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The 'new normal' calls us to protect each other as we worship

Ushers take on added roles to ensure safety and protection of parishioners during COVID-19

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St. Joseph Parish, Miami Beach, put signs on the floor and on the pews to let parishioners konw where they could sit, in keeping with the required social distancing.

Photographer: DIANELYS RODRIGUEZ | LVC

St. Joseph Parish, Miami Beach, put signs on the floor and on the pews to let parishioners konw where they could sit, in keeping with the required social distancing.

MIAMI | Church ushers do much more these days than offer welcoming smiles. They have taken on great responsibility and work of organization to ensure the longed-for return to the house of God.

After the long quarantine imposed by COVID-19, Archbishop Thomas Wenski authorized the celebration of Masses with the congregation, but with restrictions, beginning the weekend of May 30 and 31.

Gipsy Lodos, whose task is to shape the "new normal" at St. Joseph Church, Miami Beach, welcomes the faithful to Mass June 7, 2020, by making sure they sanitize their hands.

Photographer: DIANELYS RODRIGUEZ | LVC

Gipsy Lodos, whose task is to shape the "new normal" at St. Joseph Church, Miami Beach, welcomes the faithful to Mass June 7, 2020, by making sure they sanitize their hands.

At the conclusion of Mass, ushers at St. Joseph Church, Miami Beach, disinfect the church with the products indicated by the "new normal" for the reopening of churches.

Photographer: DIANELYS RODRIGUEZ | LVC

At the conclusion of Mass, ushers at St. Joseph Church, Miami Beach, disinfect the church with the products indicated by the "new normal" for the reopening of churches.

At St. Joseph Church, Miami Beach, green crosses on the floor indicate the places in the pews where people are allowed to sit, in keeping with the norms established for the re-opening of churches.

Photographer: DIANELYS RODRIGUEZ | LVC

At St. Joseph Church, Miami Beach, green crosses on the floor indicate the places in the pews where people are allowed to sit, in keeping with the norms established for the re-opening of churches.

As hosts par excellence, the ushers have had to rethink their traditional roles within the church and prepare themselves to take on other supportive roles, to create a safer environment at all the services in keeping with the guidelines set by the archbishop.

La Voz Católica interviewed the coordinators of these hospitality ministers during the first Sunday Masses following the reopening of St. Joseph Church, in Miami Beach.

Caridad Barillas, pastoral assistant and coordinator for all the ministries, including the ushers, said that with the new safety regulations, "the ushers, as always, welcome the people or families who come to the church. However, now they must apply hand sanitizing gel to everyone at the entrance door and verify that each one is wearing a mask."

When visitors enter the vestibule, two ushers assign them to the location from which they will participate in the Mass, and then two others guide them to their seats, which are marked and spaced to observe social distancing.

"To avoid the least contact with other attendees at the moment of Communion, participants are directed by an established line that keeps a distance of six feet between them while they wait their turn to receive the Eucharist, and they are shown the way back to their seats. At the end of the Mass, the ushers gradually lead everyone to the side doors where they must exit," said Barillas.

For the new normal, "the priests met with us to let us know the new regulations. A plan of action was designed and we soon began preparing to reopen under these special circumstances. The work of the ushers is essential in order to guide parishioners within the church and to comply with the regulations required by the Archdiocese of Miami, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the City of Miami Beach," she pointed out.

"We need eight to 10 ushers at each Mass, so we are asking for the support of many volunteers who have been trained and guided by the regular and more experienced ushers," added Barillas. "These volunteers made a commitment to serve for six weeks. We had an excellent response from all of them."

Gipsy Lodos, who is temporarily leading the efforts to shape the new normal and special conditions at St. Joseph Church, said that everything is reorganized and disinfected after each Mass.

"We had to buy products to clean the pews, the floor, specific products for different surfaces, for everything that has fabric. We wash the microphone windscreens, and we must pay special attention to those places where people put their hands. Cleaning and disinfecting the church is hard and sometimes it has to be done with very little time between Masses," Lodos said.

With regard to the influx of people, she added, "social distancing rules state that the number of people who can participate in the worship is limited, from 25 to 30 percent, although we have been able to manage it well for the time being."

The influx has been moderate, but in case more parishioners decide to join, the chapel and the parish hall are prepared so that everyone can participate in the Masses.

Parishioners’ response to this new reality has been "very good, in general. Sometimes people want to sit where they always sat, others have gotten used to their pews all their lives, and this had to be adjusted. They are still assimilating the changes and incorporating them. We strive to be attentive, kind, loving and understanding, but we must make them respect the protective guidelines, for others and for themselves," said Lodos.

In the face of an unprecedented situation, these days are difficult for everyone, "but we are convinced that the measures dictated by the authorities are the necessary ones to stop the infections and deaths caused by the coronavirus," she added.

Readjusting to the new protocols and demands of the moment is "a great challenge. We are learning every day. At each Mass, we could find something new that we can do to improve the safety and protection of parishioners who come to church while COVID-19 is still a real threat. We ushers have the mission and responsibility to make them feel protected, welcomed, accepted and loved in our Catholic community," said Lodos.

Historically, ushers have been readjusting their roles over time. It is the oldest lay ministry in the Catholic Church, and in the beginning, they were known as "temple guardians."

Lodos said that "the new normal of living with a pandemic now calls us to protect us from ourselves in the ceremony of reverence, devotion and joy of encounter with God."    

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