Many countries are either planning for the reopening of churches or have already done so, and having to put various plans into action to make sure our places of prayer remain safe for people to come to.
It’s really easy to forget, among the discussions about hand sanitizer, appropriate distances and revising the churches capacity, that our churches are meant to be places for the community to come together to pray, worship, celebrate and grieve. We can only do those things if we feel welcomed and relaxed. If it all becomes too clinical, then this will detract from the prayerful atmosphere that we should be providing.
I’m not saying don’t try. I desperately want to worship and pray with my fellow believers in person. However, when we lose sight of why our churches are here, and just focus on the how, we stop thinking about the new people who may come through the doors because they had an experience during the lockdown, or we miss the grieving families who have lost people to COVID-19, either directly or indirectly. These people don’t come for ‘business as usual’, they need welcoming graciously, personally and with dignity.
Even the regulars, they need to know they have been missed. The personal touches that will be missing if we simple greet them with ‘please sit there and don’t forget to wash your hands’ instructions.
And finally, to ensure I don’t stray too far off-topic, for those who continue to remain at home, for health reasons or just out of fear, don’t stop providing an online presence. For many months to come, many parishioners will not feel safe enough to come to church, so will continue to rely on live streaming and online support.
Fr Eugene Duffy, in Ireland, has written a more in-depth article that calls for churches to see this as an opportunity for reflection.