Answers to some of the most commonly asked questions by church leaders about the coronavirus pandemic and Government restrictions.
Last updated: 19 May 2021.
- Can churches meet?
- Can I use my church building for anything else?
- Can we sing at church?
- What factors should I consider with an outdoor service?
- Where can I find information about risk assessments?
- What do I do if there is a positive Covid case at church?
- Can I hold Sunday School, toddler, or youth clubs?
- Can I move from 2m to 1m+ to get more people in church?
- Can I hold weddings and funerals?
- Can we hold baptismal services?
- Can we hand out shared Bibles and hymn books?
- Can we serve food and drink?
- Where can I find more resources for the coronavirus crisis?
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 21 June 2021, worshippers should only mix or mingle in groups of six people or two households.
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 can open for communal worship – again, capacity numbers are dictated by the size of the building and the accommodation of social distancing. You can find the Places of Worship guidance for Scotland on the Scottish Government website.
Can I use my church building for anything else?
If you provide charitable services from your church building (like a foodbank or support for the homeless) this can still take place in England.
In England, up to 30 people are allowed to gather for a support group in a church building. For example, this could include support for new mothers with breastfeeding, or helping people to overcome addictions. There is a list under “Support Groups” in the updated places of worship guidance in England to show what the Government has in mind.
There is no guidance for such support groups to meet in Wales or Scotland.
Bible Study & Prayer Meetings
In England, from 17 May groups of six or two households can gather indoors. This gives scope for more traditional Bible Study and Prayer Meetings to take place on church premises. For example, multiple groups of six could meet in the building where social distancing allows.
In addition, it means that these gatherings (with up to six people or two households) can also start to take place in private homes. If a Bible Study is happening in a private home, please note that children of any age (even sleeping upstairs) are counted as part of the “six”.
There is no guidance for Bible study or prayer meetings in Wales or Scotland.
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, congregational singing is still advised against both indoors and outdoors, but the Scottish Guidance says small numbers in levels 0-2 can sing indoors. This has in mind a small choir rather than congregational singing.
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 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.
In England, church services can now take place on outdoor church land (such as car parks or gardens) because these are classed as the “place of worship”. From 17 May, up to 30 people can gather to interact outdoors, giving greater scope for engagement between congregation members than inside.
While multiple groups of up to 30 people can gather in the grounds of a place of worship (where social distancing can be maintained), it is still illegal to gather more than 30 people outside in a public place such as a park or recreation ground.
In Scotland, outdoor events (e.g. worship services, concerts etc) are covered by general ‘Events Sector’ guidance. Currently, these are only permissible in Levels 0-2 (with different maximum capacities in each of those levels).
In Wales, 50 people can gather for outdoor worship - under 11s don’t count in those numbers. More details can be found on the Welsh government website.
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 from 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 & Toddler groups can also restart indoors. From 17 May, up to 30 people are allowed to gather – 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”.
In Scotland, youth activities for under 18s should follow the guidance for unregulated organised activities for children.
In Wales, organised indoor activities for children have been able to take place since 3 May. However, to organise children’s activities, churches should follow the childcare guidance.
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?
In England, from 17 May 2021 weddings can take place with up to 30 people. Receptions can also be held with the same numbers, both indoors and outdoors.
In Scotland, weddings and receptions can take place but are limited in number. In Level 0 areas up to 200 people can attend. In Level 1 areas up to 100 people can attend. In Level 3&4 areas up to 50 people can attend. These numbers are the same for weddings and receptions.
Funerals and wakes
Funeral ceremonies can take place in England and after 17 May 2021 there is no restriction on the numbers – you can have as many people who can socially distance in the available space. Only 30 people can attend a wake.
In Scotland, funerals and wakes can take place but are limited in number. In Level 0 areas up to 200 people can attend. In Level 1 areas up to 100 people can attend. In Level 3&4 areas up to 50 people can attend. These numbers are the same for funerals and wakes.
Can we hold baptismal services?
Previously in England, it was only possible to conduct a baptism as part of a wider worship service. From 17 May you are able to hold separate baptism services for up to 30 people, it no longer has to be part of the wider worship service.
In Wales, baptisms should still take place only as part of a wider worship service.
In Scotland, full immersion baptisms are permitted indoors and outdoors but should be conducted in line with the recommended guidance.
Can we hand out shared Bibles and hymn books?
The guidance across England, Scotland and Wales still suggests that shared items in church should be avoided. Therefore, we would advise that churches continue to encourage people to bring their own Bibles. It also means that things like service sheets should be single-use and not passed among worshippers.
Can we serve food and drink?
The latest Places of Worship guidance in England gives more flexibility on this. It is in line with the fact that from 17 May hospitality venues can serve food and drink indoors. This means that if your church runs a café or similar, this can resume providing you follow the guidelines for the hospitality sector.
It also gives scope to allow refreshments to be served after a service. The guidance for England is clear that food and drink can be collected from a counter. See under “Food & Drink” in the Places of Worship guidance.
In Scotland, food and drink can be served after services, but only to tables where people are seated. You should also ensure that the social distancing is followed dependent on the current restrictions for your area of Scotland, and follow the Scottish guidance for the hospitality sector.
In Wales, guidance suggests that food and drink be avoided unless part of the service (for example communion). See the Welsh government website for more details.
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.