April – No Joke

April was a month of creative endeavour in our cathedrals as they explored new and innovative ways to reach out to their communities and their visitors online.

It was the first time in living memory (in fact in 800 years) that our doors were locked for Holy Week.

The most special time in the Christian calendar. But that did not deter our cathedrals from being able to offer a rich daily programme of prayer, worship, reflections and meditation – including keeping the watch, a dawn service and lighting the Easter candle.

Lincoln Cathedral was illuminated in the colours of Holy Week every day from purple to white, before the lights went out completely for Good Friday and Holy Saturday and then turned gold for Easter Sunday.

Salisbury created an online pilgrimage which invited people to make a virtual journey mapping every nook and cranny of its building and offering pop-up windows revealing music, readings and prayer for every day of Holy Week.

In Lichfield, Artist in Residence, Peter Walker used social media to share a different photographic image each day of Holy Week using the front of the medieval three spired Gothic cathedral as his canvas.

The choristers of Bristol Cathedral sang together as usual on Easter Day – but this time from their own homes as a choir in lockdown, Bradford and Leicester cathedrals taught people how to create an Easter Garden, St Edmundsbury Cathedral invited people to Come and Sing Stainer’s Crucifix virtually, and there was a poem for every day of Holy Week from the poet in residence at Worcester Cathedral.

On Maundy Thursday Canterbury announced that its famous bell “Harry” will toll each evening until the threat of coronavirus recedes to say thank you to all those frontline workers and to remember each day’s victims around the world.

Every Thursday, Gloucester, Lincoln, Ripon and Rochester Cathedrals light up blue to chime in with the nation’s #ClapforourCarers initiative; cathedrals have created prayer walls, there are virtual candles to light at Lichfield, St Eds, and Coventry with more cathedrals poised to follow suit. Organists are giving short recitals from their living rooms, and Portsmouth Cathedral was one of the first to offer its congregation the chance to meet for coffee after worship using the app, Zoom.

This new #ChurchIsChanging campaign – underpinned by these 360 degree virtual online tours, potted history films, live streamed services, online prayer requests, online organ recitals, pastoral support on facebook as well as telephone trees for those not as digitally connected – has seen our cathedrals innovate to tell their story, share their worship and support widespread isolation during this lockdown.

Peterborough Cathedral announced its exciting National History Museum T Rex exhibition had been rescheduled for the same summer weeks in 2021; Lincoln announced its much anticipated flower festival would now take place at the end of July and York Minster promised a special memorial service to comfort relatives and friends bereaved during the Covid-19 pandemic later in the year.

And just as the month was closing, hope sprang eternal. Salisbury announced its resident peregrines had hatched their first, then second and then third chick in one day. Winchester and Norwich were one step ahead with chicks already hatched, and Wakefield sits waiting expectantly for their eggs to hatch any moment now…