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

Last updated: 14 April 2021.

Can churches meet?

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

In England, churches are restricted to the number of people a building can safely accommodate taking social distancing measures into consideration. Until at least 17 May 2021, anyone gathering for worship indoors should not mix or mingle 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 number: 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 can open for communal worship with up to 50 in attendance where social distancing allows.

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.

Bible Study & Prayer Meetings

As of 12 April, places of worship in England are able to open for led prayers and devotions which offers some scope for prayer meetings and Bible studies at church, providing they are fully risk assessed in line with the guidance.

The guidelines are very clear that there should be no mixing of household groups indoors in England until at least 17 May. This means you cannot interact with others indoors but led prayers or devotions can take place at a church building. There is also scope to run prayer and Bible study groups outside in the car park or grounds of a place of worship in groups of six or two households. However, Bible study and prayer meetings are not classed as “Support Groups” and they cannot take place in homes or private gardens.

The relevant information can be found in the Places of Worship guidance under “Communal worship, including prayers, devotions or meditations led by a Minister of Religion or lay person” and “Outdoor worship”.

In Scotland, led prayers and devotions can take place in a place of worship providing they are “pre-arranged or scheduled” and places of worship can open for individual prayer. Physical distancing should be maintained at all times.

In Wales, led prayers and devotions can take place in a church building but the guidance is clear that this should not be for social purposes. The guidance also encourages these activities to be completed in the shortest possible time.

Filming, Recording and Broadcasting services

If you are not meeting in person in England, you can 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.

Can we sing at church?

In England, the Government is still advising against congregational singing indoors because of the risk of aerosol transmission of Covid-19. But they are now allowing singing outdoors in the grounds of a place of worship. This means that congregational singing can take place outside – providing the act of worship is taking place in the outside space (gardens, car park or grounds) of a place of worship.

The restrictions have also been slightly relaxed indoors with the advice stating that a small group of singers can now rehearse or perform indoors at a place of worship. While this should still be with as few people as possible, the previous guidance recommended just one singer. Those singing should take appropriate precautions (singing behind a screen, maintain social distancing etc) and follow the Performing Arts guidance.

In Scotland, church gatherings can now take place but congregational singing is advised against, with the Scottish Guidance saying it should be avoided.

In Wales, indoor congregation singing should be avoided, but fixed groups of up to six singers are allowed providing other mitigations are followed (barrier screens etc.)

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, church services can take place on outdoor church land (such as car parks or gardens) because these are classed as the “place of worship”. As of 29 March, up to six people or two households can interact outdoors, meaning up to six people or two households can “mingle” outside in a way they cannot inside. Social distancing should still be maintained in any group of six.

The updated 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, youth and children’s work can take place as of 12 April 2021. These activities can have up to 15 adults present too. In all your activities you should continue to follow the Out of School Settings guidance.

Parent and toddler groups can also restart indoors for a maximum of 15 people – children under 5 are not counted in this number. You can find out more on the Government website by scrolling down to “Parent and Child Groups”. The information that explains the 12 April change is also on the Government website.

In Scotland, unregulated children’s activities (such as those provided by churches) can now take place following the Organised Activities for Children guidance.

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, from 12 April 2021, weddings can take place with up to 15 people. Receptions can also be held with the same numbers but those receptions can only take place outdoors, and even then not in private gardens.

In Scotland, weddings can take place but are limited in number. In Level 3 areas up to 20 can attend with the same number allowed at a reception. In Level 4 areas weddings are only allowed with five people present and there can be no receptions. Read this article by our Scotland Director Andy Hunter for more details.

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 15 people can attend a wake.

In Scotland, funerals can be attended by 20 people but wakes with up to 20 people can only take place in areas not under lockdown.

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.

FIEC cookies notice

To give you the best possible experience, this site uses cookies. We have published a new cookies policy, which you should read to find out more about how we use cookies. By clicking 'Continue' you agree to allow us to collect information on and off fiec.org.uk through cookies. View privacy policy