The Changing Roles of Ushers & Parish Volunteers

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people wearing masks standing in a row

Though we are still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, parishes in many areas have restarted in-person Masses. As parishioners begin to fill the pews once more (6 feet apart unless from the same family!), a new challenge arises — cleaning and sanitizing the pews, doors, and other common areas.

You need to do everything in your control to keep your parishioners safe so they can come back to worship and feel safe about it. But in order to do this, church leaders need to assemble a team of volunteers to tackle the many tasks associated with it. Below are some ideas you can use to keep yourself and your parishioners safe.

Encourage your volunteers

Reach out to your usual crew of volunteers as you prepare to reopen. Gauge where they are at and how they feel. Some churches may lose volunteers as a result of COVID-19, for varying reasons. Ask them how they feel, not just about the return to church and volunteering, but also about any fears, anger, frustration, or anxieties they’ve had throughout the pandemic. Everyone will be returning with their own attitudes, so be charitable and try to meet them where they are.

Emphasize the role they can play in keeping the parish a safe place to worship — you will need a healthy amount of “buy-in” from your volunteers to ensure policies are properly implemented. Don’t skimp on the training and communication with them, because you need everyone to be on the same page so they can do their jobs effectively and parishioners can stay safe.

Follow cleaning guidelines

This is probably the biggest new task for church volunteers. Refer to the CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting public spaces and commonly touched areas. Use EPA-approved disinfectants, and make sure your team uses the appropriate protections when handling the materials (including, but not limited to, gloves and safety glasses).

The CDC recommends cleaning with soap and water, then using disinfectant after. Your parish may choose to buy one of the many disinfectant sprayers available on the market — if you choose to do this, be sure to follow any additional recommended safety guidelines for this kind of equipment.

Emphasize new responsibilities

Whereas before ushers, greeters, and other hospitality volunteers had pretty straightforward roles, COVID-19 has added to their responsibilities. Ushers will need to help parishioners find pews in accordance with social distancing recommendations. They may also need to keep track of the number of people within the church in line with any local occupancy limits (make sure they have an idea of how many people fit in each pew so families can be spaced accordingly).

Your church also needs to prepare a plan to deal with any individuals who may be resistant to masking requirements. Some helpful tips are to train them on what to say and how to say it, for those refusing to mask up for personal reasons.

Your volunteers should also be tasked with keeping doors open and/or disinfecting any frequently touched surfaces, supervising the common boxes or baskets for collections, or ensuring that any supply of cleaning supplies or hand sanitizer is well-maintained.

The challenges in reopening are many, but with a dedicated group of ushers and other volunteers you can tackle them together.

How are your volunteers working to keep the parish safe?

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