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PRIORY SEEN IN A NEW LIGHT AFTER LOCKDOWN - 01/09/20

Lancaster Priory Church which has been closed for the longest period in its thousand-year history has emerged into the light after the lifting of lockdown restrictions.

Vicar of Lancaster, Canon Chris Newlands is now conducting public Sunday services in church following months of worship online.

And the Priory has also hosted its first wedding since March – of a soldier in the Parachute Regiment who received special permission to be married in the Regimental Chapel.

But Lancaster’s parish church is not completely back to normal. Worshippers must book in advance for services, with capacity about a fifth of its usual size. They must wear masks and sit in alternate pews for social distancing purposes.

Although the organ is played, no singing is allowed. The service is shorter but does include Holy Communion.

Tuesday Communion services in the Regimental Chapel are also taking place with the same restrictions and the church will be accessible for visitors, with special arrangements in place.

During lockdown, only St Thomas Chapel was open for private prayer on certain days so Canon Newlands live-streamed worship using his mobile phone from his garden when weather permitted.

This new online service proved so popular that it will continue for daily Morning Prayer at 9.30am on the Priory’s Facebook page for those unable to visit church.

“Providing online services has been an eye-opener as we’ve been able to connect more widely with people,” said churchwarden, Andrew Nicholson. “From being a local church, we’ve become a global parish.”

People from as far away as Canada and Dubai have watched services online but the church didn’t forget those local parishioners without internet access and organised volunteers to make regular contact.

Canon Newlands also kept in touch with parishioners and has postponed his retirement, planned for September, until the spring.

But the Priory wasn’t completely empty during lockdown as workers were busy installing new lighting which will show the church’s special features in their full glory and be adapted for special events.

Lighting designer, Bruce Kirk, who is currently also working on St George’s Chapel in Windsor and made his name lighting the Millennium Dome, is responsible for the new system being installed in two phases and partly funded by the bequest of Jim Garbett, a former Priory lay reader and vice-principal of St Martin’s College.

The entire system should have been completed by the end of the year but lockdown has significantly affected the church’s income which is down by more than £50,000 this year.

Important repairs to the church tower will also be delayed as an appeal to raise £110,000  was launched just days before lockdown. However, the Sponsor a Stone initiative and online showcases featuring people connected to the Priory have helped towards the target.

To promote Lancaster Priory following its tentative re-opening, a film of its treasures has been produced and will be updated regularly. It will be available on the websites of the church, Lancaster City Council and Visit Lancashire.