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Worshippers put faith in virus safety measures as doors reopen

Prayers and services return – but leaders also hail impact of the web in reaching out during lockdown

10 July, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

Mohammed Kozbar: ‘It is a relief to be preparing to welcome people back’

RELIGIOUS leaders in the borough have warned returning worshippers to be ready to “get through the new normal to reach the old normal” as prayers and services resume with restrictions in place.

Churches, synagogues and mosques switched online to reach out during the lockdown, but with restrictions now eased, many are cautiously getting ready to welcome their followers back.

With social distancing measures, no singing and deep cleans the order of the day, it could take some time to get used to the new normal.

Reverend Alexandra Lilley, of St George’s church in Tufnell Park, said: “It has been difficult. We’ve limited space and introduced a one-way system, and we have chairs spaced out two metres apart and so on.

“There is no singing and people are asked to wear face masks and use hand sanitiser.

“We opened for private prayer on Wednesday and Thursday, and our first service back will be Sunday at 10.30am.

Rev Alexandra Lilley

“It will be very different from normal. For the first service we’re not encouraging children who can’t social distance to come along, which was a difficult decision. A special family service will be held on July 26.

“We’ve found during the lockdown that people who wouldn’t usually come to our church are joining us for online services and prayers. It’s really opened my eyes – these are people we could have been reaching before.”

Father Gideon Wagay, of the Sacred Heart of Jesus church in Holloway, welcomed worshippers back last weekend, but said the church is operating at a quarter of its usual capacity.

“We are still discouraging people who are of a certain age and who are vulnerable,” he said.

“Both of our masses are being lived-streamed.

“We are using a one-way system with one entrance and exit. People have to wear masks, and there will be no singing.

“The sacraments are allowed now, but the holy communion is done by hand to keep our distance.

“Before we go back to the old normal we need to go through the new normal. People are grateful to be back in a church.”

Father Gideon Wagay

Maytal Charing, who chairs the Finsbury Park Synagogue, said it was important to take the time to make sure everything was as safe as it could be, and added that Saturday services would not start until August 1.

“It’s a relief, but we’re taking our time to make sure it’s as safe as can possibly be,” she added.

“There won’t be any singing and we’ve restricted numbers.

“And of course we will make sure everyone is wearing masks and everything else.

“People have been very keen to come back but we’re being quite strict.

“People want to get back to normality but it’s not as easy as that.

“We’re really happy to have some sort of community back as long as that community can be line with the restrictions.

“It will be something, and that’s better than nothing.”

Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque, said prayers would resume on Monday, adding:

“This is what we decided on Wednesday, but each mosque will go back to their committees to make sure everyone is on board. Our main priority is the health of the people who will attend the mosque.

“People should come 15 minutes before prayers and leave after 15 minutes. That’s because we need to prepare the places and sanitise the area.

“Our capacity will be down to 250-300 from the usual capacity of 1,800-2,000. People must wear masks and should bring their own prayer mats and their own bags for their shoes.

“Children will not be allowed at the moment.

“It is a relief to be preparing to welcome people back. We could have opened on July 4, but we decided to stay closed to see how things developed.”

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