When Are Our Churches Re-opening? A Clarification For Parishioners

Many rumours are circulating following the various government statements this week so, to avoid any disappointment or misinformation, the current view of the Bishops of England and Wales is given below.

Statement from the Bishops:

The timing and the manner of the opening of churches touches profound sensitivities and spiritual needs. The Government’s document and statements fail to recognise this.  The Government’s position, established 11 May, includes these steps aimed at opening churches as soon as possible: the establishment of a task force for places of worship, to work closely with ‘stakeholders’ in ensuring that premises are COVID-19 secure; and heeding the experience of other countries in which churches are already open for worship.

In dialogue with the Government, the Catholic Church will continue its engagement in this process and has already submitted a detailed plan, in full accordance with public health guidelines, for churches to be opened for private prayer.  The Church is ready to play its full part in the task force, understanding that this includes the possible earlier use of churches for private prayer, as a first safe step towards their use for public worship.

The government set out a cautious plan for easing existing measures in a safe and measured way, subject to successfully controlling the virus and being able to monitor and react to its spread. The plan will be kept under review as the epidemic, and the world’s understanding of it, develops.

It can be read at   https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/our-plan-to-rebuild-the-uk-governments-covid-19-recovery-strategy

Church opening is deemed to be the last stage of the easing process, the same stage as other buildings where people congregate in an enclosed space such as in theatres or restaurants.  The plan states the earliest is July 4 but could be later, although there may be some concession earlier for private prayer only, under strict conditions.

Therefore, here’s something for our parish community to think about in the next few weeks

When some form of re-opening eventually happens, it looks like it will initially be for private prayer only and under strict conditions of limited and controlled access with social distancing and sanitisation procedures in operation.  If so, as a parish we will need volunteer stewards (wearing face covering and gloves) to admit and direct parishioners and, as each parishioner leaves, to sanitise all areas touched before another parishioner might touch them.

Depending on advice at the time, parishioners coming to church may also need to wear a face covering etc. and to sanitise their hands on entry to the church using the sanitiser provided by the stewards.  Notices on pews (as used in Parliament, for example) will indicate where parishioners can sit in order to ensure safe spacing.

Depending on numbers attending church, a one-way system similar to that now used in some supermarkets may need to be used especially in “gathering” areas such as around the candle stands.

ALL parishioners will at all times need to remain at least two metres from anyone not in their own household. This will inevitably limit the numbers we can admit at one time but is essential in order to protect everyone, particularly our elderly and more vulnerable, especially as transfer of the illness is now known to be possible from people who do not show any symptoms but are nevertheless carriers.

We must accept that we are all in this for the long haul if we are to avoid a second epidemic.  The norms and procedures that we have grown accustomed to at Mass are not likely to resume in the same ways for a considerable time, even when we re-open.

Thank you for your understanding and we look forward to the day when we can gather together in confident safety, albeit perhaps with a very different perspective on life!