By Lydia O’Kane
On July 23, after months of online worship and empty pews due to the Coronavirus, Scotland’s churches will reopen for services.
Although some have admired the caution of Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, the announcement that Churches will not be reopened for public worship until that date has also been met with disappointment.
The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland described the decision as “perplexing”, especially given the fact that bars and restaurants have been given the green light to reopen sooner.
Tina Campbell is National Safeguarding Co-ordinator for the Episcopal Conference of Scotland. Her remit also includes the safeguarding of clergy and parishioners as the Church moves into this next pandemic phase. Acknowledging the disappointment of many people regarding this decision, she said the Bishops “are encouraging members of parishes to write to their MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) to raise their concerns." "I don’t know if that would lead to a review but it is difficult to accept at the moment for people.”
As parishes prepare for the July 23rd reopening date, the Bishops have set up two working groups. The first is focused on safety and infection control. Ms Campbell belongs to the pastoral ministry group which has already been looking at resources for parishes during the lockdown, but also safeguarding issues as well. As Scotland moves into its Phase 2 stage, she has produced guidance for volunteers who will be part of, what is being called, a “Ministry of Welcome”. They will act as stewards for people returning to churches after this long period of absence.
The Safeguarding Coordinator pointed out that for some people, returning to church after such a long time can provoke a high degree of emotion, which can be both joyful and distressing for a number of reasons. She also underlined that supporting clergy at this time is very important as they return to “face-to-face ministry”.
From July 23 the faithful will return to worship in their parishes with new measures in place, such as the wearing of face masks, social distancing, and the use of hand gels. Ms Campbell noted that “now we have to do quite a bit of work with both priests and parishioners, as much as they have a longing to return to the Eucharist, to have an understanding that it will be a very different experience for them.”
With these hurdles that have to be faced by parishioners, she is hoping to provide training about how to become a “trauma-informed Church” — because, she said, there is a great need for guidance and support especially for people who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19.
Lockdown abuse and violence
There can be no doubt that lockdowns that were put in place to halt the spread of the outbreak also presented many challenges. One in particular: in many parts of the world, has been the spike in violence and abuse of women and children in the home. In Scotland, the Safeguarding Coordinator said, they too have seen an increase in the number of people coming forward at various levels.
“Some people will be coming forward to seek pastoral support because of increased numbers of domestic abuse, and so on. We will have children who will be in abusive homes… and that will actually mean living with their perpetrator, but they won’t be able to access some of the support systems that they might have had, for example, if they were still able to go to school during the pandemic.” She also highlighted that victims of non-recent abuse will have had time to reflect during the lockdown, and “they will now be deciding that this is the time they want to actually speak about it for the first time.” She also stressed that if people are suffering, “there are places of support they can reach out to.”
The road ahead
Ms Campbell underlined that this pandemic has not ended, and it will continue for some time. She noted that “Safeguarding is going to have to change; it isn’t business as usual at all… we will need to look at how we understand ‘Church’ and the safeguarding in that church context.”