OGDENSBURG — Bishop Terry R. LaValley of the Diocese of Ogdensburg has begun discussing with priests the steps necessary to reopen churches.
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“We recognize that it’s going to take pretty extensive planning to get these buildings open. For some pastors that means making a plan for two or three church buildings to reopen worship,” Diocese of Ogdensburg spokeswoman Darcy L. Fargo said. “So we wanted to get some rough guidelines out early to get them able to plan.”
The north country region started phase one of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s reopening plan on Friday. Ms. Fargo said churches are not expected to open until the region reaches Phase 4 and the Diocese wants to use the available time to be ready.
“We want to make sure everyone is planning based on the best guidelines that have been reviewed by our local health officials,” Ms. Fargo said. “We have been working with them very extensively to put together this plan.”
Each parish, Ms. Fargo said, is going to have to map out what social distancing will look like in each building.
“What’s the flow of traffic going to look like,” she said. “They are going to have to do some marking off, some taping, put up signs.”
Along with helping pastors plan, the Diocese wants to keep parishioners informed.
“We also wanted to make sure that the faithful know that planning is going on and being done with the goal of keeping their safety and the safety of our priests and our ministers at the forefront,” Ms. Fargo said. “And we also want to let them know that mass is going to look different when it does resume.”
The guidelines priests are following include:
— Churches will undergo continual intensive cleaning and sanitizing.
— At the outset, only a certain number of people will be able to physically attend Mass. This is largely determined by the size of the church and the requirements of social distancing.
— Individuals who are at higher risk with the coronavirus and those who are sick are asked to remain at home.
— All parishioners ages two and over will wear face coverings while in church to protect themselves and others.
—There will be no holy water in fonts.
— There will be no offertory processions.
— There will be no passing of the collection basket. The basket will be placed in a fixed location and parishioners will be asked to drop their contributions into the basket as they enter or leave the church.
— The distribution of Communion will be different.
— No worship aids, such as missalettes and hymnals, will be available for use.
— There will be no choirs in the early phases of the return to public worship.
— There will be no congregating in the church, on the steps or at the doors of the church.
— Bishop LaValley will extend the dispensation for Sunday Mass until further notice.
“We yearn for the day when we can return to Church to be with our parish family in worship and praise of our God. We hunger to be fed with the Bread of Life,” Bishop LaValley said in a press release from the Diocese. “But this will be a gradual process that requires significant changes in the way we have always done things so that we can provide as safe an environment as possible for those who would enter our sacred spaces. Each parish will prepare a specific plan that will incorporate these new features of our Mass experience. These changes are temporary, and the guidelines will change as we make progress against the Coronavirus. We thank you for your patience and understanding, and I continue to pray for you all.”