The Bishop of Raphoe says he would like to see churches ready to open for personal prayer by tomorrow week, Wednesday May 13th.
In a letter to priests in the Diocese, Bishop Alan Mc Guckian praises the response of people, and the level of mutual support in the diocese, but stresses that the reopening must be done in a planned way, with provisions made for hand hygiene, social distancing and public safety at every level of the gradual reopening.
On the issue of funerals, Bishop McGuckian says as we move towards limited funeral services, priests and undertakers must work together to ensure public health is protected at all times.
Letter to the priests and people of the Raphoe Diocese.
Since the period of ‘lockdown’ began some weeks ago every aspect of our lives has been turned upside down, including our faith lives. The Faithful in our diocese have been extremely impressive in their patient acceptance of the current situation as regards the practice of their faith. Many people are living very intense faith lives and are supporting each other and their priests in beautiful ways. We are in this together, priests and people, and there is something very rich going on behind it all.
As a diocese we have shown a strong lead in adopting a strict discipline in relation to the closing of our churches. At the time this was necessary to support the national effort to close down the virus which has been very successful so far. I have been listening to the voice of many priests and people and I believe it is now time for us to move to a new phase and to open our churches again for personal prayer.
In everything we do as a diocese I want us to give a leadership that shows that we care deeply about our people and their safety. This period of gradual relaxation will be important. We recognise that there is always the danger of complacency setting in which could have disastrous consequences. I believe now is the time to cooperate generously in the gradual process of relaxation.
For that reason I ask all priests to ensure that all of the guidelines are in place before opening churches. This will include steps such as creating signage, roping benches off, assembling rotas for hygiene etc before taking the step of opening. It would be good to aim to have this done by Wednesday 13th May.
We made a decision to confine funeral services to the cemetery because we were concerned about social distancing at the time of funerals, overseeing the numbers who would attend the church, all in the context of concerns about safety.
As we move towards having a service in the church we must work with Undertakers to ensure that families are fully agreed in advance about those who can come into the church and cemetery. The Government guideline is very clear: ‘Phase 1 foresees continuance of the restriction on attendance at funerals to a maximum of ten people and only members of the household, close family or close friends if the deceased has no household or family members.’ Other relatives and friends may follow the ceremony on webcam or Facebook live. It is very important that people who have been exposed to the Corona Virus should not attend.
There will be no ceremonies of Reception of Remains the evening before a funeral. It is noted that in some instances groups of people stand along the road or near the graveyard as the funeral cortege passes. We strongly encourage people to observe all the guidelines on social distancing.
Guidelines for opening of Churches for private prayer
Signage upon entry to the church to indicate basic points of protocol, ie.
‘Please observe the following:
If possible, wear a mask
Please, if possible, avoid touching any surface.
Please follow signs and directions’
If possible, the entrance door should be left permanently open so that no one need touch the handle.
Hand sanitiser at all entry and exit points
Pathway for access to Candelabras with social distancing markers
Candelabras could be arranged for the lighting of Candles without the use of common lighters, eg. have a large candle permanently lit for lighting small candles so that people touch no surfaces. Hand gel could be provided. Alternatively the candelabra could be removed entirely.
Sign: “Please light any candles from the large candle and avoid touching any surface.”
Or “Please use hand gel after lighting candles.”
One-way system for entry and exit, (if this is possible) eg down side aisle, up the centre aisle.
Cordon off pews in such a way as to ensure social distancing ie. One pew open in every three.
There should be a rota for disinfecting commonly touched areas, such as pew ends, empty holy water fonts, notice boards, etc. Where necessary, there should be volunteers to oversee the numbers entering the church.
It is important to ensure that cleaning personnel are instructed what to wear for cleaning, i.e. masks, gloves and aprons. They should be clearly instructed on what to clean/disinfect.