By Betsy Everett
The doors of St Oswald’s Church in Askrigg are expected to open late next week after three months of closure, unprecedented in its 600-year history.
But in common with churches throughout the country the rules governing opening times and entry will be strictly enforced, with people allowed in for private prayer only, at specific times, with social distancing maintained.
There will be a one-way system, with entry by the main south door and exit by the north, and both will remain open during the two-hour access period. Lockdown has prevented even priests from entering their churches since March, and the government has said it will be at least July before full services can resume.
The rules, from the church hierarchy as well as government, have infuriated some and frustrated others, but joint churchwarden Stephanie Durrant said the church had a duty of care.
“In the end it is our responsibility to welcome people to the church and to keep them safe and that’s what we will do. We have been really pleased at the number of people who have been asking us when the church will open again.
“We know God is not confined to the building, but it is an important and special place. It gives people peace and comfort, and at a time like this we need that more than ever.”
The building has been deep-cleaned, and signage giving clear directions ordered. Once that is in place, Stephanie and fellow churchwarden Tricia Selby, are hoping the Grade 1 listed building which is at the heart of the village can open for a two-hour session, five days a week.
Volunteers will be on hand throughout each session, and will sanitise the building before and after. Hymn books, prayer books, leaflets, postcards and service sheets, as well as soft furnishings, have had to be removed.
“We are looking forward to opening fully in due course, but we hope to keep some of the aspects of worship we have had to do differently during lockdown, such as online services which have been very popular,” said Stephanie.
It is thought to be the first time in the history of the 15th-century church that it has been forced to close.
Local historian Dr Christine Hallas, a member of the church, says the last time it happened was probably in 1853 or 1854 when a major restoration was carried out.
“The plague never reached Askrigg in the 1600s, so the church would not have closed then, although it had a devastating effect as near as Wensley,” she said.