Since the suspension of public worship by the Church of England earlier in the week, a small group at St Mary’s Church, Whitkirk have worked tirelessly to make sure the sense of community felt on a Sunday morning wasn’t lost. They did this by rolling out a live-streamed service to the entire parish and beyond, overcoming the challenges of broadcasting from an ancient church.

Vicar Matthew Peat prepared a service of the Word which followed many of the beats of the traditional Sunday morning eucharist, and with only five people in the church (all following strict hygiene and physical distancing measures) it provided four hymns, a sermon, two readings and intercessions.

The service was broadcast live at 10.00 am over the YouTube platform to a peak of 69 viewers, with over 50 staying from beginning to end. Over the day the number of views climbed to an excess of 250, with more still watching. Many have left feedback with the team, calling the stream “wonderful”, “lovely” and “a fantastic service”, with other comments applauding the sense of togetherness and “feeling like [they] were in the congregation”.

The determination of the team to include everyone in the service also extended to those who couldn’t join the live stream. Recordings of the service were available immediately at the end, and digital copies of the order of service were shared in advance for people to follow in their own time or use as a focus for prayer. For those without a known connection to the internet, the team delivered physical orders of service along with a more comprehensive booklet. The booklet not only explained the Church’s latest updates on their response to the virus but also details of broadcast acts of worship over public television and radio.

The St Mary’s Church plans to repeat the service next week. Should stricter isolation measures be put in place by the Government, contingency plans are in place for continuing a cut-down service with only one person.

St Mary’s Church, Whitkirk predominantly serves the communities of Whitkirk, Colton, Halton and Cross Gates in East Leeds. Its services average attendance of over 130 people each week, and its outreach programmes making use of the church, the neighbouring Community Centre, and online touch thousands of lives every year.