Joy Marshall has some simple advice for churches that are planning to reopen. “Don’t panic,” she says. “Do the best you can. Be as kind as you can be. But stay the course.”
Ms. Marshall, a member of Trinity, Aurora, speaks from experience. A retired nurse and infectious diseases expert, she worked in the health care sector in Canada and the U.S. and served as the TB Nurse Consultant for Ontario, helping the province’s health units prevent the spread of tuberculosis.
She says churches that plan to open for worship this fall should start small and focus on the basics. “Stick to the things that really matter: keeping the number of people down; enforcing the use of masks; and cleaning to the best of your ability. If parishes can do that as a start, then all the other things will fall into place.”
Ms. Marshall is one of 10 trained volunteers who are helping churches in the diocese open and operate safely after being closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Reopening Protocol Volunteers, as they are called, advise churches on how to respond to the diocese’s guidelines for reopening. The guidelines set out requirements that churches need to follow to reopen.
The volunteers have backgrounds in health care, occupational health, workplace safety and safety inspection. They can provide advice through email, over the phone or through an in-person visit in special circumstances.
“These are people who are comfortable dealing with landscapes like COVID-19 because they’ve worked in them before,” says Elizabeth McCaffrey, the diocese’s Volunteer Resources Coordinator and staff liaison with the group. “They’re trained and they know what the risks are. They know how to avoid infections.”
She says the volunteers, who are all Anglicans, are sensitive to each parish’s context. “We know that each parish is different. The volunteers will help map out what needs to be done in each context and to help explain the diocese’s guidelines.”
Martha Ciana, a Reopening Protocol Volunteer, hopes to alleviate some of the worries and fears that parishes might have about reopening. A registered massage therapist, she is a member of St. John the Evangelist, Port Hope and helps to run the church’s Sunday School, which her two young children attend.
“I hope I can help congregations feel more confident and less scared,” she says. “Knowledge is power because you can make informed decisions. My job is to help congregations navigate those decisions.”
Like Ms. Marshall, she advocates a start small and go-slow approach, at least until churches get on their feet and gain experience in their new reality. “If we continue doing what we’re doing – wear masks, practice physical distancing, wash our hands and clean afterwards – we will be able to worship together. It’s going to be a gradual process.”
Both Ms. Ciana and Ms. Marshall are confident churches can open and operate safely. “There’s no question we can do it,” says Ms. Marshall. “It may not look the same in every parish. It may not look the same as the church next door. But I think we can do it.”
She adds, “It’s like any other challenge – we have all these trepidations going into it, but when you finally put your feet in the water, you realize it’s not so bad. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Let’s just do the best we can do, based on what we know now.”