UK churches to livestream Easter services during lockdown

Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent
Photograph: Caroline Welby/PA

Churches and cathedrals across the UK are preparing to hold Easter services online as Christians face the most important festival of their year under lockdown.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will lead a service on Sunday broadcast from an iPad in his kitchen. Usually he preaches to 1,500 worshippers in Canterbury Cathedral.

Welby will say: “After so much suffering, so much heroism from key workers and the NHS, we cannot be content to go back to what was before as if all is normal. There needs to be a resurrection of our common life.”

He will acknowledge that “many people right across the country are anxious about employment, food, are isolated from loved ones and feel that the future looks dark. People right across the globe feel the same uncertainty, fear, despair and isolation. But you are not alone.”


Welby’s wife, Caroline, will read a lesson, and they will be joined online by Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the bishop of Dover, and 10-year-old Theodore Levings, who will lead prayers.

The service will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 4 and streamed on the Church of England’s Facebook page and website from 9am.

Acts of worship have been streamed from clergy homes since the Church of England closed all its churches, even to priests and for private prayer, as part of the coronavirus lockdown.

According to the C of E, more than 2 million people have tuned in to national streamed services, and additional large audiences have watched more than 3,000 services streamed from local churches.

The Church of Scotland is streaming a service led by its moderator, the Right Rev Colin Sinclair, on Easter Sunday morning and is inviting people to join a prayer at 7pm, in both English and Gaelic, broadcast on its website. Local churches will be holding acts of worship online.

The Catholic church in England and Wales has also reported high numbers of people joining online services. Sunday mass at Plymouth Cathedral usually attracts up to 650 worshippers, but 2,200 people tuned in for last week’s Palm Sunday service. Those joining weekday online masses have doubled to 700 on some days. Weekly evening prayer, usually attended by about a dozen worshippers, is attracting between 200 and 400 people.

Mark O’Toole, the Catholic bishop of Plymouth, said: “This period of isolation has given us the confidence to embrace new platforms to communicate God’s message of love and hope. This is sorely needed at this time.”

Anglican cathedrals are finding creative ways to celebrate Holy Week. At Bristol, nearly 40 choristers have joined a special “quirentine” multi-track performance of This Joyful Eastertide, recorded in isolation from one another.

Lincoln Cathedral has been illuminated in purple and white – and blue in support of the NHS on Thursday – before turning dark for Good Friday when the church enters a period of mourning. It will be lit in gold on Easter Sunday to celebrate the resurrection.

Salisbury Cathedral has created a virtual Holy Week pilgrimage. Those wishing to pray or reflect can activate a different window of music, reading and prayer each day.

Passion plays, depicting the crucifixion of Jesus, which were due to be performed in at least 10 locations across the UK, involving thousands of amateur performers, have been cancelled. Last year, more than 20,000 people watched The Passion of Jesus in Trafalgar Square in London.

Prerecorded reflections from faith leaders, rehearsal clips and interviews will instead be streamed on Friday, along with a screening of the 2019 Trafalgar Square performance.