Churches across the UK are preparing to deliver Sunday services to mass audiences over the internet today amid efforts to fight Covid-19.
The Church of England and Church of Scotland have now both banned mass worship, while Catholic churches are adopting a similar approach to encourage people to maintain social distance to slow the spread of the virus.
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.
This #MotheringSunday we're calling all churches to a National Day of Prayer and Action.— Archbishop of Canterbury (@JustinWelby) March 19, 2020
At 7pm, light a candle as a symbol of the light of life, Jesus Christ, our source and hope in prayer: https://t.co/ymGz1233L5#CandleOfHope #coronavirus #ChurchesTogether pic.twitter.com/QvA26gPFQh
“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.
As UK faith leaders, we appeal again to our communities: please do not gather physically in groups - it puts lives at risk. Pray at home, connect online, love and support those in need.#coronavirus #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/xWNePJEplk— Archbishop of Canterbury (@JustinWelby) March 21, 2020
“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 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.