Answers to some of the most commonly asked questions by church leaders about the coronavirus pandemic and Government restrictions.

Last updated: 12 January 2021.

Can churches meet?

Churches can meet for public worship in England and Wales. However, gatherings need to take place in line with local safety restrictions set by the governments of the two nations.

In England, churches are restricted to the number of people a building can safely accommodate taking social distancing measures into consideration. The announcement on 4 January 2020 of a new national lockdown for England means that anyone gathering for worship should not mix with anyone outside their household group or bubble.

You can read the comprehensive guidance for Places of Worship in England on the Government website. These are the guidelines we would encourage you to follow if you are meeting for public worship. Some of the interpretations are outlined below.

In Wales, there is no restriction on numbers, it is down to how many a building can accommodate in line with social distancing measures. You can find the Places of Worship guidance for Wales on the Welsh Government website.

In mainland Scotland, places of worship should stay closed until at least the end of January in line with the Scottish Government’s new “stay at home order” which was issued on 4 January. This will be kept under review. Church leaders are permitted to leave home to "lead an act of worship". Scotland Director Andy Hunter has summarised the guidance and offered some pastoral advice.

Can I use my church building for anything else?

Charitable Services

If you provide charitable services from your church building (like a foodbank or support for the homeless) this can still take place in England.

Support Groups

Up to 15 people are allowed to gather for a support group in a church building in England. For example, this could include support for new mothers with breastfeeding, or helping people to overcome addictions. We don’t think ordinary Bible Studies or Prayer Meetings count as a support group.

Bible Study & Prayer Meetings

The guidelines are very clear that there should be no mixing of household groups indoors in England. The Places of Worship guidance has been updated to make clear that church buildings can be open for individual private prayer, or for “prayers, devotions or meditations led by a Minister of Religion or lay person”.

In the previous guidance it was clear Bible study groups should not happen "in person" in a Tier 4 area. This section has been removed from the guidance altogether and a study group at church is no longer a valid reason to attend a place of worship under the stay home order.

The permitted reasons to attend a place of worship are highlighted in the grey box at the top of the updated places of worship guidance in England.

Filming, Recording and Broadcasting services

If you are not meeting in person in England, you can also attend a place of worship to broadcast, film or record an act of worship. In this case, it should only involve those people taking part and who are therefore essential to the content of the service. This includes leaders/preachers, singers, musicians and (for example) technicians who enable the recording/broadcast to take place.

There is no limit on the numbers, but they should be kept as small as possible and all should follow social distancing guidelines.

What are the restrictions on singing?

In England, the Government is still advising against congregational singing because of the risk of aerosol transmission of Covid-19.

These restrictions have been tightened since the Christmas break. The advice is now clear that only one person should sing wherever possible, but up to three people can sing if it is deemed “essential to the act of worship”. Those singing should take appropriate precautions (singing behind a screen, maintain social distancing etc) and follow the Performing Arts guidance.

Congregational singing should not take place and the guidelines have been further tightened in England to make clear that even socially distanced singing with masks should be avoided. In sum, the guidance strongly advises against any congregational singing whether the act of worship takes place indoors or outdoors.

In Scotland, church gatherings for worship cannot take place until at least the end of January.

In Wales, singing outdoors is allowed when part of an organised event, which has a capacity of 30.

What factors should I consider with an outdoor service?

Any outdoor service still needs to be fully risk assessed. You should consider social distancing and virus mitigation in the same way you would for an indoor service. There is no requirement to wear a mask outdoors, but you may decide to encourage this as part of your risk assessment.

In England, under the new lockdown arrangements, church services can take place on outdoor church land (such as car parks or gardens) because these are classed as the “place of worship”. However, there should be no interacting of household groups whether your service takes place indoors or outdoors.

In addition, the new guidelines make clear that acts of worship should not take place away from the place of worship or its grounds. In this context the “place of worship” is the building and its grounds that you use for your service, irrespective of whether it is a church building or not.

Where can I find information about risk assessments?

Below are a template and some articles with guiding principles for filling in risk assessments.

What do I do if there is a positive Covid case at church?

It is inevitable that churches will have people in attendance who go on to test positive for Covid-19. This has already happened at several FIEC churches. If you are following the places of worship guidelines and have a robust risk assessment, this should not prove problematic because you have already done everything that is required of you.

Churches should be keeping the contacts of everyone who attends an in-person service for 21 days so that if there is a positive case, this information can be passed to NHS Test and Trace. Providing the guidelines have been followed by the church there should be no need for all those who attended to self-isolate. You can read about how one FIEC church responded to a positive test.

Can I hold Sunday School, toddler groups, or youth clubs?

In England, it is clear that the “stay at home” legislation means that children are only allowed to leave home for education and childcare if they are eligible. In practice, this means that they are either vulnerable or the children of key workers.

This has implications for churches in England because it means children’s activities can only take place to serve those eligible children. For example, you could still operate youth or children’s ministry, but it could only be attended by children who are vulnerable or whose parents are key workers. In other words, regular youth, children’s and Sunday School ministries for all are restricted in the current lockdown.

If you do decide to run these childcare settings for eligible children, you need to follow the Out of School Settings guidance.

If your church building is used for registered childcare, this can continue.

Parent & Toddler groups can take place up to a maximum of 15 adults (as a support group – see above) in line with social distancing. In those cases, you should be careful not to mix household groups together. You can find out more on the Government website by scrolling down to “Parent and Child Groups”.

In Scotland, only regulated childcare can open, and even then only for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

In Wales, guidance for children's activities follows the same guidance as other parts of church, although there is a relaxation for children under the age of 11.

Can I move from 2m to 1m+ to get more people in church?

You can only move from 2 metre social distancing to 1 metre “plus” if you have mitigating factors in place. For example, masks, good ventilation or Perspex screens like you see in shops and supermarkets. Any decision to move from 2 metres to 1 metre “plus” should only be taken after a robust assessment of risk in your risk assessment document.

Can I hold weddings and funerals?

Weddings

In England, weddings can only take place in exceptional circumstances (for example where someone is dying) and are limited to six people. Receptions are not allowed.

In Scotland, weddings can take place but are restricted to five people in attendance. Receptions cannot take place. See this article by our Scotland Director Andy Hunter.

In Wales, the capacity for weddings is drawn from the available social distancing measures available.

Funerals and wakes

Funeral ceremonies can take place in England but are restricted to 30 people. Only six people can attend a wake.

In Scotland, funerals can be attended by 20 people but there can be no wakes.

In Wales, the capacity is drawn from the available social distancing measures available.

Can I hold a “celebration of life” event for a deceased person to have more than 30 people?

A funeral is the event held as soon as practicably possible after a person has died. This may take place in a church building or a crematorium. In England, this event is limited to 30 people, in Scotland it is limited to 20 people and in Wales the capacity is drawn from the size of the space to allow for social distancing.

To call a funeral a “celebration of life” and suggest it is an ordinary worship service to accommodate more people is not what the guidance has in mind and we would advise against it. But we see no problem with a service at a crematorium and then a service the same day in a church. Both of these are “funeral services” but are still dependent on the relevant capacity and guidance.

Where can I find more resources for the coronavirus crisis?

There are resources covering many areas of ministry during the coronavirus crisis on the FIEC website. You can see the most recent below or browse the entire library.

National Director John Stevens regularly updates and comments on the coronavirus restrictions on his blog.

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