Diocese of Portsmouth

    Churches open their doors for private prayer

    17 June 2020

    THE first thing you see as you enter St Barnabas Church is a large bottle of hand sanitiser. After being warmly greeted, the first words you hear are about whereabouts in the church you can pray.

    They are taking no chances in the Hampshire village of Swanmore, where the church would normally be open all day every day for people to spend a few moments in quiet. Now St Barnabas Church has re-opened for the first time in three months to allow individuals to pray quietly in the pews.

    You’ll be greeted by volunteers who explain the one-way system around the church, show you the pews that are cordoned off and tell you to light a candle by touching only your own. There are ticks and crosses on the pews to ensure social distancing – you can sit where there is a tick, but not where there is a cross.

    In the first week of opening, they experimented with opening for a couple of hours in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening, as well as on a Saturday to be accessible for those available at different times of the day. There was a steady stream of people who wanted to spend time with God in the coolness and quiet of the Victorian listed building. And after each individual had prayed, the volunteers would discreetly wipe the wooden pew where they had sat to ensure no transmission of the virus to the next visitor.

    Among those who popped in was congregation member Vicky Newhouse (pictured above), who wanted to thank God for answering her prayers about her father, Jim Berry, who was in hospital for 10 days with COVID-19.

    “I wanted to come into the church because it’s now open, and I have missed being here,” said the mum-of-two. “It also would have been my mum’s birthday today, so it was good to come today. I do watch the vicar, Claire, as she leads the online services from the church, but being here myself is a different experience. Of course, I’ve also missed the church family getting together as well.

    “My dad had had a stroke, and then was discharged from hospital and was self-isolating. My brother lives around the corner from him in Birmingham, and would go and see him in his conservatory. When he realised my dad hadn’t been out of bed for 24 hours, it was really worrying. He was ill for two weeks with COVID and in hospital for 10 days, and of course we were praying for him. Claire prayed with me on the phone and put the prayer request out by email.

    “But he has now recovered, and amazingly seems to have stopped being diabetic as well. That’s a real answer to prayer and I wanted to thank God today for that.”

    Ticks on the pews show you where you can pray
    There’s the chance to light a candle in St Barnabas, Swanmore, to symbolise those you are praying for

    St Barnabas Church, Swanmore, is open for private prayer on Tuesdays from 10.30am-12.30pm, Wednesdays from 2.30pm-4.30pm, Thursdays from 6pm-8pm, and Saturdays from 3pm-5pm. For details, see the St Barnabas, Swanmore, Facebook page.

    Meanwhile, St Francis Church in Leigh Park will be open from Monday 22 June after a significant effort from members of the congregation and local community to prepare the church in time. The church has bench-style wooden pews that are moveable, but heavy to lift. They had to be moved into the hall to allow cleaning of the church.

    By appealing on social media, the church recruited just the right number of strong and capable volunteers to clear the church safely. Another group then cleaned the body of the church, so it was ready to receive visitors. That means St Francis Church will be open from 10am-12noon on Mondays and from 5pm-7pm on Thursdays. And nearby St Clare’s Church in Warren Park, will be open from 10am-12noon on Tuesdays and from 5pm-7pm on Fridays.

    Volunteers who have helped to clear St Francis Church, Leigh Park, ready for opening
    Volunteers who have helped to clear St Francis Church, Leigh Park, ready for opening

    Portsmouth Cathedral opened its doors to the public for the first time in three months on June 16. Queues had already formed before opening time. Many people expressed their gratitude that the building was open and some were in tears. 

    One visitor said: “It was a real joy to spend an hour of prayer in the cathedral. Everything was so beautifully thought through and set out – so clever to have single matchsticks for candle lighting and reassuring, as well as practical, to have the hand sanitisers. Like the many, varied and inspiring services during lockdown – a triumph for the ministry team and real manifestation of the love and grace of God. Heartfelt thanks.”

    The cathedral is now open daily from 11am until 2pm. Full details are here. Among other churches that have announced plans to open their buildings for private prayer are the following:


    • ST ALBAN'S CHURCH, COPNOR: Open on Mondays from 8:30am-10am and Thursdays from 2:30pm-4:40pm, with a family prayer station and reflective prayer station;
    • ST CUTHBERT'S COPNOR: Open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am-11.30am; Wednesdays from 5.30pm-7.30pm (one household at a time);
    • ST PHILIP'S COSHAM: Open on Wednesdays from 12.30pm-2.30pm;
    • ST MARY’S, FRATTON: Open daily from 9am-12noon. Full details are here;
    • ST FRANCIS, HILSEA: Open on Tuesdays from 10am-11am;
    • ST JAMES, MILTON: Open on Sundays from 2pm-4pm and Wednesdays from 10am-12noon (limit of six people at a time); 
    • CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION, NORTH END: Open on Wednesdays from 2pm-4pm;
    • ST GEORGE'S, PORTSEA: Open on weekdays from 11am-1pm;
    • CHURCH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, SOUTHSEA: Open on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10.30am-11.30am;
    • ST JUDE’S, SOUTHSEA: Open every weekday from 10am-12noon. Full details are here;
    • ST MARGARET'S, SOUTHSEA: Open and serving as a Foodbank on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am-11am; 
    • ST SIMON'S, SOUTHSEA: Open on Wednesdays, from 2pm-4pm.


    • NEWPORT MINSTER: Open weekdays from 10am-12.30pm. Full details here.
    • HOLY CROSS, BINSTEAD: Open on Sundays and Thursdays from 10am to 5pm on both days.
    • ST PETER’S, HAVENSTREET: Open on Tuesday’s and Saturdays from 10am to 5pm on both days.
    • ST EDMUND’S, WOOTTON: Open daily from 9am to 5pm except Friday when it will be 10am to 5pm.


    • ST THOMAS, BEDHAMPTON: Open on Sundays and Wednesdays from 11am-3pm  
    • ST THOMAS A BECKET, WARBLINGTON: Open on Wednesdays from 12noon-4pm and Sundays from 2pm-4pm. 

    Each church will abide by the government guidelines on hygiene and social distancing, meaning that only a certain number of people may be allowed inside at any one time. For more information about those guidelines, click here.

    St Barnabas

    Church Road, Swanmore, SO32 2PA

    More info

    St Francis Church, Leigh Park

    Riders Lane, Leigh Park, Leigh Park, PO9 4QJ

    More info

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