Answers to some of the most commonly asked questions by church leaders about the coronavirus pandemic and Government restrictions.
Last updated: 2 September 2021.
Since July 2021, coronavirus restrictions in England have been lifted, 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 support your congregation in returning to your gatherings. While some restrictions remain in Scotland and Wales (particularly around masks 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:
Also, see FIEC National Director John Stevens' blog post To Mask or Not to Mask: That is the Question.
Coronavirus guidance for churches in England
All legal restrictions in relation to Covid-19 in England have now 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.
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.
- Continuing to sing outside if people are not comfortable singing indoors.
What about masks and social distancing?
There is no longer a 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?
The guidance that advised against congregational singing now been removed. This means that 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 now no restrictions in terms of serving food in places of worship. You no longer need to be seated to eat and drink.
What about Test and Trace?
There is no longer a 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
From Monday 9 August, Scotland moved out of its Covid Level system. While most restrictions were lifted a number still remain, for example mask-wearing in most public settings.
Summary of the changes
- No physical distancing requirements.
- Mask wearing still required in public indoor spaces such as shops, transport and places of worship.
- Indoor and outdoor gatherings of up to 2,000 and 5,000 people (respectively) are allowed. Events with higher numbers will need to apply for permission.
- Home working still advised where possible.
- Test and Protect data collection will still be required in indoor hospitality and similar venues (this is voluntary for churches under previous guidance).
- Test and Protect self-isolation criteria will be eased (e.g. double vaccinated adults and under-17s will not need to self-isolate (for 10 days) if notified about a close Covid contact if they subsequently get a negative PCR test result).
Implications for churches
- No restrictions on numbers attending (up to 2000 indoors / 5000 outdoors)
- People attending places of worship are still required to wear a face-mask throughout the service (The only exemptions being for those leading and medical reasons).
- Congregational singing permitted (behind masks).
- No physical distancing requirements.
- Good hygiene practices such as readily available hand sanitizer, maximising ventilation and regular cleaning of contact surfaces should be maintained.
- Churches can, of course, decide to provide a physically distanced area for attendees who may still be particularly vulnerable or cautious.
- The easing of the self-isolation criteria will hopefully be helpful in encouraging the return of those concerned about being caught in the previous system.
These continue to be recommended rather than obligatory – as is collecting Test & Protect data.
However, hospitality venues (such as cafes) and workplaces (which many churches are) remain subject to ongoing Risk Assessment & Test & Protect requirements.
Coronavirus guidance for churches in Wales
In Wales, there is still a requirement to maintain social distancing and to wear masks in places of worship, but congregational singing (behind masks) can take place with an adequate risk assessment.
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 the shared use of things like Bibles and hymn books. You can read the Welsh guidance in full on the Welsh government website.
Please note – we are expecting the Welsh Guidance to change again from 7 August 2021, so please look out for these updates on the Welsh Government website.
What about social distancing?
The Welsh Places of Worship Guidance is clear that 2 metre social distancing should be maintained in church buildings in Wales. While there is no limit on the numbers that can attend worship, it should be capped at the number the building can safely accommodate whilst maintaining social distancing. The same applies for numbers at weddings and funerals.
What about masks?
Masks are still mandatory in places of worship in Wales for everyone over the age of 11 unless you have a legal exemption. Those leading services and preaching do not have to wear a face covering but other mitigations should be considered in your risk assessment.
What about singing?
A robust risk assessment should be conducted by places of worship that wish to sing. All singing that takes place should be done behind masks and there are other things listed in the places of worship guidance for Wales that leaders should consider.
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.