Hope surges back as Harrogate's churches prepare to welcome their flocks once again
Commerce isn’t the only part of normal life returning to Harrogate this weekend - churches, too, can hold services in person for the first time in more than three months.
Though both vicars and clery have hailed the Government’s latest relaxing of social distancing rules as a massive step forward, they are under no illusion this means the pandemic is over and the battle already won.
Team rector at St Wilfrid’s, the town’s largest and most architecturally significant church says relief at the end of digital-only worship is tempered with concern to remain safe and well.
Father Gary Waddington said: “We’re looking forward to welcoming people back with hope. But it’s lazy to think that everything’s OK now. Just because you can shop, or buy a pint, doesn’t mean the pandemic is over - far from it.”
St Wilfrid’s Church on Duchy Road is Harrogate’s only Grade 1 listed building. But that does not mean either the church or the community it serves have had it any easier than anywhere else.
Like all public spaces across Harrogate, St Wilfrid’s has had to get to grips with guidance on how to safely re-open our buildings.
Fr Waddington said: “Next week, public worship will re-start. I’ll celebrate mass for the first time in months looking at people, not just a video camera.
“In 24 years of being ordained, there’s been no course on “what to do during a pandemic” to reveal what’s right and what’s wrong.
“We’ve not stood still for the last few months. Services have continued daily, but online. Pastoral care has been dispensed via the phone.
“A plethora of new tech and communication portals have had to be mastered.”
Although looking forward to welcoming people back like many other churches across the Harrogate district, St Wilfrid’s immediate concern is not to run before it can walk.
The crisis is not over and people are still at risk.
Fr Waddington added: “The ‘new normal’ can’t become another place where people are left behind.
“At St Wilfrid’s, we’ll be doing our best to look after those present, and those who are absent. We will keep live-streaming services and being in touch with people.”
Much has had to be done in the run-up to the loosening of the shackles around public worship.
Fr Waddington said a tape measure and floor tape have had to become the “new tools of my trade.”
But, he added, a wedding and a funeral are already booked in - albeit with a plethora of instructions.
And hope is, it seems, surging back.
“The return to normal won’t be immediate,” he said. “For a while, for example, there’ll be no singing. St Wilfrid’s is ready. It won’t be the same as it was. Floor tape and hand sanitiser attest to that.
“But so does the warmth, generosity and love of those who’ll welcome people back.
“Faith remains our core.”