Latest news on re-opening the Church

As you will see from the information below, we are getting ever-closer to the possible reopening of our church for daily Mass – but subject to the conditions mentioned.

One of those concerns the availability of two people to act as stewards at each Mass and also a small team of cleaners to carry out the required cleaning of benches, etc, immediately following each Mass.  No one in the “at risk” group can volunteer for these duties. 

To-date two people have offered to help, but we need several more to come forward and offer their services.  Until that happens we will not receive permission to open the church and our daily Masses will have to continue on-line.  If you might be interested in helping, please call me as soon as possible so I can explain what will be required. 

Thank you – Fr Neil

I spent a good part of Saturday afternoon in church trying to prepare it for when we may be able to reopen.  I then submitted photos and a written H&S report to the Vicar General and await his response.  The church can’t reopen until both he and the Bishop give their approval and permission.

As you can see from the photo, what I have basically done is to tape off every other bench, including the four benches opposite the heaters (to lessen the risk of air-borne infection).  The open benches are marked “For 2 adults or 1 family group” and the seats are taped to indicate that two unrelated adults should sit at either end of the bench 2m apart – which would enable us to seat around 30 people.  If a family group occupies a bench together then obviously we would end up seating more than 30.  This plan also provides social distancing of 1.6m in front and behind everyone, 2m diagonally between people, and around 1.8m across the aisle.

Obviously we still have a problem with the fact that ordinarily we would have 180 people at the weekend Masses.  My plan is to possibly celebrate an additional Mass on Sundays, but given that our Bishops’ Conference is asking people to consider going to Mass on a weekday instead (given that the Sunday obligation is suspended) an additional Mass may not be necessary.  However what we are also being asked to do is introduce a booking system on a first-come-first-served basis so parishioners can reserve a place at whichever Mass they choose.  It would, of course, have to be for parishioners only as regrettably we don’t have the luxury of having room for everyone who might come to Mass here.  Please keep an eye on our parish website for further details. 

I am hoping to introduce a system in church that will enable us to continue live-streaming all Masses on Facebook and Zoom.  This will make it possible for people who are still not comfortable with gathering in church (and that is perfectly understandable) to continue watching Mass on line until they do feel able to return to church.  It will also enable sick and housebound parishioners to watch the celebration of Mass – a facility we haven’t been able to offer before.

As and when parish Masses can begin again, you will be met at the church door by a steward/usher (we have to have at least two at each Mass) whose responsibility it will be to make sure, in the nicest possible way, that only those with reservations for that Mass are admitted.  One of the ushers will then assist you in finding a seat.  Stewards will also have to keep a checklist of who is at Mass for “track & trace” purposes and I am required to keep those lists safely filed for 21days in case someone who has been at Mass develops the virus.  Speaking of which, I would want to encourage you, if at all possible, to wear a face covering while you are in church – except for young children and those with respiratory problems. 

You will not be able to use the cushions that are ordinarily available, nor will any Piety Stall items be available to buy.  Crayons and books will not be available for the children to use.  There will be no votive candles available.  If you pick up a copy of the parish newsletter, for hygiene reasons you are required to take it with you when you leave.  No one will be allowed to stand at the back of church – that area must be kept completely clear.  There will be hand gel available at the back of church and in the W.C.

There will be no singing at any Masses (or at funerals or weddings) for the time being, and we priests have been encouraged to keep the celebration of Mass as short as possible so that, under the circumstances, people aren’t in church together any longer than is absolutely necessary.   Having spoken to a colleague of mine whose church is about the same size as ours and which also has only one entrance/exit door, my plan is to distribute communion at the back of church after the final blessing.  You will be asked to approach bench by bench, socially distanced, receive communion in your hand (or a blessing but without me touching your head as I normally would) and then leave directly and without, of course, congregating outside to chat.  There will be no collection taken up during Mass, but the collection bowl will be at the back of church for you to leave your offering as you go out.  I would like to encourage as many of you as possible to consider paying by standing order so that we can eliminate as far as possible any risk of catching the virus from collection money.

As soon as the church is empty, a team of cleaners will then disinfect the benches, door handles, the toilet, etc., so that everything is hopefully safe for the next congregation.  And there’s the rub in the words of Shakespeare.  I have only had one person offer to help out and we need cleaning teams and stewards in place otherwise the church can’t reopen, and no one in the “at risk” category, either by age, health, or shielding, can be involved. 

Please keep checking our parish website for updated information.  

Thank you – Fr Neil