St. Cuthbert’s during the COVID-19 Pandemic

As COVID-19 spread across Europe, it became apparent that the UK would be affected. By the beginning of March 2020, some precautions were in place.

Sunday 8 MarchHand-gel was provided at St. Cuthbert’s for the first time, and after Mass there was a session in the parish room, to ensure people could access the website and the Facebook page and sign up for the e-bulletin, so that we would be able to keep in touch if the church had to close due to a lockdown.
15 MarchWe introduced more measures, including paper sheets instead of hymn books, no sign of peace and communion under one kind only, and there was no coffee after Mass.
Wednesday 18 MarchThe Bishops’ Conference announced that there would be no public Masses, but that churches could be kept open for private prayer. We put together a rota of stewards, and set up a Facebook group so that people could chat and share their experiences.

First Lockdown (23 March 2020)

  • I assumed it would be just for a couple of weeks
  • Going out to walk the dog was frightening, lonely – it was so quiet
  • Missing the presence of people, particularly difficult for those living on their own
  • There was an eerie feeling when you were out – people were avoiding each other
  • I was contacted by people from the parish, and others too, to ask if I needed help. The younger generation turned out to be very kind
  • The whole world was obeying regulations, but experiencing kindness too

Was it very isolating for the clergy?

I never felt isolated. The Bishop phoned priests regularly to support them, I’m fortunate in having a good network of family and friends, and there are worse places to be locked down than in the middle of Durham

Fr. Andrew

Church closed

Friday 20 MarchThe last service before lockdown was Vespers for the Feast of St. Cuthbert, . There was a small congregation, as many people were already staying at home.
The restrictions at first allowed us to keep the church open for private prayer. Several people joined the rota for stewards, and people did visit the church to pray and to light a candle, but restrictions were tightened after only a few days.
27 MarchPope Francis delivered his ‘Urbi et Orbi’ message to the world from a deserted piazza in front of St. Peter’s, in the pouring rain.
Palm Sunday (5 April)Fr. Andrew put a photograph in the Facebook group of blessed palms in front of the altar.
7 AprilFirst Journey in Faith meeting on Zoom
The Easter TriduumFr. Andrew used Facebook live for Maundy Thursday’s watching before the tabernacle, the Office of Readings on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and to read the Easter Sunday gospel and share his reflections. Alison McLean posted recordings of the music, made by the choir, in the Facebook group and Margaret Doyle shared photos of the church decorated for Easter in earlier years.
Sunday 19 AprilFr. Andrew started the Gospel Reflection Zoom calls, with the readings of the day, Fr, Andrew’s reflections, the opportunity for discussion and finishing with the bidding prayers. During lockdown, approx. 45 people joined the call every week.
Saturday 2 MayThe first Virtual Coffee Morning on Zoom, a weekly event for everyone to share how they were coping with lockdown, and for us all to keep in touch.
  • Shock at the churches closing – it was very difficult to process, a terrific blow
  • It was unthinkable that churches would close
  • The last event was sung vespers for the Feast of St. Cuthbert, and then there was disruption
  • Tried the on-line Mass from Cathedral, then parishes we had previously lived in
  • Joined Mass at Blackfriars on-line as there was a sense of community 
  • Went to the Cathedral, but it felt cold – I opted for somewhere where there was a congregation
  • We went to Ampleforth, and to the Pope’s Masses from Santa Martha
  • There is a temptation to do the ironing – you can’t do that in church!
  • It was a comfort that Mass was still going on even though we couldn’t be there

Watching Mass on-line was not the same thing at all, which was enlightening:

Saying Mass by myself, in the absence of a congregation, was a weird experience. Ministry only makes sense when you are ministering to a community

Fr. Andrew

There was a mishap with changing the candle in the sanctuary lamp, and it couldn’t be fixed until after lockdown. It was a sign of everything being off balance.

  • Zoom: none of us knew what it was
  • We had lessons in how Facebook worked
  • The photos and the chat in the Facebook group really helped

The Gospel Reflections made a huge difference to my faith

  • With the Gospel Reflections, Fr. Andrew invented a community on screen which was really valuable, hugely helpful
  • Gospel Reflections – really looked forward to them during dreadful weeks. Long may they continue!
  • It was wonderful and interesting to get to know people and their views during the discussions
  • It was different – even if you’d been on Zoom all week for work. Great to hear the recordings of the choir and impressed by the effort that went in to produce them. And to have the bidding prayers as part of the reflection
  • Zoom far more interactive than live-streaming on YouTube
  • The Gospel Reflection made me think about the parish differently
  • Some of the people who joined us (inc. from the US) were energised to start similar things in their own parishes

Re-opening the church

July 2020At the beginning of July, the Diocese started to assess churches for re-opening, implementing various requirements such as cleaning regimes, one-way systems and distancing which reduced the capacity at St. Cuthbert’s to about 45 people, so people had to book to come to Mass.
9 JulyPPC met on Zoom to discuss re-opening
15 JulyDeep clean of the church
21 JulyA wedding took place, with 30 guests
27 JulyChurch started to open for private prayer, with cleaning taking place after each opening
2 AugustFirst public Mass in church, with no music, bidding prayers or sign of peace
7 AugustFirst funeral since re=opening
  • Such a relief to come home to our own church and see our community. Like an anchorage after so much disorientation
  • Attending again made the Eucharist more meaningful. We were yearning for spiritual nourishment
  • Interesting to see the pared down liturgy when we first returned. Lovely simplicity.
  • It felt safe to be back in the church: the one-way system, etc., couldn’t have been better
  • When I saw the scale of what needed to be done to re-open, I wondered ‘can we manage that?’. But s many parishioners and students stepped up.
  • Was it ‘over-safe’? Did we really need to clean all the benches quite so much?
  • I enjoyed the cleaning, making it possible for people to attend in safety was a pleasure. But sometimes it was the same few people cleaning while others socialised.
  • Booking for Mass was like a connection with the generations of the past when people paid pew rent!
  • Restricted numbers meant people were very visible and we got to know them despite the masks. Were some of these people always there but lost in the crowd?
  • Welcoming people, checking they had booked and showing them to seats meant we got to know them, and sometimes introduced them to the people they were going to sit next to.
  • A friend’s funeral was so difficult
  • We had to arrange the funeral for my sister, a nun, where usually it would have been mostly arranged by the order
  • In normal times there is support for the bereaved and help in the grieving process. There is a huge backlog of grief and loss
  • The heartbreak of people having to postpone weddings

Second lockdown

3 SeptemberPPC made the decision to go ahead with live-streaming
OctoberNational restrictions tightening again.
More on-line events: Lauds on weekday mornings, Rosary for October, a series of talks on the Spirituality of the religious orders.
27 OctoberStart of new Journey in Faith programme – this programme was run entirely on line
8 November (Remembrance Sunday)First Sunday of the second lockdown when there was no public Mass at St. Cuthbert’s. ‘For the Fallen’ and 2 minutes silence on the Gospel Reflection Zoom call.
6 DecemberSunday Mass resumes
Advent Service put together by the choir and posted in the Facebook Group
24 DecemberFirst live-streaming of Mass from St. Cuthbert’s.  Social gathering and singing in church still not allowed but the congregation stood around the outdoor crib to sing Silent Night after Mass
  • Live streaming was a great investment. You can watch if you are away, and people who can’t get to church can still log on, even after the pandemic.
  • Journey in Faith wouldn’t have been possible without Zoom – how quickly people made things happen!

Continuing restrictions and the future

Lent 2021Stations of the Cross on Zoom
17 March (Ash Wednesday)Ashes sprinkled on the congregation rather than foreheads marked with a cross.
23 MarchFirst anniversary of lockdown marked with a day of prayer and an hour before the Blessed Sacrament
28 March (Palm Sunday)No procession from the garden. Music provided by 3 members of the choir standing in the Lady Chapel
1 April (Maundy Thursday)No washing of feet
2 April (Good Friday)Reading of the Passion, but no veneration of the Cross
Easter SundayMusic from the organ
20 MayReturn of the Bidding Prayers
19 JulyNationally most restrictions lifted. Cautious guidance from our Diocese remains, but congregational singing starts again, and distancing is relaxed, so our capacity increases, and booking no longer necessary.
30 January 2022Reintroduction of sign of peace

We missed the singing. When the choir and the organ eventually started again, my heart leapt

  • In the future we need to think about a hybrid approach, getting back to face to face but also using on-line for those who aren’t mobile and for when the weather is bad!
  • Talks are particularly good with an on-line / recorded option. Discussions are harder to manage when some people are on-line and some in the room.
  • Facebook, Zoom and live-streaming help us reach the housebound, but they may need some help to get on-line. Do the care homes know how to access Mass on-line?
  • A lot of people joined our parish Facebook group although we really don’t know them
  • The parish is not just those committed people who were able to join all the lockdown activities. How do we convince the rest of them to talk with us?

It will be a long time before everyone is confident to come back to church

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