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The Re-Opening of our two Parish Churches for Private Prayer II.

As you will be aware from last week’s newsletter, the UK Government recently gave the go ahead for a controlled and phased re-opening of Churches over the coming weeks and months ahead. The first phase of which we are now entering into and is for Churches to be open for Private Prayer only.

In preparation for this I have set up working parties for our two parishes to implement what needs to be put in place so that we can be open for private prayer safely and later for public masses and liturgies such as baptisms and funerals. Dave Harper and Anne Davies are co-ordinating the working party for Annunciation Church and Irene Chapman is co-ordinating the working party for St Patrick’s. I am very grateful to them for organising all of this and they have been working flat out behind the scenes with other volunteers these past few weeks trying to get things sorted, which has meant both churches being rearranged and many chairs being moved and configured to allow for social distancing to take place between worshippers and one way systems in place and the filling in of a 15-page risk assessment for each church. It has been an enormous task to say the least!

Now I know that many of you are wanting to get back into our churches for prayer and later on in time for Mass, but we must show upmost care that we only open up when we can safely do so and following the strict guidelines. We must do our best to eliminate any possibility of the virus being transmitted because of a visit to the church!

Our plan as I stated last week is to open both of our churches for private prayer and later on in time for public masses when they are permitted if we get enough volunteers to help. We desperately still need volunteers who are not in the vulnerable category. So if you are not in the ‘shielding’ category, and can spare a few hours a week, can I please invite you to consider volunteering to help steward fellow parishioners in their private prayer, and, in time, helping to usher parishioners at socially distanced Masses? The stewarding will take place through an organised rota once we get enough volunteers to assist with it.

Stewarding for Private Prayer (Phase 1), will involve monitoring any queue to enter for prayer, ensuring only a certain number of people are in the church at any one time, monitoring hand sanitisation on entry, and cleaning & wiping seats, doors handles etc. when people leave the church.


Stewarding for Mass (when we can gather in Phase 2) will also involve those tasks mentioned above - and also include a checking of a ‘register’ of those who can attend that particular Mass (and sadly, if required, being able to turn fellow parishioners away who are not registered to be there), ushering people to pews, ushering at Holy Communion, and assisting the Celebrant, as required. Please note there will be no newsletters, no communal prayer aids or hymn books in use. Windows and doors of the buildings will be kept open to aid fresh air flow (so you may wish to bring layers to keep warm).


We will endeavour to provide our volunteer stewards with face masks and gloves. If you do have your own clean/fresh supply, please bring those with you. We do have a supplier of essential PPE items, but these things are not cheap and they are still in short supply. If you are able to give a donation for the ongoing purchase of these items, it would be greatly appreciated at this time in the usual way (see support of the church section in newsletter) and if via internet banking put as the reference PPE.


All toilets and halls/kitchens in the churches will remain closed and clearly, we can’t gather for coffee after Mass either. When ‘Phase 2’ occurs, we already know that there will be no lectors, no serving, no music ministry, and no assistance of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist until further notice.


The plan for the two parishes, which has been discussed at length is to reopen when we can for Private Prayer. Then, in the Phase 2 of the opening (i.e. for public worship, when the Government allow) both Parish Churches will be used for the celebration of Holy Mass. These Masses will be restricted by application/ticket in as fair a way as possible. I will write to you all again nearer the time with how this is going to be managed - but, for now, please be aware that it may mean you can’t come to Mass on a regular basis as you once did. The Sunday obligation will be suspended until we can get back to as normal as is possible (Phase 3).


To start with, we are going to pilot the opening for private prayer with Annunciation Church this Sunday from 2.30-4pm. Regretfully, it has been deemed that only 20 persons can safely socially distance in the Annunciation Church at any one time.


St Patrick’s Church, Woolston will pilot opening for Private Prayer on Wednesday 1st July from 10-11am. Regretfully, it has been deemed that only 30 individuals (with wiggle room for family groups or couples from the same household) can safely socially distance at any one time. Again we are still looking for volunteers to help with this at St Patrick’s.


My sincerest apologies that these times are so restricted, we hope to offer more days and times in the weeks ahead, but the Government announced the change of opening date (from July to mid-June) very recently, so we have been caught a little off guard with regards the planned timetable for organising all of this! This has not been helped with parish staff being furloughed by the Diocese. Please also consider which of our usual weekday/Sunday Masses you could help to Steward so that we can be open for Parish Masses when the time comes. If you are able to volunteer for this vital stewarding role, and it is safe for you to do so, then please let Fr Ross know ASAP, ideally by email at: eastside@portsmouthdiocese.org.uk with an idea of when you would be available and also for which of our usual weekday or Sunday masses you could be available to help steward. Or, if needs be, write it down and it can be delivered by hand via the Parish Office at Woolston Presbytery.


The reopening of both our churches is going to take a lot of organisation and administration, but we will do our very best during these unprecedented times within the constraints and guidelines. It won’t be an ideal situation for any of us, but a small step towards one!


In the meantime, let us continue to pray for those suffering with the virus, those who are unable to return to Church due to health conditions, as well as for all those helping on the frontline in the NHS and caring & support services, and of course those of our parish who have died. May they rest in peace.


Thank you for your assistance and your patience.


God bless you all, Fr Ross.

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The parish is part of the Diocese of Portsmouth.

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Marion Patient

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St Patrick's House

45, Portsmouth Road

Southampton

SO19 9BD

Call: 023 8044 8671

Email: eastside@portsmouthdiocese.org.uk

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