Hitchin churches prepare for ‘new normal’ after longest closure in history

St Mary's Church, Hitchin. Picture: Archant

St Mary's Church, Hitchin. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Hitchin’s churches have begun welcoming visitors for the first time since lockdown after the longest closure in the history of the Church of England.

St Mary’s has now opened its doors for private prayer on Tuesdays and Saturdays, as preparations continue for a ‘new normal’ in British worship.

Churches Together in Hitchin – a network of 17 churches in the town – has been keeping ministers and leaders in touch with each other during lockdown and preparing them for “big changes” to how things might be done.

Secretary John Richardson said: “These last three months have been challenging for all the churches as they have tried to maintain their worship, support their members and care for the vulnerable, both young and old.

“Not having a building for services and meetings has made particular demands, but we have all learned new skills and there have been some great occasions bringing people together in new ways.

“Now that it is possible to open our buildings we are comparing notes on how this will happen. It is fair to say that we are all being cautious, observing government and church guidelines and doing things gradually.

“We expect that the ‘new normal’ will not be what we have known in the past, but Hitchin’s churches are alive and well, looking forward to a different future.”

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Each church has had to assess how to allow visitors and congregations to enter buildings safely, with social distancing and hand sanitisers in place – much like in shops.

Holy Saviour Church, in Radcliffe Road, can already be visited during this week and more churches are now joining in.

St Mary’s visitors are welcomed at the entrance, and candles can be lit – but only a small number are allowed in at a time so cleaning can be carried out after each leaves.

An announcement about when churches can hold official services could be made as soon as this weekend, and it is hoped a few weddings can finally go ahead.

St Mary’s churchwarden Anne Senechal said: “It’s been wonderful to welcome people back into St Mary’s after such a long wait, and we are following the Church of England’s strict guidelines to make it a safe environment to visit.

“It was strange going in after so much time, but after brushing away a few cobwebs, St Mary’s looks as serene as ever.

“Reverend Chris Bunce and the team have been working throughout lockdown to provide online worship and support for the congregation. Thanks to some technical wizardry there have been ‘virtual’ appearances by the choir and musical performances despite not having access to church premises.” Visit St Mary’s Youtube channel where you can watch services and other multimedia content.

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