A letter from Fr Philip Thomas [posted 12th June 2020]
Although we are still in uncertain times, we have been instructed that we can gently open churches for private prayer only. However, before we can do this, preparations have to abide by. The Bishops Conference has laid down some guidelines that need to be in place before we open.
There are guidelines and requirements to be looked at so as to ensure safe opening and safe visits for people. It’s much easier to include the complete set of guidelines that was sent this past week rather than trying to pull out little bits. They are clear and they are concise and are necessary.
I also have to ensure that the principles behind these conditions and guidelines are observed if we are to consider opening: the churches; even before then, there are some important preparations that will need to take place in both St Peter and St Michael’s Churches.
What needs to happen at this first stage? The churches have been closed for three months and they need to be cleaned, freshened up and prepared. I would like a team of volunteers who will help to sweep, dust and wipe down the surfaces of the church and get everything ready for opening. If you are available and (I’m sorry to have to state this) not belonging to one of those vulnerable categories of people in our community-regardless of whether you would consider yourself vulnerable-then please contact the parish office by email.
If you can bring along a mop, a duster or some cleaning cloths all the better. The Church Door will be open for you to come, but please do not congregate at the entrance. I will have a table prepared with particular tasks within certain areas of the church: take one and immerse yourself in that particular section until it is done. Social distancing must be observed even in this part of our preparations. Once the church is prepped then I will begin to mark the certain sections of the church that are not to be used for the time being and ensure that benches are clearly marked to ensure that those coming into church are not seated too close to anyone else.
Before we can open, I have to reassure the Bishop and Diocesan Curia that we can both meet the principles and implement the guidelines so as to ensure those who cross the threshold are safe and looked after. We will then be given permission to open, it will be for a certain number of hours each day. The proposal for both churches to be open are: St Michaels- Wednesday 10.00am-12.00pm. St Peter’s Tuesday-Friday 11.00am –1.00pm.
As much as it would seem a good thing or a nice thing to meet with others in church, and a most natural thing, the church is only open for individual prayer. If we cannot observe this requirement and individuals take it upon themselves to start gathering people, then we have to think again about opening. I do hope you will make use of the quiet, the space, the beauty and the tranquillity as we emerge once more out of the despair and confinement of the last twelve weeks.
Protecting those at higher risk (e.g. the elderly, those extremely vulnerable and shielding or clinically vulnerable and accessing annual flu immunisation) must be our consideration.
Volunteers will need to be in the church at all times to ensure that anyone coming into the church sanitises their hands both going in and going out of the building. It is recommended that people wipe the area in which they have been praying with an antiviral/antibacterial wipe as they leave. Each day when the church is closed, the building will have to be cleaned. Door handles should be cleaned regularly during the day when the church is open.
Ideally it would be good to have two volunteers for each hour. Of course, if it is not possible to find the volunteers then I will have to revise the opening of the church accordingly. Toilet facilities in churches are to remain closed to prevent any risk of transmission of infection I would rather we started with small steps than jeopardise all the good that has been done during lockdown. If you are able to help please email the parish office. We have to consider the welfare and well-being of the community at all times.
Remembering you and those you love in my prayers,
Fr Philip Thomas, Parish Priest, 12th June 2020
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