TICKETS are unlikely to be required for masses in Clare, when religious services resume from next Monday, but the option of participating from your car is being considered by some parishes.
Diocesan Communications Officer, Fr Brendan Quinlivan said that while bespoke booking services – some of which come with a hefty monthly fee – are being offered to the clergy, there are no plans, as of yet, to go down the ticketing route.
“Advance booking really flies in the face of the principle that all are welcome,” he said. Fr Quinlivan, who is also Parish Priest of Tulla. “We would really be asking people to reflect on how comfortable they are attending at mass,” he said. “The obligation to attend Sunday mass was dispensed with and that continues to be the case for now.”
With ‘drive-in’ masses being offered in a number of parishes from County Kerry to County Antrim, some parishes in Clare are looking at facilitating outdoor attendance. “A number of parishes will be installing speakers outside their churches,” Fr Quinlivan said. “The will mean people can choose to sit in their cars. For Communion, a Eucharistic Minister will come out to them.”
The on-line services that many religious communities have been offering since the start of the lockdown will still be available. “I’ve been using Facebook Live for daily mass and evening prayers,” Fr Quinlivan said. “I think the social media, on-line and radio services need to continue.”
For Church of Ireland members in the Diocese of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert, on-line ministry has also proven highly successful. “Many people are likely to make the decision not to attend in person just yet,” explained Stephen Fletcher, Diocesan Communications Officer. “We have been providing spiritual support on-line during the lockdown and it’s been very popular.”
Like Fr Quinlivan, Mr Fletcher is keen on getting clarification on the government announcement limiting indoor gatherings to 50 until July. “Certainly St Columba’s on Bindon Street in Ennis and St Flannan’s Cathedral in Killaloe would have capacity for far larger numbers to attend while adhering to social distancing,” Mr Fletcher said. Fr Quinlivan agreed that the “one size fits all” approach needs to be adjusted. “In some small churches, if you had 50 people attending, that wouldn’t be safe,” he said. “On the other hand, we have churches which have far more space than some of the supermarkets operating at the moment. The Archbishops have sought clarity and we really do need that.”
At the Evangelical Church in Ennis, meetings will resume from the middle of next week, according to Mossy Angland who is one of four elders for the 90-strong community. “We have had an absolutely amazing reaction to our on-line Tuesday and Sunday sessions,” he said. “We would hope that by July, most of our meetings will have resumed, and we’re putting all of the necessary [health] measures in place. What we would also like to see is clarification on the 2-metre rule, because if there is leeway for pubs and restaurants, that might be something that can be adjusted for religious gatherings.”
The Shannon Islamic Cultural Centre expects to be able to re-open for Friday prayers from early July. “Since the lockdown, only a small number of us who live together have been praying there together,” explained the organisation’s secretary, Rafiqul Alam. “Normally, we might have around 50 people, but that hasn’t been possible since March. We will be applying the public health guidelines fully and social interaction after prayer will be discouraged, with everyone advised to go straight home.”
The nature of religious services will change, to some extent, for all denominations, in line with infection control measures. “There will be no Sign of Peace exchanged at mass,” outlined Fr Quinlivan. “Ministers of the Eucharist will wear masks and people will receive Communion on the hand. The collection basket won’t be passed around. People will have the chance to donate before or after mass.” At a time when income for parishes has fallen sharply, Fr Quinlivan said the hope is that the deficit will right itself over time. “We are around 50% down on donations across the Diocese,” he said. “Many people are suffering economically and have been very generous in terms of contributing on-line.”
Getting places of worship ready to re-open is no small matter. Not all churches will re-open immediately after June 29 and timetables will be adjusted to facilitate people attending mid-week ceremonies. There continues to be a major effort to ensure there are enough hands on deck for the resumption.
“The Bishop has contacted all of our clergy who are over 70,” Fr Quinlivan said. “They’re keen to return to their congregations and that’s wonderful. In more general terms, we have fantastic support, with the likes of the GAA Club in Tulla cleaning the church on a rota basis and dedicated volunteers who will continue to be involved in areas like sanitising and stewarding. It’s a big task.”
Stephen Fletcher highlighted the same challenges for the Church of Ireland. “Given our demographic, a number of our congregation and volunteers would be elderly,” he explained, they would be recommended not to put themselves at risk at the moment, so there really is an opportunity here for younger people to come forward and give their support.”
“The key is that people would be patient and generous in their understanding,” noted Fr Quinlivan. “We are trying to get things right and we would hope that any issues that might arise would be ironed out over time. We are asking people to assume personal responsibility.”