Coronavirus crisis grips city
by Colin Campbell Monday, March 30
CHURCHES all across Inverness were yesterday closed on a Sunday for the first time. Some have been open every Sunday since they were built more than 200 years ago.
Even in wartime – especially in wartime – they have remained open to worshippers seeking comfort and fortitude.
But in the battle against the increasingly deadly coronavirus disease they remained locked and bolted as the UK death toll spiked to over 1,000 victims.
On the day the clocks changed to British Summer Time, in normal times it would have seemed churchgoers had got their timing wrong.
On the riverside, the usual steady flow of people to St Andrew’s Cathedral was replaced by empty streets and silence.
An ornamental gate at the building remained open to enable visitors to view a range of church notices, but all doors were locked.
City churches decided to forego any attempt at holding services and imposing “social distancing” in the pews, concluding instead that the risk of spreading the virus among congregations was too high.
St Andrew’s Cathedral was built in 1869. Yesterday was believed to be the first time it has been closed on a Sunday since its construction was completed.
St Mary’s RC Church in Huntly Street, built in 1837, normally holds daily masses.
Yesterday a notice fixed to its door stated: “All of us should say The Lord’s Prayer more frequently, and the Petition ‘Give us our daily bread’ might be pondered on and reflected upon, and indeed inwardly digested. Please encourage one another in prayer and in offering acts of kindness. If we cherish and encourage each other, day by day, we will gain from our present bewildering and uncertain circumstances.”
The Free North Church in Bank Street, built in 1893 and with a seating capacity of 1,500, is the largest church in the Highland capital, with the tallest spire, but yesterday it remained closed on a Sunday for the first time in 127 years.
The Old High Church, built in 1772 and the oldest church in Inverness, remained lockfast. The Inverness East Church in Academy Street, was built in 1798. In documenting its history it states: “People have met for worship in the Inverness East Church for well over 200 years.”
The coronavirus threat ensured that it remained closed to everyone yesterday. The church said in a statement: “Due to the global pandemic, meetings of public worship have to cease forthwith. Until further notice, Sunday services and prayer meetings are cancelled. The Kirk Session are working on contingencies and we will update you as soon as possible.”
The city centre, normally busy on a Sunday, was virtually deserted. However, at least three police vehicles circled the precinct and its environs continuously, to reinforce the “stay at home” warning from the government.
People were out on a pleasant day walking along the riverside, but they comprised only a fraction of the numbers who normally use the city centre on a Sunday.
Yesterday, with many fewer cars on the streets, it was clear that exhortations to radically change habits and to stay at home are being heeded.
Whether that will be deemed enough in the national effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus remains to be seen.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already warned of the possible need for even tougher restrictions to be imposed.
As the working week begins again today, the vast majority of people will be working from home, with virtually no offices or workplaces open.
Only the supermarkets and banks remain in semi-normal operation. One crumb of comfort in, as St Mary’s Church expressed it, “bewildering and uncertain” times, is that store shelves are being replenished after a spate of panic-buying stripped them of essential goods.