“No man is an island’ – Worship in the Pandemic

In our latest blog post, one of our regular cathedral worshippers, Pat Francis, shares in her own words, how she has found worship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The emergence of the Pandemic known as Covid-19, and identified as Coronavirus (it took me a number of attempts to pronounce this word fluently!) had the affect of placing the country into lockdown.

We had to discover a new way of daily living. Shielding, social isolating, social distancing all words which would soon be very much part of our vocabulary.

Pat Francis

How was I going to establish a new routine for each day, I felt fear that this hidden and silent virus may be lingering where least expected, so self isolation was the answer for me, especially as I am in my 70’s, the age bracket identified as being most at risk. Reviewing one’s attitude to mortality seemed appropriate.

There was sadness as physical contact with family and friends was not going to be possible, grocery shopping had to be done online if a slot could be found. I was fortunate to have a friend who each week delivered fresh food to the doorstep.  I had a garden to enjoy and vegetables to plant up, but what about Sundays? – We had to isolate…!

The opening words of the 17th Century poet John Donne came to mind :

‘No man is an island’

…his poem written to encourage all to not be isolated but to be connected to others and to God. But, how to achieve this?

Praying at home even with someone else present, was not going to rid one of a sense of isolation, but how blessed we are that the Cathedral, a doyen of tradition, still using a Prayer Book published in 1549, proclaimed loud and clear –‘we may not be of the world but we are in the world’ and almost instantly embraced 21st century technology and ‘streaming’ to facilitate worship online. Then ‘zoom’ entered our vocabulary and we became transformed to people of hope and encouragement.

We were invited into the homes and gardens of the Canons to share in the Daily worship. The technology could be un-cooperative at times, the wind blew stronger than at times was comfortable, the sun shone, the birds joined in the prayers and the bells of the cathedral clock rung out a welcome. Pets came and went and quickly a daily rhythm of prayer was being established. I felt almost monastic, guarding the times ‘religiously’!

We met each day greeting those we knew with ‘postings’ on screen and Cathedral hospitality as always, welcomed worshippers from all corners of the globe. Soon their names too became familiar.

What a rich community this has become, the Cathedral reaching out to people throughout the world, who like us in Durham, are affected by Covid-19. This global, prayerful community united in faith and hope has created a daily time of prayer for hundreds of people and I am thankful to be part of it, and glad that it will continue although some of us will have the joy of combining it with worship opportunities in person within the Cathedral building .

My first visit was for a time of prayer and reflection on 19 July. I was anxious about it, as it would be my first visit to any building for nearly four months, and Coronavirus was still alive and lurking. What calmed me some was recalling an addition made by the Canon Precentor  to the now familiar ‘keep well, keep safe’ at the end of e-mails, he added ‘keep calm’ – so emboldened with these words my husband and myself set out for the Cathedral. I found this very moving because at the beginning of lockdown I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to return to the Cathedral!

A few weeks later clutching my booking ticket for Holy Communion – one of fifty available in line with regulations (to facilitate social distancing in the church)- I arrived at the cathedral and stepped foot in the nave, awaiting the beginning of the Eucharistic service at which the Bishop would preside and the Dean would preach. This historic service was also being streamed to the world as part of the Cathedral’s ongoing commitment to engage with their growing online congregation.

It was helpful to begin this process of public worship in a quiet way, no processions, no choir, no singing, just time to savour the words of the liturgy, receive after a long absence the ‘Body of Christ’ in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

A memorable and happy service, with the opportunity to give a wave, a smile, a nod of the head, a verbal whispered greeting to friends not seen for such a long time.

The experience of the last four months continues in a changing way, the Dean in his sermon reminded us that ‘the only thing certain about the future is the lack of certainty’. Meanwhile I am thankful to God for the blessings of being able to attend public worship, and to continue gathering with the online prayerful community, who increasingly become more real each time I open my mobile phone or iPad to join in with worship.

‘Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God’

Written by Pat Francis, July 2020

5 thoughts on ““No man is an island’ – Worship in the Pandemic”

  1. Thank you Pat. I share your feelings, except as a 91 year old living alone, the sense of isolation would have been even greater for me were it not for the routine I established, as you did, of joining in daily worship and enjoying all the other blessings of modern technology allowing contact with family and friends across the world and, of course, old fashioned telephone calls. The opportunity to visit the Cathedral for private prayer felt like a first step towards the real world and it continues as a blessing. The first Sunday service we could attend in person was wonderful. Without singing it felt like a cross between Sunday Eucharist, mid week Holy Communion and a reunion as after the service we greeted friends we had not seen since March. I already have my ticket for next Sunday!

  2. Thank you, Pat . I envy you the chance of ‘real’ Worship in the cathedral but I am so so grateful for all the online worshipping I have been able to share in and, hopefully, will continue to be able to do so

  3. Dear Pat,
    Thank you,
    it was really lovely, to read your letter,
    and thoughts and feelings on here,
    about what the last few months
    have been like for you.
    My name is Stephanie,
    and I too, am one of the really thankful,
    and very grateful, new members,
    of your beautiful cathedral,
    as a member of the online community.
    Dare I say Cathedral online family,
    as have felt the warmth and love,
    and care and prayers, shared by,
    and with the dearest Canons,
    and everyone from all over the world,
    has warmed our hearts, and lifted spirits.
    I only wish I could come up and see
    your wonderful and delightful cathedral,
    but hope to one day..
    I live in the south – east, so not so far..
    In the meantime, I just wanted to send you,
    my warmest care and wishes,
    to you and your family. Take care.
    God Bless. Stephanie xx

    1. Thank you Stephanie for your kind words. It is so encouraging to hear from someone who is part of the global Cathedral community.. Hospitality is important to us iat the Cathedral and embracing others is what we like to do, it stretches back to the Benedictine Foundation.
      I will look out for you at the services and I hope that one day you will be able to visit in person.. Thank you for taking time to respond to the Blog. love and prayers from Pat

    2. comments are saying well done Mum, how blessed you are to have a Mum who can fill my heart with such light, hope and emotion, what a special, sharing lady. Peace be with you.

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