Safely Opening our Churches.
I can’t remember feeling scared when I walked home from Church on a Wednesday evening. I was with my older brother, so we probably kept each other distracted by talking as we wound our way along the crescent and over the hill to home. It was often dark though and we had no back up plan. Mum probably had an idea of what time to expect us but there were no mobile phones in those days. Nor were there any procedures in place from the time we left the Church till we got home. The old parish priest was pastor emeritus at the time. That means he was sort of the parish priest, but really retired. My brother and I would serve Mass for him occasionally on Wednesday evenings. He liked to assist the servers with the cruets to ensure that a decent amount of wine went into the chalice, and not much water. There was always the smell of alcohol on his breath at that hour. If I was honest I was a little bit scared of him. He didn’t really know how to talk to children. There was just the three of us: him, my brother and me. I can’t remember anyone else being at that Mass. Maybe his housekeeper came. She was grandmotherly. I remember Soul of My Saviour. It was his favourite hymn. I used to be able to sing every word by heart. As he got older and weaker he couldn’t sing it anymore so we would just recite it. It was sad when he died. And we all sang Soul of My Saviour at the funeral.
I preferred Sunday Mass. I loved being in the choir. The church was often full and after Mass there were groups of people talking and catching up. My family was involved in lots of parish activities and it was good for us. It was a happy time. I was a youth leader in the 80s. We organised youth Masses, parish productions, dinners, fundraisers and lots more.
Was it a safe place? I don’t remember ever feeling unsafe. And our families looked out for each other. Our community was strong and proud of its heritage and activities. Was safety explicitly talked about and were policies and procedures outlined? As I reflect on my childhood parish life I would have to say that there was not the awareness and community ownership of child safety in the same way that we would expect it to be present today.
In our Parishes at Camberwell Balwyn Deepdene (CBD) and Surrey Hills Wattle Park our commitment is clear. Child Safety is everyone’s responsibility
We are committed to creating and nurturing environments where children and young people are respected, where their voices are heard, and where they feel safe and are safe. Every person who shares in the work of our parishes is responsible for promoting the inherent dignity of children and for upholding their right to be respected and nurtured in a safe environment.
The COVID-19 closure of our churches has given us the opportunity to reflect on how we would like to re-open our churches and I am suggesting that we Safely Re-Open our Churches, as soon as we can, in the following ways. We need to ensure that we look after all people in our parish community, especially children, and vulnerable adults. We need to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for regular worshippers and visitors alike. I am proposing four areas that we each commit ourselves to, as we gradually reopen our churches. These I am calling the four C’s: COVID Safe, Child Safe, Community Safe, Cyber Safe.
1. COVID Safe environment. It is up to all of us to make sure that our Churches are COVID safe. As our Churches reopen we can all take responsibility for the health and safety of our communities. These include:
- Sanitising our hands as we enter the building.
- Respecting the social distancing regulations as they are in place
- Respecting the regulations in relation to mask wearing (whether inside or out)
- Assisting where possible with cleaning and sanitising our communal spaces.
2. Child Safe environment. As we re-open our churches we have the opportunity to each return with our child safety requirements in place. If you are in a ministry of any kind in our parish you can check the following:
- Do I have a current updated Working with Children’s check? Have I nominated my parish on my WWC card as a place where I volunteer?
- Have I (re)read the parish Safeguarding Policy?
- Have I signed a copy of the Parish Code of Conduct and returned a copy to the parish? These documents are available on our parish website.
3. Community Safe environment. As we reopen our churches we also have the opportunity to ensure that our whole community is a safe place for all. Each of us should gather and minister to one another with care, respect and clarity around our roles:
- As a community member do I understand the Code of Conduct around which our parish operate
- If I am a volunteer am I clear on the role I have agreed to take on and am I respectful of my rosters and commitments.
- Do I know who to talk to if I have any concerns about our parish life, the physical environment or particular concerns around anyone’s safety?
- What can I do to make sure our parish is welcoming and hospitable to all?
4. Cyber Safe environment. Our parish now has much more activity online and we are communicating more regularly with electronic means of communication:
- Have I updated my details with the Parish Office? Are my contact details up to date so that email, text message and mail from the parish comes to me and does not go astray?
- Are my family details up to date? Do I still have family members listed who are no longer at home or now are independent (over 18) and should have their own record.
- As a financial giver are my credit card and bank details up to date.
- Have I an awareness of how to keep safe on line?
It will be a great day when we can once again safely open our parishes and begin to rebuild our parish life in our Churches and other public spaces. Our parish team will be working with you as we commence the project of safely re-opening our parishes. Together we can work on the four C’s to ensure that all those who walk through the doors of our Churches will find a welcoming and safe environment where the God of love awaits their coming. I invite you to join me in the journey of safely reopening our Churches.