(The following excerpts are from information received today, May 20th, from our Bishop)
Faith leaders and Government have agreed to develop a plan to enable the phased and safe reopening of places of worship when the evidence shows it is the right time to do so. This follows the first virtual meeting of the new Places of Worship Taskforce which includes leaders and representatives from all the major faiths. The Communities Secretary was clear: places of worship will only open when the government is confident that people can use these spaces safely and will not put themselves or others at risk. 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 as a first safe step towards their use for public worship. Detailed instructions on opening churches will be given when that time is appropriate and when guidelines have been agreed by the Government and the Bishops’ Conference.
It would be important to recognise that when the moment comes to open churches, each parish that is to open must have a team of helpers/volunteers who can assist in marshalling people while they are in the church and who will ensure that the church is sanitised both before the visit and after. Obviously the team must comprise people who are able for the task. Note that people over 70 or who are in the vulnerable category cannot be co-opted for this work. Neither can the priest do this work on his own, nor must he try. Not every parish will be able to assemble such a team so it may be that only some churches in each area will be opened while others remain closed for the time being. I advise you to begin recruiting helpers/volunteers immediately so as to be ready when permission is given to open the church for private prayer.
In the meantime, the diocese is going to make bulk purchases of various necessities for sanitising churches and to assist people in keeping their hands clean as they make their private visits when permission has been granted. I list the essentials: sufficient supplies of alcohol hand sanitisers; sufficient supplies of household disinfectant and detergents suitable for cleaning church surfaces; sufficient supplies of disposable gloves; sufficient supplies disposable cloths and aprons for those who clean; bin bags to double bag refuse; and floor marking tape to mark off appropriate distances on floors and benches.
Please be aware that full compliance with established procedures will be a requirement for clergy and all volunteers. Opening churches must be safe and be shown to be safe. The openings will most likely be in stages until normality returns.