Churches and the roadmap
A chara, – Dr Brendan McDonnell (May 13th) writes: “Robert MacCarthy (Letters, May 12th) questions the advice that churches should wait until the end of July to reopen along with hairdressers and cattle marts. The coronavirus particle sees no difference between these locations.”
Nor does the coronavirus see any difference between those locations and other services and amenities which are planned to open earlier. The questions are whether the nature of the activity poses a different level of risk, how essential the activity is, and whether, as the roadmap says, there is “a population-wide demand (eg hairdressers, barbers)”. Then we consider what measures must be taken to minimise the risk.
Churches must, of course, follow epidemiological advice, as Dr McDonnell says. It is right that all activities take all necessary precautions regarding safe distances, etc. It is a valid question whether the nature of the interpersonal contact necessarily involved in hairdressing or cattle marts is comparable to the level of such contact necessarily involved in gathering for public worship. It seems clear that hairdressing at least does necessarily involve much closer personal contact.
Robert MacCarthy (no relation!) raises an important point: “The Government seems to think that religion is a hobby, not something central to the lives of a great many people.”
A million or more people in Ireland normally gather for religious worship every week – surely “a population-wide demand”. Is there any other practice which matches that?
It is central to their lives, not a hobby. I do not argue that churches should be allowed to reopen earlier, but it is right that we can ask whether the decisions of Government are soundly based.
A more immediate question is this. In the light of the preparations necessary for reopening places of worship, could they be ready earlier than the assigned date, or can they be ready even on that date itself? So far, we have not heard of a realistic detailed plan such as that agreed in Italy on May 7th. Why have we heard nothing? Why have those million people not been given the opportunity to have input in what is central to their lives? – Is mise,
Sandyford, Dublin 16.
Sir, – The churches need to be proactive, imaginative and present measures that will ensure the safety of their mainly elderly congregations if they wish to reopen.
Pews could be removed and the floors marked out at two-metre intervals so as to allow people to stand in safety during liturgies. If some of the elderly cannot stand for these often unnecessarily long services, they could bring along a portable stool.
The eucharistic celebration where communion is a necessary element creates its own peculiar problems. However, if communion hosts were spread out on the altars parishioners could then go there, take communion and return safely to their place. The celebrants should also limit their sermons to a few essential points and so cut down on standing time.
Funeral services could also be radically changed to allow those grieving some dignified time.
Adaptation to the needs of our radically changed circumstances is the new necessity for not alone our own human individual survival but for all organisations, including the churches. – Yours, etc,