Churches welcome green light to open

Archbishop of Kuching Simon Poh

KUCHING: The Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS) and churches in Sarawak welcome the announcement by Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) on the reopening of churches effected June 20.

Its chairman Archbishop Simon Poh said this is indeed the awaited good news and that the church will follow strictly to the standard operating procedure (SOP) set.

“Churches are now adapting and adhering to new norm of social distancing of one metre between persons. This will definitely reduce the church building capacity to a quarter or one-third size,” he said in a statement on Monday (June 15).

Archbishop Poh, who is also the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church of Kuching, said for the Catholic church, the priests and team are now mapping out the seating plan, the movement flow in the church, setting up points for temperature screening, recording contact details for contact tracing, as well as forming new teams for sanitising toilets and church pews between mass services.

“Keeping in view our aim to ensure that the safety of church goers, only Catholic churches that are ready with the new SOP in place are allowed to open. We will give time for setting up and training of church teams.

“For the initial phase, respective churches will open gradually for limited numbers of Catholics coming to church at each mass.  And we will gradually increase as the priests, church teams and members become used to the new SOP,” he said.

He said that the smaller congregation help to mitigate any unnecessary crowding while the church familiarise itself with the new norm. 

“I know that with reduced capacity, the majority— that is about 66 per cent to 75 per cent —will not be able to enter the churches with the limited seating. We will seek new ways to enable everyone to worship on Sundays,” he said.

He added that live-stream masses on Sundays will continue from the cathedral.

“As an act of love and charity for one another and filial to our parents, I encourage those that are not feeling well to stay and pray from your home.

“For those under these groups such as children below 12, anyone with prevailing and chronic medical condition or illness, elderly grandparent, younger healthy people who are staying with elderly persons and others in high risk category to pray from home,” he said.

He said ultimately the aim is to prevent any further outbreak and especially any second wave of infection. As such, the social distancing and health precautions have continued to be strictly maintained and adhered to in the opening of churches.  

“Today with this wonderful announcement that churches can be reopen, let us also not become complacent.  Without social distancing and taking health precautions, we may face a second wave.   And all the sacrifices that we had made over the last three months would have been in vain.  

“Working together in a concerted effort with SDMC, Unit for Other Religions (Unifor) and all spiritual leaders of the various faiths in Sarawak, we are confident that together, we can contain and eradicate Covid-19 in Sarawak,” said Archbishop Poh.