Relaxation of Lockdown for Church Buildings

Church buildings in England are permitted to reopen from 4th July. Here is a summary of the Government guidance for 'places of worship'.

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This video and Q&A took place on Wednesday 24 June as part of the Leadership in Lockdown webinar, before official guidance was released.

The following key points follow the official Government guidance published on Monday 29 June.

Key points

The UK Government published guidance for places for worship (in England) on Monday 29 June. It includes nothing significant that is unexpected.

We will be discussing the implications of the guidance for churches in our Leadership in Lockdown webinar on Wednesday 1st July at 12noon.

The key elements at this stage are:

  • There is no limit for public worship, but there is a limit of 30 for weddings, funerals & other ‘life cycle ceremonies’ outside of routine communal worship. All parties ‘should adhere to strict social distancing’;
  • If premises are used by other user groups, then it must only be for activities otherwise permitted by law (eg. no indoor fitness/soft play);
  • A ‘place of worship’ includes surrounding grounds, car parks, courtyards, gardens, so it could be used for outdoor worship gatherings subject to all the other guidance applying to worship gatherings;
  • Other outdoor meetings outside church premises have to comply with Government guidance (ie. currently only six individuals from multiple households or up to 30 maximum from two households)
  • Places of worship are also workplaces so have to comply with COVID secure guidance for workplaces for safety of their employees;
  • It is advised that services be "conducted in the shortest reasonable time’. Once completed, participants should be encouraged to move on promptly, to minimise the risk of contact and spread of infection: this clearly limits social interaction and coffee etc. after the service in the place of worship;
  • Avoid using shared items: no touching or kissing objects handled communally;
  • If worshippers cannot bring their own books (eg. Bibles or hymn books), shared books should be quarantined for 48 hours;
  • Use of food essential for an act of worship is permitted but you should avoid the use of communal vessels. Those handling food for use in a faith practice should wash their hands or wear gloves and the person distributing should release into the hand in a way that avoids contact. No singing/chanting/speaking across uncovered consumables. No food and drink as part of weddings or other life-cycle events;
  • “People should avoid singing, shouting, raising voices and/or playing music at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult or that may encourage shouting”;
  • Where essential to an act of worship, one person may sing/chant – the use of plexiglass screens should be considered to protect worshippers. Organs can be used (if cleaned afterwards) but not wind instruments;
  • “Where rituals or ceremonies require water to be applied to the body, small volumes can be splashed onto the body, but full immersion should be avoided”;
  • Cash giving is discouraged. If necessary, a single receptacle handled by one individual should be used and gloves worn;
  • Shared facilities for children - such as play corners, soft furnishings, or soft toys - should be removed and/or put out of use;
  • Formal childcare/education settings need to comply with Department of Education guidance;
  • Churches should keep an accurate temporary record of visitors for 21 days to assist NHS Test and Trace;
  • Numbers or people permitted must be limited so that a safe distance of 2m (or 1m with other mitigation) can be maintained between households. Additional mitigating might include avoiding face-to-face seating, reducing number in enclosed spaces, improving ventilation, use of masks or screens, closing non-essential social space, one-way flow, multiple entry points, staggering arrival/departure times, a booking system to manage numbers, advertising set days when open solely for people particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 or over 70. There should be extra cleaning if social distancing cannot be maintained;
  • Guidance on social distancing also applies when travelling to and from a place of worship;
  • Everyone entering a place of worship should wash their hands for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser if hand washing facilities are not available. Provide posters of good hand washing techniques.
  • Use toilets safely by social distance marking in areas where queues form and set clear use and cleaning guidance;
  • Clean all surfaces - especially frequently touched surfaces such as door handles and rails – and give sufficient time for cleaning;
  • Pay particular attention to protecting the clinically vulnerable: those with symptoms should stay at home, individuals shielding should continue to observe Government guidance, over 70s are advised to stay at home as much as possible. From 6 July shielding individuals can gather in groups of up to 6 outdoors and form a support bubble with one other household. They are advised not to attend places of worship.
  • All places of worship are ‘strongly advised’ to implement the guidance: there is a need to complete a risk assessment for the venue. Failure to complete a risk assessment would be a breach of Health and Safety legislation. Local authorities will enforce guidance, and potential action includes giving specific advice to enable churches to achieve the required standard through to enforcement notices to secure improvements. Serious breaches and failure to comply with enforcement will constitute a crime with a serious fine and imprisonment of up to two years. Inspectors will be carrying out compliance checks nationwide.

This is just my initial summary of key points, and I don’t guarantee complete accuracy.

We will be discussing the implications of the guidance for churches in our Leadership in Lockdown webinar on Wednesday 1st July at 12noon.

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