Thanks to many volunteers across the Diocese, the majority of parishes are now open for Mass once again, albeit with very reduced numbers in their congregations. In recent weeks, volunteers have been filling in risk assessments, organising stewarding rotas, sourcing supplies of masks, hand sanitiser and cleaning plans and working hard to make arrangements that comply both with changing government and diocesan rules. Attendees must sanitise their hands on entry and exit, for example, and it is now compulsory for those attending to wear facemasks at all times. There are very specific rules on singing and the use of musical instruments and there can be no audience participation. Recorded music is the preferred option. Churches have to be scrupulously cleaned after each service.
The numbers allowed to book a place at Mass depend on the size and layout of the churches themselves. The Cathedral, for example, can cater for a much larger congregation than its smaller, rural brethren.
The Sunday obligation is still suspended and many are attending weekday Masses instead. In some parishes, Masses have been held outside, at Brightlingsea with Wivenhoe, for example, allowing a greater number to attend.
Parishes are following guidelines from both the Bishops’ Conference and the Government – although that guidance is subject to change. On 9 September, the Government announced more restrictions with the introduction of the ‘rule of six’ whereby people must not meet socially in groups of more than six. However, according to the Prime Minister’s statement, this does not apply to places of worship:
“COVID Secure venues like places of worship, gyms, restaurants and hospitality venues can still hold more than six people in total. Within those venues however, there must not be individual groups larger than six, and groups must not mix socially or form larger groups.
Education and work settings are unaffected, COVID Secure weddings and funerals can go ahead, up to a limit of 30 people, and organised sport will still be able to proceed.”