As we begin to prepare to open for Mass and Communion it is important to note, again, that I am obliged to follow certain regulations from the Bishop which are based upon regulations from the government. I won't list them all here.
The main one is this, that, currently, no church can have more than 25% capacity for a Mass in the church building. This depends upon the layout of the church, but 6 ft of social distancing must be adhered to on every side of each person. We estimate that if we did this, we would only be able to accommodate about 300 people in the church at any given Mass.
Additionally, we would have to guard the doors and keep everyone over the prescribed number out. Note that, according to the directives, the Mass is to be very short, about 30 mins. Then, after finishing Mass in the church for the 300, we would need to go outside and distribute Communion to the rest of the people who were not allowed to come in, which would be the majority of the people.
As you can see, even if we tried to have our regular Mass schedule the majority of people would not be able to attend the actual Mass in the church and would have to wait outside. For instance, at our 9am Mass we probably get around 1300 people. I'm not saying we will get that many at this time, but if we did, we would have 300 in the church and 1000 outside.
Therefore, we are going to try something else, that will allow for a larger sense of community and also be even safer from the virus. We do not want to separate our community with the few inside and the rest outside. Also, the safest place at this time is not inside a building, but outside in the open air.
With that in mind we are going to have one Mass on Sunday outside at 8:00am starting on May 31.
This will be phase 1 of our journey back into the church.
We will set up the altar at the main doors of the church.
There is a lot of area for people to stand or sit (if you bring your own chair) in the courtyard and walk up areas and still social distance.
We will have a sound system to amplify the spoken word.
The weather should be around 80 degrees at 8:00am, but it will also be a short Mass. Very short.
We will also open up the Parish Hall with chairs spaced appropriately for those who cannot stand or who need to be in the A/C. Please leave these for the people who really need it. (We will be projecting video into the hall to help the experience.)
People can also sit in their cars until it is time for Communion (we will also be projecting video toward the dirt lot area and the opposite side of the parking lot for people to watch in their cars.) Then those in their cars will simply walk up to one of the many points we will have set up for Communion distribution.
Please note. We really need people to park in the dirt lot to the side of the property. If you are able bodied, please park there so as to allow our seniors and those with physical difficulties to park closer to the church.
We won't open up the church itself, because to sanitize the church is incredibly more complex than sanitizing the hall. Also, people are supposed to leave promptly after the final blessing. If we open the church people will very likely linger.
The Bishop is asking everyone to please receive in the hand for now, as saliva and droplets are a sure way to transmit this disease.
When receiving in the hand we cannot have the hands of the minister touching yours, so allow the minister to drop the host in your hand from a very small distance. If the hand of the minister touches yours, they will have to stop and sanitize their hands before proceeding.
If you must receive on the tongue, you will be asked to wait until everyone else has finished. (According to the bishop, the minister must purify their hands after every single person who receives on the tongue.)
There are going to be people walking back and forth from their cars for Communion. Please wait until the final blessing to leave the parking lot so that everyone is safe.
I am asking everyone to wear a mask while on the premises, only partially removing it to receive Communion. Wearing a mask is meant to protect each other, especially those of us who are the most vulnerable. It's an additional precaution and it seems to me to be a reasonable request at this time. This is particularly important when we realize that many people spread the virus when they show no symptoms. If everyone wears a mask, we are doing something to protect each other. This is an example of Christian charity.
We will take this week to week and learn as we go. I think what we need to reconcile is we are going to be inconvenienced for a while and nothing we do is going to be perfect.
Once we are allowed to increase the number of people indoors, we will bring back a more robust Sunday Mass schedule.
One reason we have not been streaming a live Sunday Mass is that our internet was not capable of doing it well enough. This is a problem many other parishes are having. We have a work order in with our provider to upgrade our internet which should be finished soon and should solve the problem. We are also looking at installing a couple of high-quality cameras in the church. The plan is to keep pre-recording our Sunday Worship Service until we can stream the Mass and be confident that the experience will be quality enough.
It is highly likely that at-risk individuals will be staying at home for an extended period of time. Also, throughout the year we have people who get sick, do not feel well enough to come or have some other good reason they cannot attend. What we are putting together is the ability to stream the Mass every Sunday indefinitely and make that experience a quality one for those of you who are at home. We are not going to forget our people who cannot be with us physically. My objective is to solve the problem with a long-term solution that will benefit many people for years to come.
Remember that there is currently no obligation to attend Sunday Mass. For anyone. You don't even need a good reason to not come. But if you are over 65 or have serious health conditions it is still recommended that you stay home. However, everyone is still obliged to "Keep Holy the Sabbath," so remember our Sunday Worship Service will continue to help.
Another idea is to come to one of the three weekday Masses, instead of Sunday, where it will be easier to social distance.
Thank you for your patience during this time and for working together. Hopefully, we will be back in the church for Sunday Mass soon.
We will send updates over the next couple of weeks to let you know of our progress.