For one Church of England Diocese of Durham Vicar, applying her Chinese cultural heritage to the task of keeping parishioners safe during COVID is proving to be something of a house speciality.

Reopening churches for public worship within Covid-19 safety protocols has challenged clergy to adopt innovative ways to deliver services.

One such vicar, the Revd Eileen Harrop Vicar of St Mary’s in Gainford and St Andrew’s in Winston, decided that the best way to administer the bread at the Eucharist (Holy Communion) was to use extra-long serving Chopsticks. Eileen’s confidence in using them coming from her upbringing and love of Asian cooking learnt from her childhood in Singapore.

Revd Eileen said: “Many of my parishioners were quite anxious at the thought of taking communion, even though we are only permitted to do so under strict guidelines to ensure that there is no chance of transmission of the virus. I thought, why can’t I use a long pair of Chopsticks, real bread rather than wafers and drop it into the communicants’ hands? Administering the communion in this way ensures that there is no cross-contamination and my parishioners feel reassured and confident to take part.

“It’s rather special that the long chopsticks I use are normally used for the festive occasion ‘Lo Hei’ meaning ‘stir the uplifted breath of life’. They take on an even greater meaning used in this context.

“This is a first for both churches, and perhaps a first in any parish church in the diocese. My congregation at St Andrew’s, Winston, received Communion this way for their first service, following on from testing the idea at St Mary’s, Gainford the previous week.”

Revd Eileen is Singaporean Chinese and spent her early years there during the country’s transition to Independence from Britain. Eileen came to the UK to study at Keele University in 1979.

She met Brian, her husband of 35 years, while completing her teaching placement in her final year of university, returning to Singapore for a period before once again coming back to the UK, for postgraduate study and finally marrying Brian. The couple lived in Singapore for a period where Eileen worked and travelled as an organisational change consultant to multinational conglomerates, and Brian was a University lecturer. Eileen and Brian returned to the UK in 1996 and Eileen prepared for Ordination at Ridley Hall and Wolfston College, Cambridge before being ordained in Canterbury Cathedral in 2012.