LEICESTER, United Kingdom – As the COVID-19 pandemic has closed churches throughout England, many worshippers have tuned in online to watch streaming services over social media sites such as Facebook or YouTube.

However, for people without regular internet access – many of them elderly or poor – it has been tough to keep connected with worship at the local parish.

“Parishes including my own in Redcar have been reaching out through YouTube, Facebook and sending out emails to try to keep in touch with people. But we also knew there are a whole lot of people who don’t have smartphones or internet access,” said Father Derek Turnham, the head of communications in the Diocese of Middlesbrough.

For this reason, the diocese has launched what it believes is the country’s first Catholic Mass available to listen to directly by an ordinary telephone.

The technology has been supported by the Knights of St. Columba, a British Catholic fraternal organization.

The first edition of the new Mass-by-Phone service was the May 3 Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral, and 100 people participated.

The cathedral already broadcasts its Sunday Mass on YouTube, getting thousands of viewers, but the new service allows them to reach those who might feel left behind in the technological leap the Church has been making during the coronavirus crisis.

Bishop Terry Drainey celebrates a live-streamed Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Middlesbrough. (Credit: Diocese of Middlesbrough/Courtesy to Crux.)

“We’re delighted we’ve been able to set up this system, which enables people to hear Mass broadcast from our cathedral at any time of day and share in our worship,” Turnham said.

Middlesbrough Bishop Terry Drainey has been an enthusiastically supported both the new telephone service, as well as the digital ministry during the pandemic.

Church services in the diocese are even getting higher “attendance” than parishes were recording before the crisis began.

“Everyone needs hope and encouragement at this time, and I’m delighted that through digital technology, the Church is able to is give comfort to Catholics and also to others who are not churchgoers and may not consider themselves to be Christians,” Drainey said.

The bishop noted there is “a dark cloud hanging over us and our world,” and this can bring out both the worst and best in people.

“We’re seeing a new growth of community spirit – a realization that we can’t make it on our own and we need one another if we’re going to get through this crisis, which we will. We all belong to the human family and to God’s family,” he said.

Alluding to a recent poll showing that more people in Britain are praying now than before the coronavirus lockdown, Drainey said an increase in faith could be considered counter intuitive in bad times.

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“It’s sometimes easier to believe in God’s providence when all is going well, and the sun is shining. When times are a little bit darker and more difficult, we can begin to doubt. But this is not what we’ve been experiencing at this time. Instead, we’re seeing people’s faith becoming stronger than ever before,” the bishop said.