10 June 2020, The Tablet

Strict hygiene rules for Monday church reopening

Strict hygiene rules for Monday church reopening

The Pugin masterpiece of St Giles in Cheadle, Staffordshire is among the thousands of churches closed since 23 March.
Ruth Gledhill

Churches can reopen for private prayer on Monday but there are strict rules surrounding what they can and cannot do.
New guidance that has gone out to all bishops and priests states a church must be fully cleaned every day, must remove all shared books such as Missals or hymn books and must have two stewards on duty the whole time the church is open. 
Churches have been closed since 23 March, following instructions from the government, although Catholic bishops allowed their clergy to livestream Mass from their churches.
The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has worked its own public health advisors, Public Health England and the government on the guidance.
The guidance is designed to protect those at higher risk and includes more regular cleaning of churches with no sharing of items. It also sets out social distancing procedures, how to manage outdoor and indoor spaces and insistence on hand-washing or hand sanitising facilities for all.

The relaxation is just for private prayer and no priest or lay person can lead devotions or prayer.

“Bishops, priests and people share a deep desire to re-open our churches as soon as the Government allows us to do so. Re-opening must, of course, happen in a safe manner, and it is likely to take place in stages. Each stage will be accompanied by guidance to ensure this can happen safely and effectively,” the guidelines state.

Churches have been told to assemble a team of stewards to help, as priests will not be able to manage it on their own. Besides obtaining enough alcohol hand gel and cleaning materials, they must tape to mark appropriate distances on floors and block off areas of seating.

As an alternative to tape, seating can be reconfigured by removing chairs or pews.

The only printed materials are allowed are those for single use, such as publications intended to be taken away from the church by the user. Service books, hymn books, CTS pamphlets and more must all be removed from the church.

In addition, people must not touch or physically venerate statues or relics.

If the church has windows that can be opened, these should be.

The guidelines stipulate that at least two stewards must be present in the church throughout the time it is open for prayer. Their job is to ensure that hand sanitisation occurs at entry and exit points, social distancing is maintained by people in the church and if a pre-determined capacity is reached, they prevent others from entering the church, through, for example, a “one in, one out” policy.

People with cold or flu-like symptoms should be refused entry and the church must be cleaned fully at least once a day.

The guidelines state: “Hymn books, missals, devotional materials etc which may be re-used should be removed from the church. Physical veneration of relics or objects such as statues, crucifixes and shrines is not permitted. There should be no holy water in church stoups. Care should be exercised when lighting candles on votive stands using existing candles as a source of ignition, not lighters, matches or tapers. For electric candle stands, clean the row of buttons frequently.”

Cloth face coverings can be worn for reassurance by people in enclosed areas but are not strictly necessary.

The bishops say: “These measures may seem burdensome, or even a little daunting. They are however necessary, not least because if any churches are seen to be operating in a way that may increase the spread of the virus, there is a risk that stricter measures such as prohibition or enforced closure notices could be reimposed by local authorities or even national administrations. It is our hope that with priests and their parishioners working effectively together, we will be able to open churches safely for private prayer, as a significant step towards the resumption of the celebration of Mass and the sacraments.”

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