By Lara Pickford-Gordon
The Diocese of St George’s-in-Grenada began resumed public masses May 24 with COVID-19 precautions. Bishop Clyde Harvey presided at Masses in Carriacou at the St Patrick’s Church, Hillsborough and Church of Sts Peter and Paul, Windward and at the Sacred Heart Church, Petit Martinique. Carriacou and Petit Martinique are dependencies of Grenada.
“I went to the two smaller islands which had been on lockdown without a priest for two months. I am very proud of how they effected the protocols agreed to with the government. These two islands have had no COVID cases and I was tested before I went to them,” Bishop Harvey said.
Masses had been held privately in the diocese with small congregations in presbyteries and some were live-streamed for viewing. He said he did not “feel any particular strangeness” at the public Masses. “In Grenada a congregation is not a congregation of faceless people although people have on masks you recongise them behind the mask”.
As for masks combined with social distancing, he said, “that is a bit uncanny but you get used to it”. Bishop Harvey commented the celebration of the Mass was not about him but people celebrating Eucharist together. “There is less of an affirmation without a full facial view but I don’t think it has proven to be all that difficult”.
The COVID-19 protocol issued by the state require religious services to be no longer than 90 minutes https://www.nowgrenada.com/2020/05/covid-19-protocols-for-reopening-of-churches/.
Bishop Harvey said as a multi-religious society the rules are for “a range of clerical personnel” covering those “doing their own thing and people who are accustomed to a certain discipline”. He stated, “if you have to control a virus you have to get people into a certain discipline”.
Churches were required to complete and submit an online application form at least three days before scheduled reopening. They receive a permit which is to be printed and displayed on the door each time a service occurs. Bishop Harvey said there were no complications with the application process. “It’s just to make sure you are operating according to the health guidelines”.
As distancing must be implemented the bishop had asked for one person per household to attend Masses. He said the congregation size had to drop by a quarter so families had to decide who would attend. Bishop Harvey added, “We are going to try to see if that can be a launching pad for a different approach to family ministry”. He envisioned also, a different approach to preaching.
“Before, when I preached my focus is on you today; when I preach [now] my focus must not be on you alone but on the other people whom you may be able to influence,” he explained.
The bishop saw tremendous consequences and possibilities in the way the Eucharist is celebrated by the Domestic Church. “We did not have any sense in the Church before this of a family leaving Mass to continue the celebration, now you have to teach people how to leave Mass to continue to be celebrators of the Eucharist especially to those for whom they are taking communion”.
An altar can be prepared in the home and family members gather to listen to the one who went to Mass about the gospel of the day or notes on the scripture. Questioned further, Bishop Harvey said, “I don’t know how it will work out, all of these are part of the realities you have to deal with…we are all searching trying to find ways forward.”
The Barbados government lifted restrictions May 18 for restaurants, hairdressing and barbering shops etc to reopen. Churches were allowed to open subsequently with a maximum of 20 persons until other logistical details were finalised. The Jamaican government allowed religious services to resume from May 16 however, Catholic leaders there decided to wait one week to prepare. A statement, ‘Guidelines for restarting public worship’ was issued by the Archdiocese of Kingston Chancery Office May 13. It directed that clergy and faithful “strictly” follow the 14 guidelines set out even as congregations increased.
On May 9, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley gave an overview of phased reopening of activity in Trinidad and Tobago. He defined timelines for three phases: May 10-23, May 24-June 6, and June 7-20, contingent on “if the numbers remain good”. There were no details of the other phases; these were “to be determined”. In Phase 1, food establishments and restaurants reopened but indoor dining was not allowed; itinerant and non-itinerant services allowed with curb-side pick-up, drive-through and walk-in pick-up. Restricted outdoor activities resumed and extended hours for hardwares, electrical stores and groceries. A few businesses were given permission to resume operations.
Phase 2 was the reopening of the manufacturing sector, restarting of public sector; and public transport to continue at 50 per cent capacity. Phase 3 would see the whole Public Service back to work with elements of flexitime where possible, private sector construction restarted, and increased capacity on maxis and taxis to 75 per cent. On May 16, Rowley announced Phase 2 had been moved up to May 21 with manufacturing and construction sectors, as well as mechanics, tyre shops, laundries and dry cleaners. Trinidad and Tobago’s COVID-19 cases have remained steady since April 26 at 116 and eight deaths.