AN Omagh-based priest believes its going to be a “slow and steady process” as worshippers return to church services for the first time in 15 weeks.
Churches across Tyrone reopened for public Mass on Monday morning with a range of new precautions in place to ensure the safety of parishioners.
Churches have introduced hand sanitising stations, reduced capacity and one way systems to ensure social distancing is adhered too.
Speaking to the UH, Cappagh parish priest Fr Kevin McElhennon welcomed parishioners back for Mass on Monday and said it has been “going smoothly” so far.
“From our experience here and in Killyclogher, we have put on additional Masses just to give people space when they are in the church.
“I think people are coming back slowly and that is understandable.
“I was not expecting a big massive rush back but we are giving people the opportunity to come at a range of times.”
Fr McElhennon continued, “We have the churches laid out well and we have received positive responses.
“People feel safe here and we have appropriate signage up for their advice.
“I have been in contact with some people who said they are going to come back soon but they are still being cautious.
“This is not us going back to normal – this will be a slow process and we are taking small steps rather than gallops.
“So far, it is going well but we will learn as we go along.”
Earlier this month, churches had reopened for private prayer but services only restarted this week and crowd restrictions still remain in place for funerals, weddings and baptisms. Parish committees across the county have been working hard to ensure all the correct measures are in place for parishioners to visit safely.
Dympna Kelly, chair of the Drumragh Parish Pastoral Council, was apart of a team of volunteers who ensured Sacred Heart Church in Omagh was ready to be reopened for Mass.
St Mary’s Church in Drumragh has not reopened as it is too small to introduce social distancing measures but Ms Kelly said around 60 people turned up for Monday morning Mass in Omagh.
Ms Kelly said, “Cleaning is a big aspect of reopening, the capacity of the church and how to social distance to keep people safe.
“In order to elevate pressure, we have put on five Masses at the weekend which gives as many people as possible a chance to come out to a weekend Mass.
“We have stewards in place to show people to their seats and ensure that the hand sanitiser is used.
“For distribution of Communion, the priest comes down into the congregation to reduce the amount of moving around.
“We had 60 people on Monday morning and it was a very manageable number.
“I think the elderly and the vulnerable might sit back and watch for while before they venture out again,” concluded Ms Kelly.