Running Out of Room
We have a bit of a space problem and I’m sure everyone has noticed. As more and more people return to Saturday evening and Sunday Masses, there simply isn’t enough room for everyone in the Church if we social distance. At many Masses there are people piled into the back of the Church standing shoulder to shoulder.
The dilemma that we face is complicated. First we are asked to follow state guidelines like social distance and mask wearing by our diocesan ordinary (archbishop), so there is an obedience aspect to it. Also we have parishioners who want to come to Mass, yet are concerned with contracting the virus, so there is a charity aspect to it. We want them to feel safe and welcomed.
However we also want to welcome as many people as possible. Having people stand in the back of the Church is not the most hospitable action. We could close the Church if it gets too full or introduce a sign up system, but neither of these sound like good options.
Many parishioners have suggested a practice that is happening at neighboring parishes, “opening” half the Church and keeping the other half social distanced. The benefit of this is that we can fit more people in the pews, and many parishioners have already received the vaccine or contracted the virus and don’t mind sitting near someone.
However I’m hesitant about this approach for two reasons. First I directly asked the Archbishop if we could do this and he didn’t give us permission. Being blatantly disobedient sounds like a bad idea for the salvation of my soul. My second hesitation toward this approach is that it segregates the Church. There would be a very visible division between different groups of people and that creates division within a parish community. It doesn’t seem prudent to introduce more division into an already divisive world.
Here is the solution that we will try for the coming weeks. We will leave the ropes on the pews, until we run out of room. When the pews fill up, we will begin to remove the ropes in the back pews and work our way forward. The ushers will be responsible for removing the ropes, please don’t “help yourself.” The ushers will lead the rope removal to ensure that we begin from the back and methodically move forward. The ushers will also be responsible for putting the ropes back on the pews after Mass.
Therefore, if you are more concerned about contracting the virus, please sit towards the front of our Churches. If you are less concerned, please sit near the back.
At St. Joseph, we will keep the ropes on the side pews and start in the balcony if we need to remove ropes. After the balcony fills up we will remove the ropes in the back pews.
Finally please know that the least crowded Mass is the 6:00pm at St. Joseph. At this point, there is ample room to socially distance.
Thanks for understanding. Remember that we are encountering a good problem. It is a good thing that many people want to come to Mass. We are trying to figure out how to do it while remaining obedient to our Archbishop, protecting the vulnerable, and being as consistent as possible.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Sean Wilson
PS – We continue to ask people to wear masks in Church and other parish indoor events.