By Cian Molloy - 24 May, 2020
Ireland’s largest churches have the capacity to open safely and could open as early as next week, argues Fr Dermot Leycock, parish priest of Newtownpark.
His parish church, consecrated in 1967, has a “normal” seating capacity for 800 people – and that is after they reduced the number of seats to create a “gathering area” immediately at the church entrance. Such is the space within the open-plan building that Fr Leycock believes that it could accommodate as many as 280 people while observing social-distancing guidelines.
“We could get that many in and out of the building safely, while everyone keeps 2m distance from the persons either side of them, and in front and behind them,” says the priest.
Not only is the church’s interior space vast: it has seven different entrances and exits for the congregation. “People would be able to enter and exit the building without mixing with one another,” says Fr Leycock.
“We have put a plan together and would like to put it into action once we have approval from the relevant authorities,” says the parish priest. “We are having signs printed indicating where people are to sit apart from one another and, with proper stewarding, there is no reason why anyone would come into contact with one another. “
Under the Newtownpark plan, members of the same family or household would sit together but, unlike the practice in some Anglican churches long ago, there would be no seats assigned permanently to a particular family or patron of the church. After every Mass, a team of volunteers would sanitise the seating areas.
To avoid possible contamination via door handles, entrances and exits would remain permanently open.
According to the plan, all visitors to the church would be expected to wear a mask, with re-usable masks already stocked in the parish shop, priced €5 each.
“We propose that, in addition to wearing face masks, Ministers of the Eucharist would also wear gloves, so there would be no contact of hands during the distribution of Communion,” Fr Leycock explained.
Under his parish’s proposals, there would be an absolute limit on the number of allocated places within the church and once these places were filled, worshippers would be advised to come to the next service.
“You could have several Masses here, with people from other nearby parishes coming here,” Fr Leycock said. “We will see more of that anyway in the future because of the fall in the number of priests, some of the smaller parish churches will have to be closed down.”