From the churchwardens
Opening the church building
We are sure that you were excited to hear the Government announcement that it may be possible to open churches and places of worship for private prayer. However, this is not as straightforward as it sounds. The Bishop has directed that we continue to follow the guidance of the Church of England, saying that each parish should work out for itself what to do, and he recognises that not all churches will be able to open. The Cof E guidance is provided and regularly updated by a committee chaired by the Bishop of London and can be found on the C of E website. It may have changed again by the time you read this.
The current rules are clear – one person at a time, for the purpose of security checking and running water through the system, may enter the church. However, emergency repairs can be done, and it is possible to consult, for example, the architect or contractor about upcoming works. Social distancing must be maintained, it is best if visits do not occur on consecutive days, and a record must be kept.
If we were to open for private prayer in the Abbey we infringe these rules. We would need a volunteer in the building during opening hours. (insurance and Health and Safety require it.) We cannot have shifts – the second and subsequent volunteer may be entering a contaminated space.
The Abbey is a building which advertises itself as a wonderful place to visit. There are bound to be people who turn up hoping to enter as visitors. They cannot come in for a look round. Our volunteer would be obliged to turn them away. The wardens would hate to do that, and we will not ask a valued volunteer to do something as unwelcoming either. There will be no water or toilets available as there will be no access to St Benedict’s. As St Benedict’s cannot be locked with a key the volunteer would have to remain aware of three key areas simultaneously – the entrance, the prayer space, and the entrance to St B. This is unrealistic.
The entire church would have to be deep cleaned daily, even if the route people were to take to pray were clearly marked out. It makes no difference whether we were open for 6 hours or 2.hours. Thoroughly cleaning every surface (every chair, every item and the floor takes at least 4 hours,) would cost £40 per day if we were to pay for it. We could not ask the volunteer to stay on to do that. If we ask someone else to come in to clean, we are inviting them into a building which could be contaminated. We will not do that.