Devon’s churches embrace weekend of weddings and worship
Churches in Devon are holding their first weddings and public services in their buildings since March, following a change in the government’s coronavirus guidance.
From 4 July, weddings with up to 30 people present will be permitted.
The Reverend Sue Astbury is conducting a wedding at St Nicholas Church in Shaldon on Saturday.
“The signing of the register will go ahead but with extra precautions, for example hand sanitizer will be used on the pen in between each person signing.”
She said “I’m really thrilled that the wedding can go ahead as this is the date that the couple wanted. It’s great it can happen and such a privilege to lead it.”
Sue said the pews in the Sixteenth Century church were being moved to accommodate the couple’s 12 guests safely.
“Originally the church would have been packed as it’s a local couple, the organ would have been played and there would have been hymns.”
Congregational singing is not currently permitted because it is thought to pose a higher risk of coronavirus transmission.
Couples re-booking church weddings
Instead, music will be played to accompany the bride down the aisle and after the service.
The exchanging of the rings will go ahead as normal and a friend of the groom has written and recorded a poem which will be played to the couple as he can’t be there in person.
Sue said “The signing of the register will go ahead but with extra precautions, for example hand sanitiser will be used on the pen in between each person signing.”
Sue said it was an interesting aspect of the law that “legally somebody has to be able to come in and object to the wedding so a place will have to be left for them.”
The Reverend Edward Hobbs, who is conducting a wedding at the much bigger St Andrew’s Church in Cullompton, said “We were probably one of the last churches to hold a wedding before lockdown in March and now we are one of the first to be able to hold one again.
“There is a nice symmetry to that.”
He said there was “a lovely intimacy” to just having a small number of guests in the church.
The wedding on Saturday is being livestreamed to enable friends and family who cannot be there to witness it.
The Reverend Hobbs said another three wedding couples had already rebooked their weddings in the church over the summer.
Elsewhere, vicars are getting ready to hold their first public Sunday services since Mothering Sunday.
Rising to the challenge
The Bishop of Exeter, the Right Reverend Robert Atwell, said, “It is great that, in parallel with the hospitality industry, our church buildings can once again be open for worship and demonstrate the welcome and hospitality of God to all people.
“In Devon we have been making preparations about how to re-open our buildings safely for some time.
Not all will be ready to hold regular services immediately, but we are rising to the challenge.
“We want our churches to be the praying heart of the local communities we serve.”
The Reverend Gary Owen, who oversees 11 churches, is preparing to livestream his service from St Giles in the Wood in North Devon.
He said “It’s the first Sunday back and not everyone can be there. We wanted the service to be a shared experience.
“We’re keen to make a statement to our local community that we are here for them.
“We’re apprehensive but excited about giving it a go and excited about celebrating Communion together again.”
Like many rural churches, St Giles in the Wood has no internet connection, so livestreaming the service will be done from a laptop connected to a mobile phone.
The Church of England has issued detailed guidance about social distancing and how churches should be cleaned.
It is up to individual churches to decide the maximum number of people able to come to a service depending on the size of the building.
Exeter Cathedral, which is holding four Sunday services, is operating a ticketing system to ensure the right numbers.
“We are united but separated”
The Reverend Tom Benson, Rector of St Luke’s Church, Buckfastleigh, is planning a service of Morning Prayer on Sunday.
He said, “Reopening our churches for worship is a mixture of things, a step towards getting back to normality while at the same time being a step into the unknown.
“Our forms of worship are both familiar and different; our gathering is being together but apart.
“We are united but separated by distance in church and of course by an even greater distance with those who are still needing to isolate.
“It is a big challenge, which we must approach prayerfully and carefully.
“However, I am really thankful to our congregations for the way in which they understand the challenges and are supportive as we move forward.”
A number of churches are choosing to continue holding services online this weekend rather than in the church building.
For some, this is because they want to make sure all the correct safety measures are in place before opening for worship or because a large number of their congregations are over 70.
For others, the logistics of ensuring social distancing, the lack of singing and the challenges of ensuring a warm welcome for families, children and visitors, means they would rather wait a while.
In a poll, 81% of Devon’s clergy said they were planning to resume services in their church buildings over the next few weeks.
97% of them said they would also be continuing online services into the future.