Answers to some of the most commonly asked questions by church leaders about the coronavirus pandemic and Government restrictions.
Coronavirus restrictions in England have been relaxed, while there has also been a significant relaxation of the guidance in Scotland and Wales.
For churches, this means that decisions about communal worship are largely pastoral as you continue to support your congregation in the ongoing pandemic. While some restrictions remain in Scotland and Wales (particularly around face coverings and distancing), in England the only legal requirement on churches is that services are risk assessed.
To be clear, this is a requirement that has always been necessary for churches – the difference now is that Covid-19 becomes one element of your risk assessment, rather than requiring specific risk assessments for every activity.
You can find a summary of the guidance and FAQs below:
For pastoral guidance on reopening wisely, you might find the following resources helpful:
Coronavirus guidance for churches in England
Last updated: 27 January 2022
All legal restrictions in relation to Covid-19 in England have been lifted by the Government. This means that your decision making in relation to gathered worship is weighted towards pastoral wisdom rather than legal restrictions.
You can read the full places of worship guidance on the government website.
Will people need Vaccine Passports for church?
No. This is clear from the guidance. There is no requirement for churches to do this. Places of worship are exempt from asking for proof of vaccines when they are being used for regular worship services or life events such as weddings, funerals and baptisms.
What about a risk assessment?
Each church still has a legal duty to undertake a risk assessment which should include reasonable measures to mitigate the risks of infection from Covid-19. The advice is to consider additional mitigations (social distancing and mask-wearing) if the size of your congregation relative to the size of your building would make the venue a “crowded indoor space”. While there is no definition of what a “crowded indoor space” is, we would suggest a good comparison is a busy supermarket or train carriage.
For some churches, where the normal congregation means a building is almost full to capacity, you will need to consider carefully your responsibilities around protective measures.
There will still be things that a risk assessment will need to take into account for the use of a church building and they include things like: ventilation, good hand hygiene, cleaning of common areas and asking people with Covid-19 symptoms not to attend.
The Government recommends the Working Safely During Coronavirus guidance to help you to think this through.
It is also recommended that churches make provision for those who are “clinically extremely vulnerable” as they are advised to continue to avoid close contact and maintain social distance.
Some of the things you might wish to consider as you help your congregation back to church include:
- Splitting the building into different sections for those who would like to socially distance and wear masks and those who don’t wish to.
- Offering different or multiple services, some with mitigations and others without.
- Inviting people to take lateral flow tests before attending church.
What about face coverings and social distancing?
There is no requirement to social distance or wear a mask in church. Previously, this was a legal requirement for churches, but this is no longer the case. You should reflect your decision in your risk assessment.
What about singing?
There is no restriction on numbers singing from the front, or on the congregation joining in with singing. You should reflect your decision in your risk assessment.
Can I serve tea and coffee?
Yes. There are no restrictions in terms of serving food in places of worship but you should follow the guidelines used by the hospitality sector in your planning.
What about Test and Trace?
There is no legal requirement for churches to keep a record of those who attend for Test and Trace. However, churches are asked to consider using the NHS QR code so that people who wish to “check in” to the venue using the app can still do so.
Coronavirus guidance for churches in Scotland
Last updated: 28 February 2022.
Most of the Scottish Government’s statutory measures for dealing with Covid in wider society have been withdrawn.
For places of worship, this means there are no limits on the size of gatherings or a requirement to enforce physical distancing. However, in line with most public spaces, the wearing of face coverings in places of worship is still a legal requirement (unless an individual has an exemption).
The guidance also notes:
- Undertaking a full risk assessment is deemed essential.
- Those responsible for a place of worship must take such measures as are reasonably practicable, to minimise the risk of the incidence and spread of coronavirus on the premises. This includes measures to reduce crowding and encourage distancing (e.g. signage, one way systems etc).
- Encouraging congregations and visitors to physically distance in places of worship.
- Undertaking Lateral Flow Testing before attending services or gatherings is strongly advised.
- Places of worship may wish to continue to collect visitor details for the purposes of supporting NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect system.
- Ensuring adequate ventilation in buildings also remains an important precautionary measure.
Other changes include:
- Face coverings are no longer needed for any adults taking part in organised activities when directly interacting with children under the age of 5.
- There is a recommendation for ‘hybrid working’ (i.e. a managed return to the workplace) will replace working from home wherever possible.
- There are no limits on private gatherings.
- Choirs and bands can perform without a face covering (but only with 2 metre distancing or a partition between other performers/audience in place) but you should wear a face covering if singing as part of a congregation.
Coronavirus guidance for churches in Wales
Last updated: 28 February 2022.
In Wales, almost all restrictions, including social distancing, have been removed.
However. a lot of the guidance that has applied to churches in Wales throughout the pandemic continues to apply now. This includes cleaning requirements, good ventilation and avoiding crowding. You can read the Welsh guidance in full on the Welsh government website.
There is no longer a legal requirement to wear face coverings/masks in places of worship. However, the Welsh government "strongly recommend that you still wear face coverings even where you don’t have to".
What about Test, Trace and Protect?
Churches in Wales are still expected to take the details of people who attend places of worship so that they can provide them to Test, Trace and Protect if required.