Churches prepare for All Souls' Day amid coronavirus pandemic


Prayer days, outdoor services and light displays will take place from this weekend in churches and cathedrals as part of an effort to reach tens of thousands of people coping with bereavement amid the coronavirus pandemic with a message of comfort and hope.
Rows of tealight candles in the darkness Matthew Hall

Outdoor candlelit services, a field of crosses, prayer walks and art installations are among events and services planned to mark All Souls’ Day, when churches traditionally remember those who have died.

The Church of England is providing parishes with posters allowing people to access prayers and light a virtual candle using QR codes to remember someone who has died.

The weekly online service from the Church of England will be a service of thanksgiving, hope and remembrance, from St Paul’s Cathedral. Led by the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, it will be broadcast at 9am on Sunday on the Church of England’s Facebook and YouTube accounts.

Carlisle, Chelmsford, Ely, Exeter, Salisbury, Lichfield and Liverpool Cathedrals will project beams of light into the night sky through the evening of November 1, for the Light of Hope 2020 art installation marking both All Saints and All Souls’ Day.

Ely and Lichfield Cathedrals will also create Cross, a light installation in the shape of a cross inside their buildings. 

Litchfield Cathedral is lit up by laser beams

Salisbury Cathedral will mark All Souls’ Day on Monday with an afternoon devoted to prayer, with visitors invited to light a candle for a loved one and chaplains and clergy on hand to offer pastoral support.

People will also have the chance to dedicate a flower in memory of those who have died, which will become part of an arrangement that will remain in place during a special All Souls’ Communion service.

At York Minster, a space will be created inside the cathedral for people to pray and to light a candle on Monday (November 2).  The day will conclude with the Minster’s annual Requiem Eucharist for All Soul’s Day at which a special candle will be lit for all who have died during the pandemic.

Leicester Cathedral will hold a ‘Candlelight Pause to Remember’ evening on Saturday (October 31) when the cathedral will be open for people to light a candle and leave the names of loved ones who have died.

Revd Canon Dr Sandra Millar, who heads the Church of England’s work on baptisms, weddings and funerals, said: “Whether we have been bereaved this year or long ago, it can be very helpful to have a special moment when we remember all those who have shaped our lives and whom we see no longer.

“This year, churches are creatively giving people opportunities to take that moment, whether physically, digitally or in the quiet of their homes. For some this will be immensely important if they didn’t get to a funeral this year; for others it will be a chance to remember once again those who were special.

“Bereavement isn’t a short process – and the Church is always there, wherever they go and for however long it is needed.”

Parish churches will also hold events and services for All Souls’ both inside buildings and in churchyards. Gosforth Parish Church in Newcastle has invited people to a churchyard walk where they will be able to light a candle and leave prayers for loved ones in its memorial garden on Sunday (November 1).

Vicar of Gosforth, Revd Jane Nattrass, said: “All Souls’ 2020 will be poignant as we pray for and remember those who have died during the pandemic and in times past, especially with limited numbers attending funerals.

"Lighting a candle and leaving prayers in the memorial garden gives us the opportunity to be alongside those who are living with sadness and grief."

Rows of tealight candles, half lit James Atkinson

A ‘Field of Memories’ with 150 crosses will be planted on the front lawn at Madresfield Church in Worcestershire, with people who have been bereaved in the area invited to add their own inscription to crosses.

Revd Gary Crellin, Vicar of the parishes of Powick, Guarlford and Madresfield with Newland, in the Malvern Deanery, said he believed around 150 funerals had taken place in the Greater Malvern area since the pandemic began across all churches, crematoria, and cemeteries.

“I hope that the sight of 150 crosses in a small country churchyard will give people the opportunity to pause and give thanks for the lives of people they love but they no longer see.

“My vision is that people who see this display will be inspired and comforted by the words of Isaiah 41: ‘So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand’ - a phrase that Jesus continues to speak to us today.

“It is really important, as we journey through this Covid pandemic, to simply pause and remember the funerals that we have had this year, often in difficult and trying circumstances. 

“By giving the opportunity for people to remember and give thanks, we are all remembering together.”

St Mary’s Church in Beaconsfield, Bucks, has set up 12 ‘prayer stations’ in its grounds until November 6 where people can reflect on key moments in the life of Jesus. The walk includes the chance to stop and place a stone to commemorate the life of a loved one. 

Revd Dr Jeremy Brooks, Team Rector for the Beaconsfield Team Ministry, said: “We know that the All Souls' Day services inside our church buildings may not be able to accommodate all the people who want to attend because of physical distancing.

"We felt it was very important that people could take part in an outdoor event in their own time.”