I’m not privy to discussions among bishops and other church leaders with state and local governments. By initiating this series, I’m relying on observations and some guesswork. The observations arise from forty years in parish ministry, most of that as a full-time worship director.
By leading off with ushers, I don’t intend to bash ushers. I’m leaning on observations from years of experience in different churches in different parts of the country.
Unlike big box stores, churches do not have professional greeters and ushers. While people wiping down shopping carts and asking us to don masks is new for many outlets, it’s another universe for the doors of the average church. Most ushers are well-meaning enough. Some have emergency training. Some know what to do if someone collapses or gets sick. They can clean up messes, direct people to where they need to go, and help in a crunch.
On the other hand, they often don’t open doors for people. They don’t usually ask much of guests or regulars. They aren’t trained to police a crowd for dangerous behavior, which today would be breathing on people who don’t live with you.
Doors are a big problem in churches. Less so for most any large store where a mechanism is triggered if you get near.
Coming in to a place of worship is one thing. Getting out happens more or less all at once, except for the social set and the holy people who stay behind to pray and simmer at the chit-chat around them.
If pastors are thinking about it, they’ll realize that shepherding people in the door is a problem, and getting them out safely is a bigger one. If a parish had automatic doors, a lot of ways out, and a trained corps of ushers ready for a more demanding duty than they’ve had in the past, that church might be ready to open its doors. But if you’re a bishop with parishes of all sizes and abilities, it would be hard to let St Suburbia open with 25% capacity of its six Masses and nine-hundred seats and keep Our Lady of Sleepytown closed with its door handles, ninety-year-old ushers, and high-risk population.