By Ann Marie Foley - 23 June, 2020
“I am excited. I said Mass this morning again on the webcam looking down at all the empty benches, and I’m getting tired of it. From next week there will be people there. It will be great.”
Booking a time slot for a bar or restaurant is set to be the new norm as lockdown eases, but people can now also book for Mass via a new web app called Hold My Space.
In the current phase of reducing COVID-19 restrictions, up to 50 people are allowed into the church. Many parishes are grappling with the question of how to allocate seats. Technological solutions such as the app could be part of the solution.
“Everybody wants to come back to Mass to worship. We want to welcome people and we do not want to turn them away. So we wondered was there any way to use technology because people have got used to the webcam. Even our older parishioners are used to doing things on the internet that they would not have done before,” Fr John Bracken Co-PP Dundrum Parish, Dublin, told CatholicIreland.net. He has a busy parish and in his largest church there can be hundreds at the Sunday Masses.
“We came up with this idea of reserving your place or pew. It will require some communication like suggesting people only book one Mass once a fortnight for now. I think it has potential,” he said.
Fiachra McCloskey at Digital Ideas had done some work with Fr Bracken’s parish and others on technology and websites and he developed the app with input from priests. Four in Dublin are trying out the app and there have been enquiries from other parishes outside of the capital.
“I’d be all for fancy tech and QR codes and scanners and that sort of thing but a couple of times I’ve been reined back in, and priests have said no, most of our parishioners do not know [that technology],” he told CatholicIreland.net.
He had seen the many generic booking apps and technologies on the market, but he did not want to bundle Mass in with those.
“These apps are built as a catch-all, and there are so many variables [that] it becomes very hard to customise them and make them Church friendly and Church orientated. That is where it grew from,” he said.
A parish can use the app with existing parish websites and webcams. They can decide how many places can be booked online and save some for people who turn up at the door of the church without a booking.
When the government guidelines allow for more people in the church, the Hold My Seat app can be adjusted to allow for more bookings. It can facilitate several churches in the one parish with different seating capacities.
It will also allow for block booking for funerals. If there is a problem or if there is an unexpected funeral, those booked for Mass will receive a notification that their booking is cancelled.
There is also a facility to make a donation to the church. If parishioners are not into technology, they can contact the parish office by telephone for help or to make the booking for them.
The app is free to parishes in this initial stage until 20 July. After that it will cost €50 per month, and Fiachra McCloskey expects that it may have outlived its usefulness within a few months as restrictions are eased and parishes can go back to a more “normal” form of congregation and Mass.
Meanwhile, priests like Fr Bracken can avail of the app so they will not have to turn anyone away, or have people attending Mass from outside the church or pressuring them to squeeze an extra person into the church.
Fr Bracken is expecting a good turnout at the first Masses, but he would prefer that vulnerable people take their time about going back to Mass. However, people can take confidence in the fact that the church is all marked out, hand sanitisers are at the ready and every possible precaution has been taken.
“I am excited. I said Mass this morning again on the webcam looking down at all the empty benches, and I’m getting tired of it. From next week there will be people there. It will be great,” said Fr Bracken.
Other parishes are making their own arrangements on how to allocate pews. For example, one priest in Tuam, Co. Galway, told the Ray D’Arcy Show that he plans to issue tickets for the first Masses. In Stradbally, Co. Laois they plan to hold two extra Masses each week. On Tuesday evening the elderly and vulnerable can attend and on Thursday evening there will be a Mass for workers who find it hard to get to Mass on other days.
See for trial example https://holdmyspace.ie/dundrum-parish/.