DUMBARTON and the Vale’s places of worship have reopened for limited access to the public as the Scottish Government eases lockdown measures.

During phase 2 of lockdown, houses of worship across the country were only open for individual prayer or contemplation, funeral services, broadcasting acts of worship and to provide essential voluntary services.

But from July 15, congregational services, marriage ceremonies and religious life event ceremonies such as baptisms or christenings also were made available to worshippers.

Now almost two weeks into their new ‘normality’, Father Gerard Conroy of St Patrick’s Chapel in Dumbarton, and Reverend Ian Miller of Lomond Parish Church in Alexandria spoke to the Reporter about adjusting to their new roles as their congregation return.

Father Conroy said: “We’ve already opened on July 15, normally we have about four to five hundred people, but we can only allow a maximum of 50 now. On the Sunday we had a full house and during the weekdays between 40 and 50.

“We’re fortunate we have live streaming here on a site called livestream, which is owned by Vimeo, we did alright viewer wise – four or five hundred. We normally see five or six hundred on a Sunday.

“There’s social distancing in place now so that when people come in the two metre rule is in place, benches are closed off and the church is disinfected and cleaned once a week.

“They’re all wearing face masks so I can’t see, but I’m presuming they’re quite happy to be back!”

Though not officially reopened his parish, Reverend Ian Miller of Lomond Parish Church, who retired from Bonhill Parish after 37 years, told the Reporter: “We’re not open yet and we’ve a helluva’ checklist for safety measures – bring people in one door and out the other door etc., I think the optimistic date would be sometime in August for church services.

“There’s some negativity and there’s some optimism, and personally I’d think it’s going to be the middle of September.

“I’m guided by my health practitioners, some of them are retired NHS workers and they’re all members of the congregation and I’ve every confidence in them, I fear for some churches who have no experts like we do on board.

“We’re just very lucky.”

Back in the dreary days of mid-March when lockdown began, Reverend Miller admits he was a little worried.

“I probably was worried as to how I would cope, but two things - initially I was told from the Church of Scotland offices that I shouldn’t be conducting funerals – I’m in my 70’s - but I wasn’t going to turn my back on the folk that were good to me for 45 years.

“I conducted 67 funerals during that 8-week time and I conducted 31 during the same period last year. After I stopped, I like a routine, so I have an hourly walk with my wife and my grandson plays the piano down the phone to me.

“Reverend Donald Campbell, who is a Dumbarton lad, and myself have been recording services and putting them on Facebook, there’s been viewing figures of about 10,000, so we’ll probably continue that into the future.”