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Church doors opening has more to do with parish logistics than politics

Opening doors: Nundah-Banyo parish secretary Madonna Riggal outside Corpus Christi Church for the 10am private prayers. Photo: Joe Higgins

RUGGED-up parishioners, clutching their coats and their bags against the wind, had shown up early and waited at the doors of Corpus Christi Church, Nundah, so they could go inside for their 20 minutes of private prayer.

Across from the church, in the parish’s new building which opened in February, Nundah-Banyo parish secretary Madonna Riggal said it had been a challenge to get the doors open.

The doors themselves swung open easily, but the legwork to source cleaning supplies in a pandemic, marshals to supervise for two-hour lots, and a booking system to keep track of numbers and contact information had proven more difficult.

Ten weeks had passed since Sunday Masses were cancelled, and as COVID-19 restrictions eased, parish workers had moved quickly behind the scenes to accommodate the new rule letting 10 people inside for private prayer.

It had become clear that whether a church could open its doors or not had less to do with state politics, and more to do with parish logistics.

Mrs Riggal said safety of parishioners was their priority and a booking system, the TryBooking app, was essential to keep sessions from becoming overbooked and to keep track of people for contact tracing if an outbreak occurred.

It would also become useful when Masses returned to the parish, so that as capacity increased, there was a consistent and easy online booking system that was familiar to parishioners.

Corpus Christi had four 20-minute sessions in two hour lots from 10-12pm but that was going to be changed to three 35-minute sessions in response to feedback from parishioners that 20-minutes was not enough time.

“You’ve got to be flexible; you might have ideas in place but if it’s not working, (Fr Bernie Gallagher) and I can sit and talk about that and work out a different strategy,” she said.

“We’ve said to parishioners, it can change if it needs to change and the process that we’re doing is not working.”

One thing that had worked well at Corpus Christi was the timber pews.

Timber pews were much easier to clean and sanitise because of their hard surface, and the intensive cleaning process was partly what determined whether the church could open its doors or not.

When capacity eventually reaches 50 or 100 people, keeping volunteers back to clean each seat and each kneeler was going to take its toll on softer fabric furniture.

“So you need different cleaning products,” Mrs Riggal said.

“That was the other thing we needed to be able to do first – we needed to be able to source a lot of cleaning products for this to happen.

“My usual supplier I’m still waiting on a two-month back order for cleaning stuff from them but from other suppliers I’ve googled and researched a bit, I’ve been able to get something from them.”

Sourcing necessary cleaning supplies could put a halt on some churches opening their doors to larger groups of people, if at all.

Parish priest Fr Bernie Gallagher said he had to work out how big the church was to accommodate the amount of people who could fit if restrictions eased further.

Currently, Queensland has a one person per four square metres rule.

This meant a nave smaller than 400 square metres, or a nave shaped such that there was not 4 square metres between each of the 100 people, could not accommodate 100 people even if restrictions lifted to that number.

Fr Gallagher said the 9.30am Mass at Corpus Christi Church would regularly see more than 200 people in attendance.

He and the parish staff had been thinking of ways to approach this issue when it arose, such as having a family representative system and designated seating.

“The whole experience is new and interesting,” Fr Gallagher said.

“We’re blessed to have… two excellent representatives both for safeguarding and work health and safety – they are so good.”

Fr Gallagher said parish workers and volunteers were crucial at this phase of recovery and thanked everyone who had helped to open the doors of Corpus Christi Church.

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