Coronavirus: No singing as churches reopen - so worshippers get creative to express themselves

5 July 2020, 13:34 | Updated: 5 July 2020, 14:49

"Welcome to church," the pastor proclaims and a round of applause erupts.

One hundred people spread out inside Cornerstone the Church, in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, for the first time in more than three months.

Once the building of a car showroom, the curved walls wrap around worshippers dressed in smart suits and summer dresses, accessorised with face masks. The smell of hand sanitiser lingers every time someone walks by.

"We cannot sing," pastor Chris Demetriou tells the crowd. They nod to show their approval.

Everyone understands the latest guidelines from the government, which prohibit communal singing due to the potential for increased risk of coronavirus transmission from airborne droplets, as places of worship reopen.

"But we can stand, we can clap, and there is nothing wrong with finding other ways to express yourself," he says.

The church had invited worshippers to film themselves singing at home, and edited all the videos together to make a chorus which is played at the start of the service.

As the tempo increases, some stand up and wave their arms, others sway and clap their hands, but nobody sings.

Churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and other places of worship are now allowed to welcome back congregations as part of the government's latest easing of lockdown measures.

For some worshippers at the service, the wait has been too long.

"This is a very big occasion," says Clara, one of the first to arrive. "It was exciting news to hear that the government has actually eased the lockdown for churches, so it was great coming in this morning.

"Despite every difficulty and challenge I had last night, I still had to come in today and I'm glad that I did."

John, 75, tells Sky News coming to church during a pandemic is not a straight-forward matter.

"I have to get used to this. Yes, I have been nervous, to be honest, because I am of a vulnerable age. But we will continue to be careful."

The government's easing of rules on places of worship allows them to reopen as long as a full risk assessment has been undertaken.

The guidelines advise worshippers to wear face coverings, observe social distancing and refrain from touching each others' belongings, including religious books and prayer beads.

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Despite Sunday church attendance declining, the pastor predicts a spiritual awakening to come out of the coronavirus pandemic.

In his first chance to address his church since lockdown, he reminds the audience: "People need God's touch. At the moment I think God's got a lot of peoples' attention that he didn't have before.

"And if God is present, then God is a doer."