The committee responsible for Health and Safety in our buildings met with the Parish Council Chair and me on Tuesday, 14 July to consider the possibility of re-opening our church. Here is their report of the meeting:
The opening of the church, as you can imagine, is a very complex matter. The directions from the diocese, in response to government advice, involve a considerable number of restrictions and rules. In the first instance opening for private prayer is to be considered and after that the possibility of celebrating Mass in church again. The Parish Priest makes the final decision and there is no obligation on him to implement this until he feels it appropriate.
Opening for Mass would involve considerable organisation. The congregation would be restricted to fewer than 80 people. Social distancing of 2 metres with the wearing of face masks would be necessary. Cleaning of hands on entering and leaving church would be managed with alcohol gel. There must be extensive cleaning of the pews and contact areas both before and after Mass. The doors and windows, if possible, must be left open to allow the circulation of air. The seating and direction of movement of participants must be controlled by volunteer stewards-of which we would need a significant number under the age of 70. These volunteers would also need to be involved in cleaning before and after Mass and at least one of these stewards at each Mass must be DBS checked.
Mass itself must not involve music; the homily must be less than 2 minutes; there are to be no bidding prayers; there would be no sign of peace; Communion should be distributed by the priest using protective clothing and socially distanced; parishioners should be encouraged to leave promptly and not engage in conversation with each other or the priest. These are the main issues.
The official communiqué is much more extensive. As things stand with track and trace at present, contacts should be recorded and in the event of a COVID infection the church would be closed again for a deep clean and members of the congregation might be obliged to self- isolate for 2 weeks.
The consensus of the Committee was that Mass (in this restricted form) would be a joyless experience lacking in spiritual comfort; furthermore, the image of these restrictions would spoil the experience we now have of the streamed Mass without benefit. The general feeling is that opening under these circumstances is not an attractive proposition. Naturally, if anyone has a strongly felt converse opinion they should voice it.
I am not aware of a desire in our community for opening the church for either private prayer or for Mass as there is still much anxiety with regard to the pandemic. Most of those who have spoken to me so far say they are reluctant to enter the building or be part of a congregation until a COVID-19 vaccine is found. The risk, they say, is not worth it.
However, I now need to hear from all members and friends of Holy Name. In particular, I need to know if 1) you personally would visit the church for private prayer if it was re-opened, 2) you would volunteer as a steward and 3) you would take part in the celebration of Mass in its restricted form. Please respond by email or telephone. The feedback I receive will inform the decisions to be made.
(Fr) Michael Campion
19 July 2020