An Easter Vigil video has been organised by a group of cathedral precentors to ensure that churchgoers stuck at home across the country keep Easter Eve together, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Led by the Precentor of Christ Church, Oxford, Canon Grant Bayliss, the project will involve dozens of priests, theologians, poets, choirs, and others offering short reflections, songs, Bible readings, and more via a dedicated website.
The idea was born out of discussions in recent days among a few precentors, he explained. "We felt this Holy Week and Easter would be a different journey than anyone’s ever been on before in our country in our lifetimes. It’s completely and utterly beyond anything that any of us as cathedrals would ever have offered before."
While dozens of cathedrals will be involved, Rumours of Hope has now grown to include high-profile figures in the Church, including the Archbishop-designate of York, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell; the Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s, Dr Paula Gooder; the Bishop of Ripon, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, and the Revd Dr Joanna Collicutt, of Ripon College, Cuddesdon.
The priest-poet and Church Times columnist the Revd Dr Malcolm Guite will also contribute a reading. Music will come from, among others, members of the Bristol Cathedral choir. The lay clerks and choral scholars have recorded themselves singing together, as #Quirentine, each from their own home.
Ordinands from St Mellitus College, members of the Community of St Frideswide, and representatives from the charities USPG and Disability and Jesus are also on the list of those who will share a short video as part of the vigil.
“It’s just been this abundance of creativity, of thought, of rich theology,” Canon Bayliss said on Tuesday. "The fun is trying to juggle it all together.”
He said that everyone involved agreed that it would not be right simply to drop in a recording of music or other content that had been made years earlier. “There’s something different about this music, these words, being written, said, spoken and sung at this time and in this place.”
Although anyone will be able to watch and join the Vigil through the website www.rumoursofhope.co.uk from Holy Saturday at a time of their choosing, Dr Bayliss said that he hoped those who could would log in at the same time as their fellow Christians across the nation and pray together through the night.
The final act is a contribution from Canterbury Cathedral, which will include the lighting of an Easter fire.
Although he knew many churches that were busily making their own preparations for Easter, Dr Bayliss said that he thought that the moment was right for cathedrals to “step up and do a little bit more”, serving not only smaller parishes who could not put on livestreamed worship, but also the wider nation at a time of crisis.
“To just pretend it’s business as normal and go out and give exactly the same service as we might have given any other year would be wrong.”
Some projections of the rising toll of Covid-19 predict the peak of deaths from the virus to hit at mid-April, something those involved in Rumours of Hope were only too aware of.
“We need to worship differently and respect the truth of where people are, and potentially where, as a country, we might be,” Dr Bayliss said.
“That’s the tale we need to tell, which doesn’t gloss over the pandemic, doesn’t gloss over the pain and suffering.”
Dr Hartley said that she was finding it helpful to consider the whole pandemic as a kind of “prolonged Holy Saturday”. “It’s the day of in-between and nothingness,” she noted.
Bishop Cottrell said: “I have always thought of that part of the Easter Vigil service where we hear stories from the Old Testament leading up to the revelation of God in Christ as being like the people of God gathered round the campfire, telling their stories and singing their songs.
“This year we gather in our separate homes and in isolation from one another, but brought together by our stories and united in our prayerful hope that God will do a new thing to bring peace and hope to our world.”