'Churches have closed their doors for the first time, something they never did during the Blitz'
'Churches have closed their doors for the first time, something they never did during the Blitz' Credit:  Peter Vahlersvik

Last Easter Day, at our village church in rural Hertfordshire, there were 30 people at the dawn service, and 100 at the 11am service. After an uplifting finale of This joyful Eastertide三级成人视频, including a 25-strong choir, the children dashed out of the door to begin the Easter egg hunt. For adults, there was tea and coffee, with Simnel cake, made by the local Mary Berry.

Today, there will be no joyful gathering. All last week’s events were cancelled三级成人视频: the Good Friday Reflections; the Maundy Thursday Chrism services, where Diocesan clergy renew their ordination vows; Last Supper ‘bring and share’ meals; the Holy Week Compline services… Even our planned Palm Sunday procession, last weekend; its star, Dylan the lovable but bloody-minded donkey, was furloughed. In theory, we could have processed safely, using two metre-social distancing, but it wasn't an “essential journey”. It couldn’t have counted as exercise, with a large group of people from different households. And we wouldn’t have been able to enter the church when we got there.  

Lockdown has not only pressed the pause button on public life, the churches that offer refuge and solace have closed their doors for the first time, something they never did during the Blitz. It’s interesting how many people have said they want to go and sit in a church when they aren't open. Like having a craving for soft cheese when you’re pregnant and it’s banned.  

三级成人视频For some older people, church is the only time in the week when someone touches them. This Easter, their vicar is not allowed to come near them, in case the pernicious virus is transferred, let alone shake their hand. Unhappily, even funerals cannot currently be held in church. At this time when people are dying, Easter – the most important church festival – feels particularly significant. So, how can a 'not-in-church’ Easter connect the isolated in a cheering way?

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby recording his Easter Sunday sermon in the kitchen of his flat at Lambeth Palace Credit: Caroline Welby/PA

Many church leaders have piled into live-streaming their services from lockdown. Today on Facebook at 9am (and at 8.10am on Radio 4), the Archbishop of Canterbury will celebrate Easter from his kitchen. A friend forwarded the link to the St Margaret’s Putney Facebook page, recommending her 'brilliant' vicar’s online services.  

Could this create an embarrassing phenomenon of clergy getting over-excited about the number of views and retweets?  "Figures are best ignored", says Putney’s Reverend Green, "but I feel it’s made a new connection - perhaps because people are restless at home, or find their days lacking structure?  Or because they’ve suddenly found themselves with more time to reflect on life, and are more aware of their mortality and the needs of those around them? I’m noticing that people who wouldn’t physically turn up to Evening Prayer, are telling me they joined me online.  I sense that more people feel the value of having someone to pray for them in difficult times, and are saying their prayers, too.”

My own Rector, on Easter Day, is offering a choice of YouTube pre-recorded service, and interactive Zoom service. What will my family be doing? I’m not sure. My self-isolating parents can’t be with us. My twenty-something children are tech-friendly; but somehow, I don’t fancy my chances of persuading them to participate, although they might have come to church.  

三级成人视频Could watching the Rector on YouTube feel detached, like attending a service on your own? Speaking as an embarrassed Anglican, might it feel even more clunky, “not very British”, to participate on Zoom? Vanity of vanities, I’m not keen to display to my neighbours that, after several weeks in isolation from the hairdresser, I look like the Wild Woman of Borneo.

三级成人视频I run the village choir, which has a floating cast of over 40 people. This year, everyone is at home and unusually available; but I've been uncertain about attempting virtual music. We’re all dealing with lockdown differently, one day at a time. Professional choirs, such as Oxford Bach Soloists, are embracing (professional) technology. Yet a village choir's recording might sound hick and hideous, or be an enormous effort, only to be watched by three men and a dog. There’s a delay on Zoom; and, if there’s one thing any choir needs, it’s for the singers to be in time together...  

Moreover, not all our singers could join in. The snag of online services is, they don’t work for everyone. The Covid-19 crisis highlights society's divisions. It has made vicars more aware that many households don’t have internet or mobiles, even in central zones of London. Elderly people, the most under threat from the coronavirus, are the most likely to be sustained by faith during social isolation. However, they are also least likely to be technologically savvy, or to join WhatsApp groups. Even if they have WiFi, they may quickly give up if a connection buffers, assuming that their ineptitude is the problem. How do you reach the isolated who can't connect themselves?  

Until now, I've seen it as a disadvantage that you can’t go to a village church and be anonymous. You get swept up and put on multiple rotas, only to be rebuked when you forget to do the flowers, read the lesson, mow the churchyard, make the tea… The vicar can’t do everything, because he is geographically challenged and stretched for resources. Yet, in a crisis, our church network has this blessing for the old: the vicar “'knows where you live”.  

Our Rector has five rural parishes to cover. A map of where everybody lives, which he created for himself when he arrived, has been invaluable for the newly-created village WhatsApp groups.  He has been holding Zoom meetings about the vulnerable, telephoning people and asking others to do so. The goals are food, good physical health and good mental health for those in most need.    

The church acts as a focus for coronavirus volunteering in our village, although not all volunteers are churchgoers. Messages are being conveyed by landline, which many retired people find preferable to texting or mobiles. Look at the Queen holding her weekly audience with the Prime Minister (until his hospitalisation) on a retro cream dial telephone.

It's not always obvious how much churches are helping. For our Rector – as for us all – the goalposts have been moving and he has to deal with multiple needs and communication methods. Like GPs, vicars are receiving a flow of information from HQ, which they have to stay on top of. He spent three days working out how to live stream services from all five church buildings; then, the buildings were closed. Back to the drawing board, to start working out how to stream from the vicarage. 

Reverend Green of St Margaret's, Putney Credit: Chris Skarratt

三级成人视频He says: “Fellow clergy are commenting that, although churches are shut, we’ve never felt so busy. I’m not alone in spending more than 12 hours a day preparing broadcast and online material (such as a YouTube link showing children how to make an Easter Garden), to keep a local flavour of worship going – at the same time as ‘phoning round the elderly and isolated, updating the website to keep schools and communities connected and motivated, while also trying to maintain a prayer routine.” 

In some ways, clergy are in the front line/key worker category, still a crucial figure to turn to in a time of distress. Locked-down elderly people, living alone, are saying: “Thank goodness for our vicar.” He is telephoning them, organising volunteers to do their shopping and collect prescriptions. Esther, aged 91, who has no internet access, told me that until I emailed her GP’s surgery, with a request for her repeat prescriptions, she’d been having sleepless nights because she couldn’t get through to them on the phone. Esther said it was “absolutely wonderful” to be helped and that she hopes “people’s enthusiasm will last”.    

It is especially heartening to hear of the young helping the old and lonely. It is interesting to see older people putting rainbows, the Biblical symbol of hope after Noah’s Flood, up in their windows, and teddies for children to wave to on their daily walks. The old, watching from the window, can watch the children of one family collecting food supplies from the pub with a wheelbarrow, acting as the village Ocado.  

三级成人视频Those who want to help relieve the financial hardship created by lockdown, can also ask their vicar how they can help. People have more time to reflect; are unable to spend money on travel or socialising; there is a raising of social conscience and an opportunity to make a real difference. One Gloucestershire vicar says: ‘I'm touched by how many of the older and more vulnerable people want to give away their food packages to young families in financial hardship. Some of the wealthier people have been overwhelmingly generous, with thousands of pounds given to create a Covid-19 relief fund. A local organic meat producer also donated huge quantities of beef.”

三级成人视频Some of the donated beef was delivered to the recipients raw, but many preferred to have a meal cooked for them by the vicar’s wife (observing hygiene standards and social distancing). Today, volunteers will deliver 100 cooked meals free of charge to those in need in the area: beef with potatoes and veg, a pudding, flowers, a palm cross and Easter eggs, and a note with information about the Covid-19 relief fund.  

三级成人视频A church in Kent expresses Jesus’s response to the economic crisis thus: “I will bring together neighbours, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to trust me… not the world… not their money and material resources.”  It seems like the perfect Christian response to these troubled times, despite that the horror of the situation is added to by the constant worry whether every plan to help others will be safe…. whether it is safe to distribute soup lunches, or even to get people’s shopping.  

三级成人视频Tackling the problems which flow from the coronavirus is a huge challenge for small rural churches with limited resources, but adaptability is key. In the three weeks since lockdown, churches have evolved more quickly than they might have done in years, in terms of their online presence and ability to attract volunteers.  

Whether they will remain placed to respond, is another question. Like many others in the charity sector, churches, which are funded by their own congregations, will suffer financially during lockdown. Rev. Green estimates that, with no rental for the church hall, no concerts and other events in church to bring in revenue, and no collection plate (another snag of virtual services), his church will lose £20,000 in income over three months. Having lost the ability to fundraise in conventional ways – who would want to attend a social distancing fete? – most churches will be severely hit, unless they can hope to increase standing orders, online donations and legacies.      

三级成人视频So far, our parish churches’ role in ‘community’ response, and creating Covid relief funds to alleviate suffering, has been under-acknowledged. A vicar’s wife tells me that the Greek name ‘Ekklesia’ (Church) translates as ‘gathering’ and that ’together at home’ presents opportunities for churches to show care and love, to prove the reach and value of the national parish network. 

三级成人视频Love is physical; the absence of physical closeness is hard; I miss seeing my parents in lockdown. But Granny has learned to FaceTime with her grandchildren; new connections are being made. Our church website now has links to a Zoom tutorial and how to download Messenger. Its website also now connects to the pub’s pop-up shop, the milkmen, local veg box-deliverers and the Citizens Advice Bureau.  

What the churches offer this Easter Day need not be perfect. There is a general sense in a dire situation that we need to work together, celebrating what is good, and the right to criticise or want something different has been suspended (which I suspect will cut many a vicar a bit of slack).  

Congregations cannot, this year, gather under the same roof. Yet the Gloucestershire vicar describes freedom from building care as liberating: “By engaging in the community response to Covid-19, I have talked with more non-churchgoing people, in a few days, than I had previously in months”. A time of crisis offers a chance for the Church of England to serve as a church for the whole nation.  Not just a club for the Sunday few.