Sunday worship moves online

(Photo: Church of England)

Churches across the nation are livestreaming Sunday services into the homes of worshippers in an unprecedented shift following widespread restrictions on movement imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Worshippers are replacing their usual trip to churches and cathedrals this Mother's Day by tuning in to live broadcasts through TVs, laptops, computers and mobile phones. 

The switch to live broadcasts coincides with a National Day of Prayer and Action that has united the major denominations in the UK. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury was today leading the Church of England's first national virtual service, which was to be broadcast simultaneously at 8am on the 39 local BBC radio stations in England and as BBC Radio 4's Sunday worship, before being broadcast on Facebook through the Church of England's page at 9am. 

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu will be livestreaming 10-minute prayer sessions on his Facebook page at 10am, 12 noon, 4pm and 6pm on Sunday, which will include the Lord's Prayer and two Taizé Chants. 

Peterborough Cathedral is one of the many cathedrals across the UK livestreaming its services, with a Holy Communion today to mark Mothering Sunday that includes pre-recorded music from the choir. The cathedral will also light candles in memory of those whose mothers are no longer alive. 

In light of stringent social distancing measures introduced by the Government last week, the Church of England has been working to expand its range of digital and print resources to support parishioners in their worship at home. 

In the last few days, its digital team has hosted webinars with around 200 churches on how to use digital platforms to continue reaching their communities, while more than 300 livestreaming services have been added to, the Church of England's church-finder website. 

It has also made its "Time to Pray" app free of charge. The app offers simple prayers and an accompanying audio on SoundCloud and iTunes.

Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford and successor to Dr Sentamu as Archbishop of York when he retires in June, said: "The Church has never been a building, it has always been a people.

"We are about to discover what that means.

"From this Sunday onward the Church will meet as usual, but it won't be happening in our buildings.

"It will be happening in our hearts and in our homes."

Other denominations have made similar changes, with the Catholic Church in England and Wales signposting worshippers to a 24/7 livestream from the National Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, where recordings of past services have also been made available. 

Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Malcolm McMahon said in a joint letter to parishes: ""In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, so many aspects of our lives must change. This includes the ways in which we publicly express our faith." 

The Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) has been running training webinars this last week on how churches can use Zoom to livestream their services. 

It has set up a resource page with handy tips and links for churches making the jump to digital for the first time, which encourages them to remember those who are less digitally connected. 

"Think too of older and more traditional technologies," it says.

A regular email, text message or phone call can help people feel connected, particularly those who may not be on social media and have limited access to technology.

"Indeed, give particular consideration to this group, who may feel the impact of social isolation more acutely," it says. 

With no end to the coronavirus pandemic in sight, the BUGB is encouraging churches to take a long-term view of these changes. 

"With restrictions on physical gatherings likely to be in place for some time, online gathering is set to become the new normal for our churches," it said. 

The Methodist Church has produced a resource page with service sheets for those worshipping at home, and links to livestreamed services.  Wesley's Chapel in London is just one of the Methodist churches across the country livestreaming its regular services, which have been adapted for no physical congregation. They are being broadcast each week at:

Wednesday 12:45
Thursday 12:45
Sunday 9:45 and 11:00