Hallelujah: church services return after lockdown

Get me to the church on time, many parishioners were heard saying after nine long weeks of Covid-19 lockdown.

Some of the local churches opened their doors to devout parishioners to resume worship services at the weekend.

Now that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has eased restrictions and given a go-ahead for gatherings of up to 100 people, Rev Chris Barnard of St Columba Presbyterian in Botany says that the first Sunday worship after Covid-19 lockdown was held on Sunday May 31.

“We are delighted that we can gather again although restricted to 100 at a time. We started with our 8.30am and 10.30am services on Sunday.”

Rev Chris Barnard, Minister St Columba Presbyterian. Times photo Wayne Martin

And while it wasn’t the usual turn-out, the minister says he wants everyone to feel safe.

“Gathering at St Columba is usually the highlight of our week which is our space where we highly value and enjoy. For many of us it’s been a difficult time missing our friend’s face-to-face contact,” he says.

“Being in Church is not about the building, but is always about people–we treasure gathering together at our special place where we create spaces to worship, sing, laugh, and cry together; enjoying the friendships that have been made over many years.”

About the new norm, he says things are different. “We complied with the hygiene, distancing and contact tracing requirements. Seating was changed to accommodate families staying in their bubble; with no singing, there was more listening, contemplation and mediation.”

He says the priority is to care for one another, consider each other’s well being and being kind. At a time like this, we would like to invite anyone who is feeling lonely or anxious to come along, as we love creating safe spaces for anyone who needs a friend or some company,” he says.

Father Craig Dunford of St Lukes Catholic Church on Te Irirangi Dr says they resumed mass on Sunday and in order to accommodate the numbers, they added extra masses every hour—from 8am-12pm.

Father Craig Dunford, Priest St Lukes Catholic Church. Photo supplied

The last time they did a mass count in November, they had ‘more than 1400 churchgoers attending over three masses.

“The liturgy was a short mass that was held in the Sancta Maria College Chapel as we are currently building our new church on Chapel Road. A lot of our parishioners were in tears because they couldn’t come to church for a long time. It has been a difficult time as the church is an essential pillar of their lives.”

To monitor the movement of worshippers they were asked to sign in and enter from one door and exited from the other.

Rev Warner Wilder of St Paul’s in the Park says that they have decided not to resume church service just yet.

“We had a recent vestry meeting to discuss the lifting of restrictions on numbers and decided not to meet as a congregation this Sunday. We want to ease into it and make sure we do it properly. Besides, there is still reluctance amongst many of the congregation to meet in large groups which I can understand.

“For our YouTube clip this week met in the church with all those taking part. It is part of our transition back into the church for worship. Being Pentecost Sunday, we made it a little special.

Rev Warner Wilder, Minister St Paul’s in the Park. Times photo Wayne Martin

Rev Warner says that while they will be resuming normal worship quite soon, singing might not be encouraged “though lack of singing would hardly lend itself to a meaningful worship experience”.

Father John Fitzmaurice parish priest of Our Lady, Star of the Sea Catholic Parish in Picton Street, Howick says the parish advisory body held a planning meeting on Thursday night to prepare for the first weekend back.

“The parishioners were overjoyed that they could begin celebrating Mass together again on the weekend. Our normal weekday mass resumed on Monday.

“For Christians, Sunday was the Feast of Pentecost- the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.  A beautiful day to begin again,” he says about restarting Sunday and weekday mass..

Being restricted to not more than 100 people at a worship gathering, the parish

Fr John, Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish

temporarily introduced two additional masses on  Saturday  5pm and Sunday 11am, in addition to the usual Sunday programme of four masses.

“This is so we can make our Church both safe and hospitable as we return home to the parish Church we love,” says Father John.

Parishioners were emailed to advise of the Sunday Mass times, and social distancing, hygiene, and contact tracing requirements.

Rev Brett Jones, lead pastor cession community and executive member of the East Auckland Ministers Association, says that on Sunday churches of  Howick offered a safe, warm experience of exploring the spiritual connection with God.

“Churches are excited to be able to see each other in person just as families of all shapes and sizes have enjoyed reconnecting with people close to them,” he says.

“Community is a significant part of Christian practice and while churches have been innovative in maintaining connection through online means, this will be a meaningful time for many.  The essential experience of the church will be very similar but when in larger groups there will be including contact tracing, hygiene protocols and physical distancing where required.

“Adjustments have been made for some of the more up-close and personal moments such as Communion, with different methods being used to create a ‘contactless communion’ option.  “For some churches, the gathering limit is requiring creativity including multiple smaller services across the weekend.

“There are still a number of vulnerable people in our communities who will continue to do church online and churches are generally retaining an online presence.

“There are some churches that are taking a little longer to open to make sure they are well prepared to take care of congregations particularly where they have high percentages of vulnerable people.”