The Archbishop of Canterbury urged people to care for others “in person or virtually” during “this strange and difficult time” as he delivered the Church of England’s first virtual Sunday service.
The Most Rev Justin Welby said the UK is caught between the need to “keep life going” and “necessary imposed isolation” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Mothering Sunday service, recorded in the crypt chapel at Lambeth Palace in London, was broadcast across 39 local BBC radio stations.
As we hear of more people affected by #COVID19, we pray for all who are ill, and those already bereaved by this terrible illness. We pray for peace and comfort – and that God's love may enfold them at this time. May God deliver us from all that oppresses us at this time.
— Archbishop of Canterbury (@JustinWelby) March 22, 2020
It came as churches across the country prepared to deliver Sunday services to mass audiences over the internet amid efforts to fight Covid-19.
The service featured prayers, hymns recorded by St Martin’s Voices from St Martin-In-The-Fields, and a short sermon.
Introducing the service, the archbishop said: “Good morning to all of you in this strange and difficult time in the life of our world.
“Today is Mothering Sunday, a day when, traditionally, all went back to their mother church, to the place where they were nurtured, loved and formed into the ways of God.
“Nowadays, of course, we also often celebrate Mother’s Day, a day to thank those who have mothered us in all the ways that we needed to be cared for.
“It is usually a day of celebration, when we draw together with family and loved ones.
“And so this day is a strange one for those of us in the United Kingdom and indeed in most of the world, where we are drawn between our need to keep life going, to celebrate relationships and kindness, and the fear and the necessary imposed isolation that we face.
“This is a day when we are not able to go and see those we love, or care for loved ones considered to be vulnerable or at risk.”
Mr Welby said the service had been recorded at Lambeth Palace “with the absolutely minimum number of staff keeping appropriate social distancing and no congregation”.
He urged people to think about how they can care for those around them.
“At difficult times we have a choice,” he said.
“We can focus on fear, on ourselves and what we cannot do. Or we can turn to God and let God lead us into praying for the world, and let prayer flow into us, taking creative and loving action.
“That’s what we want to do today, to remind ourselves that life carries on and that there is much to celebrate in our communities.
“To listen to the voice of God’s caring love for us, and his encouragement to turn ourselves towards others, and how we can care for those around us, in person or virtually.”
He concluded: “Today we are separated in space but we are still worshipping together before God.”
The service also featured prayers for “those without adequate medical resources”, “those facing war” and the “challenges of Covid-19”.
On Tuesday, Mr Welby and Archbishop of York John Sentamu wrote to clergy advising them to put public services on hold in response to government advice to avoid mass gatherings.
The Church of Scotland has a list of 40 churches that share their services online in some way.
And Catholic dioceses have also made plans, with Shrewsbury Cathedral among those broadcasting Mass on Sunday.