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A note from Archbishop Stack on the reopening of churches

Coat of arms - Archbishop G Stack

The Archdiocese of Cardiff and the Dioceses of Menevia and Wrexham welcomes the announcement by the First Minister that churches may be opened for private prayer from Monday 22nd June 2020. In the interests of your continued safety, given the measures that will need to be put in place in the coming days, it seems that Saturday 28th June will be the likely date for those churches who fulfil the health and safety requirements to be opened for a specific time to be announced. With the re-opening of churches, certain responsibilities are laid on both the parish and the diocese to ensure the health and safety of those who come to pray. Amongst these are the following:

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When will our churches be open?

A letter from Archbishop George Stack

With the gradual loosening of lockdown regulations and the opening of more and more amenities, the question is inevitably asked “When will our churches be open?”.  As with the  many other challenges facing us in this pandemic, this is not an easy question to answer. The opening of parks and beaches, of garden centres and supermarkets car showrooms and other amenities is based on the concept of these being  “open spaces” of one kind or another.  Churches do not seem to be seen in the same category. I imagine this is because they are places where large groups of people come together, sit in close proximity to each other, often for one hour or more. Control of access,movement and social distancing will be part of the conditions laid down in the gradual return to  our churches whether for private prayer and public worship.

The Archbishops of England and Wales have been engaged with the relevant authorities on the necessity of opening our churches in the first instance for private prayer. Public worship will begin later. The essence of our coming together for Mass is that it is a communal gathering. We are blessed to have large congregations in many of our churches who sit very closely together. Under social distancing regulations which will undoubtedly be imposed, this will not be allowed to happen. People will need to sit apart with the consequent significant reduction in numbers being able to attend the same Mass together. Although the rate of infection has been reduced by between 60-70%, as a result of the lockdown restrictions,this does not mean it is completely eradicated. If the R number were to rise again there would likely be a second and equally dangerous wave of infection. Medical professionals are warning of this danger.

The government in Wales has devolved responsibility in matters of health and in the control of the pandemic in this country. It has not yet announced and relaxation of the many  restrictions with which we have become so familiar in recent months. The Catholic Church in Wales, like other Christian bodies and members of the ‘Faiths Forum’, is working on a common approach to government on these matters. The next meeting of the ‘Faiths Forum’ is on 3 June.If and when permission is given for our churches to open, they will be subject to strict health and safety conditions as are all public buildings. Amongst these will be the necessity to provide in churches:

  • Social distancing measures,seating arrangements,one way system,exits and entrances,clear signage,restricted times etc.
  • Attendance management,qeueing,ticketing,online registration,stewarding etc.
  • Staggering of attendance by age or vulnerability
  • Infection control issues such as Holy Water stoops, leaflets,hymn books,missals,newsletters,candles, all of which can harbour the virus
  • PPE materials, sanitiser,deep cleaning materials, surface cleaning materials etc.
  • Liturgical issues, distribution of Holy Communion, frequency of Mass, devotions, organisation of Memorial Masses, care of the bereaved
  • Two or three volunteers (under the age of seventy) to implement these policies in order to keep churches open  at specific times – the safeguarding if clergy over the age of 70 and those with underlying health issues will obviously be a priority

In the first instance, large, strategically placed churches would be opened. Whether large or small, churches would need to ensure compliance with the above requisites.

The diocese is engaged with www.churchmarketplace.co.uk which is a central purchasing agency in order to acquire the necessary equipment outlined above at competitive prices. There are other agencies able to provide PPE materials also. These are:

  1. BCB INTERNATIONAL LTD
    Howell House
    Lamby Way Industrial Estate
    Cardiff  CF3  2EX
  2. booie.sall@harlequinprintgroup.co.uk

Needless to say, all these arrangements will cost significant amounts of money at a time when parishes have been deprived of income for almost three months. Parishioners are encouraged to make a Standing Order for their offerings in order to maintain their churches during these difficult times recognising that this will not be possible for those who are struggling financially.

27 May 2020