“Intense spiritual thirst” as Chichester Cathedral reopens

The Dean of Chichester has spoken of the “intense spiritual thirst” which has brought worshippers back into Chichester Cathedral now that services have resumed.

The Very Rev Stephen Waine
The Very Rev Stephen Waine

The Very Rev Stephen Waine, who as Dean has overall responsibility for co-ordinating and developing the life of the Cathedral, said the first services back had been profound and intensely moving, especially in their moments of silence.

Services returned following the latest relaxing of lockdown in England.

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“With the conditions for Sunday communion, the capacity is determined locally according how big and the lay-out of your building. We put chairs two metres apart in the main body of the cathedral, and we got 72 chairs in.

“And it was full on (the first) Sunday. We had congregations of 70 people each at 9.30am and 11am for very simple Holy Communion.

“There was still no singing of hymns but Charles (Harrison, organist and master of the choristers of Chichester Cathedral) is back now off furlough, and it was lovely. He was able to play.

“I was really interested to see who would be there because a lot of our regular people are still either shielding or self-isolating because they are in vulnerable groups. But I just felt such a sense of spiritual thirst that people had come to slake… and to drink from what they had been missing.

“The atmosphere was completely different. The silences were really profound. We were not able to do all the social stuff. People had come to the church purely because they wanted to pray. They wanted to say their prayers. People were really focused on what they were really there for. At the end of the service, we usually do coffee, and obviously we couldn’t do that. I encouraged people to leave unless they wanted to sit and listen to the organ music… and people did. They just sat there and listened and then left quietly. It was profoundly moving.

“It was astonishing. I have been doing this for 35 years. I have never experienced a Sunday like it. It was just absolutely pure. It was about what we are supposed to be here for.

“It was invigorating. When you get back into it, you realise just how much you have missed it.”

And certainly, with singing not currently permitted, there was added depth and poignancy to the silences: “It felt very profound… and intensely moving.”

One of the Sunday communion services was streamed – just as the cathedral has been streaming during lockdown.

“It felt that there was an appetite for it. You look at the viewing figures and by Monday morning, the viewing figures were 450, and that is 450 devices, not people. You imagine families watching together on their devices.

“And from past experience, we have had people watching from the US and various part of Europe and even New Zealand, and in one case Thailand as well. People have been watching from a very wide area. I think streaming will be here to stay.

“It has been something that we have been able to offer to people, and people have appreciated it. There are still people who are shielding or self-isolating and they will continue to do so until they feel that it is safe to come back.

“We have been trying to make things as normal as we can and trying to keep in contact.”

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