Why Churches Can’t Come Back Quick: Selecting the Few

Maybe it’s a good problem, that many of our parishes have more people than they can handle with a set fraction of our worship spaces opening in the next stage. Whatever or whenever that might be. In his essay, David Haas articulate one point:

There is also, to my brain, a problem with saying that only a small number of people are allowed to attend in the early “first stages” of this coming together for liturgy, and then, as I have seen in some diocesan guideline announcements, that the next stage should only allow a number of people that would not exceed 30% of the seating capacity in the worship space. While it is sacramentally and bit theologically coercive to “make people” gather for sacrament … it seems equally coercive to tell people, while opening its doors, to “stay away.”

My diocese struggles with the vague directive of “drive-in” spiritual servicing. I know that’s a guideline from a secular government. Practically, it’s a good stage to have–if all we’re having is human contact. One to one. And safely. My bishops have pretty much said we have nothing to offer along those lines.

The next stage, as announced, is no more than fifty people in a room. I don’t know how that gets nuanced in church buildings of various sizes. That’s about twenty percent of my parish’s comfortable capacity. My boss struggles with how to determine who is the fifty.

Various options seem practical, but potentially unfair:

  • Fifty will be a hard limit. If #51 shows up at the door, she or he will be turned away.
  • High-risk people will be urged to opt for home: those older Christians, those with underlying conditions that make the virus a threat. Obviously sick people of any age.
  • People will have to register to attend liturgy. Contact tracing will require checking names off a list or signing them in.

Naturally, everybody is focused on returning to an old normal. Instead of searching out something new and better.

If our churches were truly field hospitals, we’d be seeking out the lost and urging them to come, not lining up for special treatment. It all contributes to the personal questions I ask myself in this time of pandemic: what am I doing here? I don’t think of myself as part of a special fifty.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Why Churches Can’t Come Back Quick: Selecting the Few

  1. Liam says:

    “That’s about twenty percent of my parish’s comfortable capacity.”

    That would be consistent with the 20-25% band I am hearing in professional circles about expected census caps on people returning to offices.

    Metaphors aren’t syllogisms. It may be that, if the idea is to absent the older and vulnerable population, there won’t be enough other people who want to come voluntarily to create a sense of exclusion?

    As for home-based liturgies, consider how many Catholics even read the Bible on a daily basis, or who have a bible close at hand. This is an interesting area of inventory taking to consider how far the vision of Vatican II penetrated: cultivating a culture of Bible reading required no creation of ritual books or general instructions or whathaveyou. (Neither did portable devotions like the Rosary.) A lot of liturgical seeds were sown into making the Mass . . . more that [x, y, z].

  2. Joyce Donahue says:

    That contact tracing thing is going to be a hard sell in my parish – probably 1/3 of our folks are immigrants – and not all are legal ones. We might see a large drop in attendance once they learn we are taking names and addresses. They tend not to register in the parish too. (My DRE says she only has emails for half of the families in our program).

    We are on the Chicago plan. There will be advance ticketing for Mass once we start coming back in groups of 50 – another move that will shut out older and poor people who don’t own devices or simply aren’t tech savvy. This is not going to be easy.

  3. Liam says:

    And a message from Richard Clark to the music ministers of the Archdiocese of Boston, as it begins opening churches back for public liturgies under a variety of restrictions (Holy Cross Cathedral, which has been open for limited private prayer, will open for public liturgies on Pentecost Sunday, under the restrictions): https://www.ccwatershed.org/2020/05/22/reopening-our-churches-encouragement-resources/

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