CHURCHES in Darlington will host the North-East’s first drive-in service at The Northern Echo arena this weekend, as they are set to reopen across the UK on July 4.

During the lockdown, many churches have offered online alternatives from live sermons to services on zoom, and many hope to continue operating online as lockdown continues. St Clare’s in Newton Aycliffe and St Andrew’s in Aycliffe Village say they hope to return to regular Sunday service from August, while opening for private prayers until then.

St Mary’s Cathedral in Middlesbrough will see it’s first public mass in more than three months on Sunday July 5. However, face coverings will be compulsory and a cap of 100 places will be in place.

Meanwhile, the parish of Great Aycliffe says the number of people using its Facebook page, which it has been using to broadcast services, has grown significantly during lockdown.

Reverend Ann Anderson said: “The membership of Great Aycliffe Facebook page has grown quite significantly, and many people who maybe wouldn’t normally come into the building are able to enjoy the online services.

“It’s been fabulous and there has been a sense of people praying for the whole community rather than just the church family. This pandemic has really brought people together.”

“We will be continuing an online presence even after lockdown.” She added.

Darlington Baptist Church and other churches in Darlington are offering a new, socially distant alternative this weekend as it hosts a drive-in service on July 5 at 11am under the One Voice Darlington banner.

The drive-in asks those attending to park their car in a space, ensuring that there is a space between the car next to them.

Attendees are not allowed to leave their vehicle during the service. However, there are toilet facilities available in case of emergency.

Music will be played on a stage and those attending can join on by singing in their cars.

St Nicholas’ Church in Durham which is set to reopen on July 4 for individual prayer between 11am and 1pm, has been offering online options during the lockdown as well.

Vicar of St Nicholas’ Church Arun Arora said: “We currently stream two services on Sunday one in the morning at 10am and one in the evening at 6.30pm.

“With all of these we have been seeing more people coming online. We used to get a dozen people in for morning prayer before the lockdown but now we offer a lot more online and we are getting more people attending.”

He added: “We are going to keep all of these options going and eventually we will get to a point where we will try to live stream all of our services, especially in the morning.

“I think one of the reasons why the online services have been so popular is because the barriers to entry are no longer there.

“Before there was a psychological barrier of crossing the church threshold and that’s no longer there when you can do it from home. People are able to engage with church on their own terms."