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Welcome back – Christ Church Cathedral reopens for public worship

It was with a mix of careful preparation and joyful anticipation that Christ Church Cathedral opened its doors to welcome its first congregation for the Cathedral Eucharist in 16 weeks on Sunday morning (July 5). The service has been livestreamed every Sunday during the past four months but the only people in the cathedral were the Archbishop, the Dean, the Dean’s Vicar and sometimes a preacher. The congregation joined online.

Worshippers were greeted at the door by a verger with a warm smile to welcome them back. Inside, the chairs were placed apart from each other to ensure social distancing. There were hand sanitising units and many people were wearing masks.

There was no congregational singing. However, members of the choir were transplanted from their usual stalls and sang from the south transept where they were far from the congregation and able to sing at a safe distance from each other. Their voices provided a soothing balm for members of the cathedral community who are getting used to the new normal.

Members of the first congregation to attend the Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral in 16 weeks on Sunday 5 July 2020.
Members of the first congregation to attend the Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral in 16 weeks on Sunday 5 July 2020.

Archbishop Michael Jackson presided and preached. The service was led by the Dean’s Vicar, the Revd Abigail Sines, and the Dean, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne, was also present.

In his sermon, the Archbishop paid tribute to the clergy of the cathedral for continuing services during lockdown and the clergy and staff who had prepared so diligently to reopen the cathedral for public worship. He thanked the congregation for coming and hoped they found it a safe place to worship. He also thanked “all who have worshipped with the cathedral from afar by electronic means, unseen by us and known to God”.

Turning to the Gospel reading [Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30] in which Jesus speaks to the crowds rather than to the Scribes and Pharisees, the Archbishop said that it gave a sense of the incarnation and showed Jesus’s engagement with people.

The reading also shows Jesus’ response to human burden, he said: ‘Come to me , all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,’ Jesus told the crowd. His response combined compassion and empowerment, the Archbishop said, and recognised the spiritual heart of the people who were taken for granted at every level. “Many have become heavy laden to the point of near impossibility to endure in these months past – slowly, cumulatively – and they have continued to give graciously. They are people who have carried, and still carry, our needs as their burden,” he added.

Today as churches reopened for public worship, the Archbishop said it was for us to make use of them and make a go of them, to invite those who have never been here to come here and to encourage those who have been here all their lives to come back.

“COVID 19 has not gone away – we are now in the most open-ended phase of the Relaxation of Restrictions that we have seen yet. There is no doubt that dangers and difficulties remain; common sense, spiritual wisdom and personal responsibility will take us forward in this more difficult Phase of renewed, if slow, engagement with other human beings. While we need to remain careful, we need to make a go of this new freedom too, we need to take adventure forward; and we need to remember those who, almost overnight, became our neighbours in the time of The Lockdown,” he stated.

He continued: “The future lies before us and it will look different; we do not need to rush it but we do need to plan and we do need to engage. We have so much for which to be thankful. We have so many new opportunities. We have responded in this cathedral church to the needs for personal safety and social distancing. We can never forget those who in The Front Line, whatever constituted that ever-expanding Front Line at any given time; we can never forget those who died painfully and horribly from COVID 19; we can never forget those who mourn them and those who mourn others, one by one, who have died in these slow months. The Old Testament prophecy for today speaks of prisoners of hope … Zechariah 9.12: ‘Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.’”

The service concluded with prayers which included prayers for members of the cathedral community and for Dr Emer Feely, wife of Dr Tony Holohan, as well as for all who had lost loved ones during the pandemic.