing and threatening times, the rhythm of the prayer of the Church will continue.’
One London church, St Martin-In-The-Fields, has already begun online worship, and says there has been an enthusiastic response, with audiences of more than 1,000 people for morning prayer and lunchtime services – far more people than can physically fit in the church.
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