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With the approach of Easter, local churches and Christian fellowship groups across Lochaber are reporting surging numbers of people logging onto their social media sites for alternative arrangements for religious services after the COVID-19 lockdown rules shuttered traditional locations of worship.
Reverend Richard Baxter, minister for the Duncansburgh MacIntosh Church in Fort William and for Kilmonivaig, told the Lochaber Times his online services have seen between 500 and 600 people logging on from as far afield as Australia and Canada.
‘That’s compared to the normal 120 people that would make up the congregation on a Sunday,’ he added.
‘In the last couple of days, even a simple Bible reading I posted on the church Facebook page has had a couple of hundred views.’
For some of those logging on, it is a chance to reconnect with home during the current health crisis, for others perhaps a return to spiritual practice as solace in times of uncertainty or as a way of linking with the wider community.
‘And people are also sending messages and responses – it’s not just watching and listening in. Many are not those you would expect to see physically present in church on Sunday. But they are seeking to interact with the church and others,’ continued Rev Baxter.
‘I think one element attracting people is the sense of togetherness that the online services creates. For many people gathering together once a week on a Sunday morning in a certain location is not their idea of belonging to something.
‘And that’s OK because there are different ways to belong and there is nothing wrong with that.’
The Mustard Seed Fellowship, Salvation Army and Fort William Christian Fellowship all have worship resources on their websites, and Fort William Free Church also has a Facebook page.
David Sedgwick, one of the leaders of the local branch of Mustard Seed, says the phenomenon of growing numbers for online services is something it, too, has experienced.
‘At the Mustard Seed Church since the lockdown, we have now had three services online on the last three Sundays. This has opened up new possibilities, with friends and family members joining in from Cardiff, Norwich, Lincolnshire, Cumbria, Elgin and Inverness, as well as most of our regulars,’ he explained.
So, if you are prepared to venture onto a website, a Facebook page, or simply on the radio waves, there are lots of local options for accessing Easter services online. You can also use the ‘Build Your Own Easter Service’ guide. Details and links for all these options can be found on the Lochaber section of the Oban Times website.
And to help mark Easter, Rev Baxter has invited Lochaber Times readers to look closely at our photograph of the Good Friday window in the Duncansburgh MacIntosh Church.
He explained: ‘That window has lots of people who are part of the story of Jesus, but unusually it also has a little dog.
‘However, there are no dogs in the Good Friday or Easter Sunday stories, so we are asking readers for their ideas (real or imagined) on why it is there on the window, and what it means.’
If anyone, young or old, would like to pen us a few words or a small story on why they think the image of the little dog has been included in the window design, please email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will publish a selection of submissions.
Where can I go to church on Easter Sunday?
If you’re thinking of a traditional Easter service, the answer is nowhere. However, if you are prepared to venture onto a website, a Facebook page, or simply on the radio waves, there are lots of local options. You can also use the Build Your Own Easter service guide.
Nevis Radio, 96.6 MHz, 102.3 MHz, 102.4 MHz, Online: 9.10am Rev David Kirk (Highland Theological Institute)
Church of Scotland
Fort William: Duncansburgh MacIntosh
Kilmonivaig Parish Church: www.facebook.com
Ardgour, Kingairloch, Strontian and Morvern: aksm.org.uk/
North West Lochaber: www.facebook.com
Duror and Glencoe: www.facebook.com (also worship on Zoom at 10.30am)
Acharacle and Ardnamurchan: www.facebook.com
Nether Lochaber and Kinlochleven: see www.kinlochlevenparishchurch.org.uk for details
For other links check the Lochaber Presbytery website at lochaber.presbytery.org.uk/
Or its Facebook page
St Mary’s Catholic Church (10.15am mass) www.facebook.com/catholicfortwilliam/
St John’s, Caol (10.15am mass) at www.churchservices.tv/fortwilliam
Visit kilmallie.churchinsight.com for details
Scottish Episcopal Church
Visit www.scotland.anglican.org/church/st-andrew-fort-william for details.