Guidance for Churches Opening for Private Prayer
From Saturday 13 June, church buildings in England are allowed to reopen so that people can attend for private prayer. Here's a summary of the Government guidance.
For the vast majority of FIEC churches, this will make little difference to our work and ministry. Churches that own buildings rarely open them for this purpose and the government guidance is clear that regular services cannot happen in church buildings until at least 4 July, and even then only if other conditions have been met.
But during his webinar on Wednesday 10 June, John Stevens explained that churches with buildings in England might be able to find creative ways to open them for private prayer, perhaps with literature or other information to help share the gospel with people who walk in.
If you do want to open your building for this purpose, there is updated government guidance about what you need to do, which was published on Friday 12 June.
The Government website goes into detail but we have summarised the main points below.
Opening for Private Prayer
Despite the changes to allow private prayer in church buildings in England, it is still against the rules to hold church services, prayer meetings and other activities (youth clubs, book groups etc). Services should continue online for the moment.
But if you do want to open your church for private prayer, the following action should take place first:
- You will need to come up with a COVID-19 Risk Assessment for your building.
- Social distancing (2 metres between people from different households) should be observed.
- You should consider queue management and one-way systems, similar to those being operated by shops.
- You should consider screens to separate people where social distancing is not possible, similar to till-points in supermarkets.
- Buildings should be cleaned and reconfigured to take into account the points above before they are opened to the public.
- Hand-washing stations or hand sanitiser should be available for people to use on entry and exit from the building.
Once you have opened your building for private prayer, you then need to consider the following on an ongoing basis:
- Regular cleaning to include things like door handles and other items regularly touched by people in the building.
- Windows should be opened to provide as much ventilation as possible.
- Signs and posters should encourage one-way systems, hand-washing and social distancing.
- Regular upkeep of hand-washing and/or hand sanitiser for people coming in and out of the building.
There are other recommendations churches should consider if opening for private prayer to help stop the spread of coronavirus. These include:
- Consider recommending face coverings to those coming into the building.
- Remove facilities for children (play areas/book corners) or keep them closed.
- Vulnerable groups including the over 70s and those shielding should still be advised to stay at home.
What activity is permitted in a church building under these new rules?
- An individual or a household can attend for private prayer.
- That individual or household should stay socially distanced from others in the building.
- There can be no organised or communal prayer gathering – IE a prayer meeting led by a pastor or elder.
What practical implications are there for this?
- Visitors for private prayer should avoid touching items in the church where possible.
- Bibles should not be given out (people should bring their own).
- Single-use resources (tracts etc) can be available but these should be taken away by the individual – IE not picked up and put back down.
- No food or drink should be available.
- There should be no singing or playing of instruments. An exception is made for an individual wanting to practice the organ.
- There should be no “plate collections” for donations which should continue electronically.
- Churches should restrict numbers to maintain social distancing.
- It is recommended that the church is closed during “normal service times” to prevent people arriving at a pre-arranged time as they normally would. This may make social distancing impossible.
- Churches may want to consider opening at specific times for the over 70s to pray.
- People who are symptomatic, or in a household with another person who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus should stay at home and not attend a church building for private prayer.
While the 13 June changes provide churches with buildings some flexibility, the guidance is clear that there is likely to be no movement on church gatherings until at least 4 July. Even then, we are likely to see restrictions on the numbers allowed to gather and the activities that are permitted when we gather.
To help you to think about what implications there might be for churches to think through, please listen to or watch our webinar where Spencer Shaw from Emmanuel Church Chippenham gave some helpful insights (from 25:10 or below).