Churches still feel the impact of the pandemic

Lest we think that the implications of the pandemic are items of the past, maintained on video for retelling in some future decade's episodes of Reeling In the Years, there are still many walks of life that have felt the blow of the lockdown and restrictions, and which are unlikely to ever recover from them.

While we may think that the growing willingness to live alongside Covid has insulated us from its impacts, there are still some areas and habits learned during lockdown that are impacting greatly on segments of our community.

Chief among these is the Catholic Church, and perhaps all churches. The forced restrictions that saw public and shared worship obliterated has left churchgoers facing a very uncertain future.

I attended a Mass very recently in which was laid bare the reality facing a lot of parishes. And these issues are no way unique to the west of Ireland. The priest, a man I know and respect for his forthright ability to tell it as it is in the clearest terms outlined that, unless great changes are made in the way that parishioners view their parish, givens such as an open church and the availability of Mass and ceremonies would no longer be a certainty.

He spoke of the growing need for parishes to be infused with the energy of new blood, saying that many of the most energetic people in parishes are those who "carry a bus pass in their back pocket."

He said that there is a need for parish councils to be established so that churches can remain open, so that ceremonies can be facilitated, so that Masses can held, so that faith events can be organised.

It was felt that when restrictions were lifted that people would return to worship in the numbers they once did, but new habits die hard. Watching funerals online, the lack of habit of weekly Mass, the enforced scheduling of Communion and Confirmation, removed some of the rigidity of the churchgoing life, and this has not come back.

All who have returned are mainly of advanced age, and the lack of young blood in parishes in what is worrying.

In reality, with fewer people practising, financial difficulties, children and families further distanced from the sacraments and congregations permanently migrating to the comfort of online attendance, the future of the church at parish level is very uncertain.

Without parish councils, some of the best known churches in the county will no longer remain opened; the guarantee of a priest for services and ceremonies no longer certain.

The pandemic did not merely interrupt the decline of the church, but may have fast forwarded it. The response of the parishes to the appeal for greater involvement will be interesting.

 

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