This time last year, we were trying to get our heads around not being in the church building for Holy Week and Easter.
Actually, that’s not quite right: we were trying to get our heads around not being able to gather for Holy Week and Easter. In Hodge Hill in recent years, many of the ways we have journeyed together through Holy Week have happened in spaces other than the church building: Palm Sunday has included a raucous, rag-tag ‘procession’ across Hodge Hill Common; Holy Saturday evening has been around a fire-pit in one of the patches of local ‘wasteland’; and we’ve greeted the Easter dawn by walking the Paschal candle through the streets of our estate, yelling ‘Alleluia!’ loudly on street corners. So what we missed, in Holy Week 2020, was even the opportunity to root the story of Jesus’ passion and resurrection, together, in the ground of our neighbourhood.
Our church community is well-connected in many ways, but not digitally. Only around 1/3 of our congregation have been able to use Zoom over the past year, and fewer than that are on Facebook. And in line with our ‘guiding principles’ to shape our communal life during COVID, which we first articulated together in May 2020, we have resisted making our ‘core activities’ anything that we were not all able to participate in, in some way. So our default position has been (and remains) ‘worship at home’: a weekly worship pack delivered to doorsteps, and via email / Facebook / Whatsapp for those with access, for us all to use, ‘together, apart’. Soon after Easter, that was complemented by a weekly audio recording of readings and reflections, that could be accessed via a local phone number of downloaded as an MP3 file.
The worship packs included relatively simple liturgies on paper, designed to be said by one person or more in a household, but the words were accompanied by physical resources, and suggestions for bodily actions and movement as well. Over the course of Holy Week and Easter, worshippers would have lit candles, held crosses, waved branches, kindled fires, held and decorated stones, and sent text messages or made phone calls to share an Easter greeting of joy and promise. They might have sat at their kitchen table, but also on their balcony or doorstep or in their garden (if they had one) – and gone for walks in our wider neighbourhood. We tried to use lots of pictures, and not too many words (we’d all been bombarded with too many words already, even back then).
We also wanted to recognise that the ‘great interruption’ that has been COVID-19* had done something very strange to our living-through-time. Lent had been interrupted by lockdown, and yet in a sense the deprivations of Lent were enduring well beyond Easter. Good Friday arrived on a particular day, and Easter Day followed two days later, and yet our lives, from the most local to the most global levels, seemed to be wave upon wave of ‘Good Fridays’, seemed often to be stuck in the waiting, grieving space of ‘Holy Saturday’ time, and ‘Easter Day’ was only ever arriving in the faintest, most elusive of ways. And so we offered liturgies for Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Dawn, with exactly the expectation that they would be used both on those particular days, and on days that felt like those days in the weeks and months to come.
Revd Dr Al Barrett, vicar at Hodge Hill and author of the blog This estate we’re in
To download the worship packs designed by Al for Holy Week and Easter click on the licks below:
* Ruth Harley and I explore this ‘great interruption’ further in our book, Being Interrupted: Re-imagining the Church’s Mission from the Outside, In (SCM Press, 2020).