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Ticketed services touted as way to maintain social distancing when churches reopen

29 May 2020

RC Church in London in talks about online registration for mass


TICKETING in advance of services is one suggested solution to the problem of maintaining social distance when churches reopen to congregations.

After an approach from the Brompton Oratory, a Roman Catholic church in London which may have 3000 worshippers through its door in the course of a week, the independent ticketing platform TicketTailor is developing an online registration process to manage capacity and support parishes in restoring services.

Bespoke seating plans for every church would mean that congregations could reserve seats for individuals, couples, and families. The head of growth at TicketTailor, George Follett, said that the company had the capacity to launch ticketing for more than 3000 churches by 1 July. This figure could be increased as required, he said.

Terminology was important, he said, particularly in communicating the system. “It’s registration, really; signing up for a service. You don’t see the branding when you use it, so you won’t feel that you’re going to ‘buy a ticket’.”

Many churches, including the Oratory, already used the company for event bookings, and the conversation, Mr Follett said, had started with those.

“It does depend on the size of the building and the congregation, and the facilities you have. There will be many different approaches, and some will manage it on the door on the day. But as soon as you start getting over 50 per cent full on an average Sunday, you need to start thinking about how you will manage it.

“If you have multiple services, and people coming in and out the whole time, how do you manage those changes quickly? What you don’t want is, five minutes before the service starts, people turning up and having to assess where they find a seat.” Fragmentation of events might mean smaller and more frequent services, he suggested, in the manner of four services of 125 worshippers replacing one service of 500.

‘Are you sure that’s the church site and not the cinema?’

Churches were likely to keep space for those worshippers who were not online, and for others who turned up on the day. It was still very much a conversation, Mr Follett said. He is a churchgoer and worships at King’s Cross Church, in London.

The company offers full operational and technical support for parishes, with seating plans for each church representing all the available spaces. A low-cost plan would help churches to run their services at a sustainable cost: the launch cost would be £100 per church.

“Churches would have the confidence that we are here for them,” Mr Follett said. “What’s really exciting for us is the societal impact of being able to help out, to offer a very tangible thing to get things moving again, and trying to give support. That’s definitely getting the team excited.”

The Sunday Telegraph reported this week that 20 Conservative MPs had written to the Prime Minister calling for “further faster opening of churches and places of worship”. The letter was co-ordinated by Sir Peter Bottomley MP, the Father of the House of Commons.

The letter said: “We ask for clear guidance, rules removed and discretion allowed as local faith leaders stay alert and make churches, chapels and places of prayer and worship available to the faithful. Everyone understands the value of appropriate social distancing and the obligation to avoid contamination. . .

“It seems odd that you can go for a walk, enter a busy supermarket, get on a bus, but cannot go to a large virtually-empty-for-much-of-the-time building. . .

“We ask that our leaders, Government and church, especially the Church of England, together find reasonably safe ways to reopen our churches for prayer, for funerals even with limited congregations and for worship sooner than July.”

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, said in a statement in response to the story: “The support that Sir Peter and other MPs have given has been very welcome. We share their desire for us all to be able to meet and worship together in our sacred spaces as soon as it practical and safe to do so.

“We have been working hard to make that possible and have been actively planning for a phased reopening of church buildings, in step with Government advice. That has involved drawing up detailed guidance to help local churches plan to enable individual prayer, weddings, funerals and other important rites to take place and then, in due course, a resumption of public worship services.”


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