A HYDE vicar has become an internet hit after live streaming of services and morning prayers during lockdown.
Such has been their popularity, the Rev Sheila O’Flaherty, from St Mary’s Newton with Flowery Field, explained they will be continued after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
The Rev O’Flaherty explained: “Since the church doors closed on March 17, Christians have found new ways to worship, and many churches have rapidly adopted new technology.
“It has been a success story, with four times as many people viewing a live streamed service over the past three months than would come through the doors on a Sunday morning.
“But despite this success, there is still a yearning to return to our buildings, which provide a place of quiet contemplation.”
Sunday and Wednesday morning services are lived streamed as are daily morning prayers, five days a week by the Rev O’Flaherty and the remaining two days by parishioners. Initially they were from the vicarage, but some are now coming from church again.
Services remain on Facebook for one week and can also be accessed on the church’s website.
Following the Government announcement that churches would be allowed to re-open for private prayer and funerals from June 15, St Mary allowed public access again from June 17 for private prayer will be each Wednesday between 4pm and 6pm.
The Rev O’Flaherty said: “I am delighted we have the blessing of the wider church to go ahead with a limited re-opening.
“The church must be a beacon of hope in these difficult times and being able to enter the church and pray will bring so much comfort to so many after three long months away.
“I am also very conscious of the pain that has been caused to so many people by the very necessary limitations imposed on mourners at Dukinfield Crematorium.
“Although social distancing will mean that we cannot have huge numbers of mourners, the size of the building will allow around 40 relatives to attend safely. It also means there is no limit to the length of a funeral.”
David Mayall, St Mary’s churchwarden, said: “As an NHS worker, it is foremost in my mind we opened the church in a safe way, and that is exactly what we have done.”
At St Barnabas’, Hattersley, the Rev Denise Hayes explained Covid-19 has provided some truly uplifting stories about human generosity.
But the vicar admitted that was far removed to when lockdown was imposed, explaining: “I was worried when I went into supermarkets and saw shelves stripped bare through panic buying.
“I cried and thought what has humanity come to? Fortunately, it has turned on its head and we have seen a very caring side of people.
“We have seen people providing meals for elderly neighbours and other things like picking up prescriptions and, thankfully, we have seen the best of people.”
The Rev Hayes explained coronavirus has impacted St Barnabas’ greatly saying it has been hard having the church closed.
But she has done her best to keep in touch with parishioners by holding Bible classes and a book club by the Zoom platform and dropping printed service sheets and sermons through the letterboxes of parishioners.
She has also been keeping in contact with parishioners by telephone but admitted it is hard for the most vulnerable in society who may not have internet access.
The Rev Hayes added the Church of England also has a telephone number for people to ring for worship, ideal for those who are not online.
Weddings and baptisms have been cancelled while funerals have proved challenging.
She said: “They have been hard as church services cannot take place and only 10 people can attend at the crematorium or graveside.
“Families are not able to have a grieving process which is difficult, though we are offering memorial services after lockdown has ended.
“It is hard providing pastoral care when you cannot meet families or give them a hug.”
The Rev Hayes added it was difficult for parishioners not being able to see family and friends, but they are a resilient group.
The Rev David Warner, from the Parish of Mossley which comprises St George’s and St John’s, shared many of the sentiments, praising the community spirit during lockdown.
“I have been incredibly impressed and found it empowering the way in which people have looked in on neighbours to see they are alright,” he said.
And he added there is a realisation this will be the ‘normal’ for some time.
The Rev Warner added he has been struck by the resilience of the public and of local shops and businesses which have adapted by promoting things line online deliveries.
He believes the children and young people have suffered most, explaining: “I am acutely aware from walking my dog the pressure on youngsters.
“This is an alien experience to be taken away from school and their friends with home schooling tough,” he said.
The work of the clergy has been affected with weddings and baptisms cancelled while funeral services can only take place at the crematorium or grave side.
He explained: “Funerals have been drastically different and, with the number of mourners restricted to 10, people have been turning out on the street to see the hearse pass.
“I have seen some moving departures, sights you would not normally see. It has been powerful to experience.
“Funeral directors have been an unsung profession and have done astonishingly well.”
The Rev Warner’s pastoral work in the community, which includes visits to schools and care homes, the sick and elderly, has also been curtailed, though he continues to keep contact by telephone wherever possible.
St Peter’s RC Church, Stalybridge, has had to postpone three weddings while baptisms are also having to be rearranged.
Father Philip Atkinson has been on the rota for funerals, admitting they have been challenging because of the Government restrictions.
“We have offered families a memorial mass or service after we get back to normal and virtually all have accepted. It will provide additional comfort for them,” he said.
Father Philip added the external work of the priest has been massively affected as he has been unable to visit the sick and elderly and those in care homes and hospital.
He is keeping in touch by telephone wherever possible and praised the Union of Catholic Mothers for their work caring for the vulnerable.
The Rev Eric Breeze, minister at Hyde Chapel and Flowery Field Church, added these are unprecedented times with services, weddings and baptisms cancelled.
He added involvement in the community, especially prevalent at Hyde Chapel, has also come to a standstill.
Hyde Chapel (Pictures thanks to http://www.unitarians.org.uk/hydechapel/)
The Rev Breeze added: “One or two parishioners are in care homes and my visits have come to a halt.
“I am trying to keep in contact with parishioners and finding different ways of serving the community, the best way being by telephone.
“I am looking forward to it coming to an end and getting back to normal.”
The Rev Breeze added both churches are struggling financially as much of their revenue comes from collections at services.