The Church of England has issued a Press Release confirming the closure with immediate effect, including for private prayer, in an effort to help limit the transmission of the coronavirus COVID-19. Advice from the Church in Wales is also attached.
Church of England to close all church buildings to help prevent spread of coronavirus
For immediate release
All Church of England churches are to close with immediate effect, including for private prayer, in an effort to help limit the transmission of the coronavirus COVID-19.
The archbishops and bishops of the Church of England have written collectively to clergy, through their dioceses, urging them now to close all church buildings – other than where they are needed to keep a foodbank running, but even then under strict limits.
There will be no church weddings until further notice; funerals will not take place inside church buildings and the only baptisms will be emergency baptisms in a hospital or home.
It follows the announcement by the Prime Minister last night of wide-ranging restrictions as part of a national and international effort to help limit the spread of the disease.
“These are unprecedented times,” the bishops write.
“We are all having to get used to being the Church differently.
“It is not easy. However, our belonging to Christ has never been measured by the number of people in church on a Sunday morning (though we long for the day when this way of knowing Christ can return) but by the service we offer to others.
“Therefore, and despite these very harrowing restrictions, please do all that you can to minister to your people safely, especially to the sick, the vulnerable and the poor.”
The letter also seeks to provide clarity that churches will now be closed for all private prayer – including by priests.
Clergy live-streaming worship should do so from their own homes and are being urged to be as creative as possible with streaming services and other resources.
“We must take a lead in showing our communities how we must behave in order to slow down the spread of the Coronavirus.
“We must also do all that we can to provide resources and support for those who are isolated, fearful and vulnerable.
“But we have to do this from our homes.”
The Church of England will be offering a national weekly service which will be broadcast online each Sunday via social media and daily audio of prayer during the day and night prayer will also be available.
This is in addition to a wide range of resources local churches are sharing.
An five million people heard or saw a service led by the Archbishop of Canterbury streamed online and broadcast through dozens of radio stations on Sunday – the largest single ‘congregation’ in the history of the Church of England.
The bishops add: “It is also imperative that as the Church of Jesus Christ, called to offer hope and light in the darkness of this world’s ills, we maintain a praying presence for our community, though from today onwards this must happen from our hearts and from our homes.
“Our Church buildings are closed but the Church must continue to support and encourage our communities making use of telephones and other forms of technology to keep in touch with people and ensure pastoral care is maintained, and as shepherds of Christ’s flock we are committed to making this happen.”
On specific questions the bishops make clear that:
- Emergency baptisms can take place in hospital or at home, though subject to strict hygienic precautions and physical distancing as far as possible.
- Funerals can only happen at the crematorium or at the graveside.
- Only immediate family members can attend.
- That is defined as a spouse or partner, parents and children – all maintaining a physical distance.
- Live streaming of a service is still permissible from homes and clergy are encouraged to be as creative as possible with streaming services and other resources.
- Foodbanks should continue where possible under strict guidelines and may have to move to be delivery points not places where people gather.
- Read the full letter to clergy
- Detailed advice and guidance to churches on coronavirus COVID-19
- Church online – resources and live streams
The Church in Wales has issued the following Further Pastoral Guidance from the Bench of Bishops
Effective until further notice
The Prime Minister has told us all that, in order to slow the spread of coronavirus at this critical time, we must stay at home other than for very limited purposes about which helpful guidance has been given.
We may go outside:
- To shop for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, but should do so as infrequently as possible.
- For health reasons, medical need, or to provide care or help for a vulnerable person.
- For one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle, alone or with members of our household.
- For travel to and from essential work, as defined by the government, and only where this work cannot be done from home.
If leaving home:
- We must stay 2 metres – about 6 feet – away from other people.
- We should wash our hands on returning home.
We know that our churches have always been places of sanctuary, peace and wellbeing. However, it is now clear that health and healing are best served by church buildings being closed. All church buildings should therefore be closed until further notice. This means churches should not be open for solitary prayer. Any exception from this action (other than as noted below) should only take place with the diocesan bishop’s express permission.
Where worship is to be broadcast or recorded, it is preferable to do so from home. Clergy who live immediately adjacent to churches may do so from the church, but the doors should be locked and others should not be invited to be present.
An exception may be made, if necessary, to open church buildings to host existing foodbanks, soup kitchens and homeless shelters. However, these church buildings should be open for this purpose alone, and all appropriate hygiene precautions should be taken.
Clergy and others duly licensed or commissioned should exercise their pastoral ministry from a distance, by phone and online. Pastoral visits should only be undertaken because of an extreme pastoral emergency when the presence of a priest or deacon is exceptionally required. Bishops are able to give advice on what might constitute an extreme pastoral emergency.
No funeral services can take place in church. Graveside funerals should now be understood to be private funerals with no more than ten immediate family and friends in attendance, and with social distancing practised among mourners not of the same household. Clergy and others duly licensed may preside at funerals in crematoria, at which we expect numbers to be strictly limited by the crematoria authorities, with hygiene precautions specified by the authorities, and with social distancing practised among mourners.
Marriages or marriage blessings can no longer take place in churches. If a couple wish to marry because of an extreme pastoral emergency, it may be possible to obtain an Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Licence, and clergy should discuss the matter with their diocesan bishop before then contacting the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Faculty Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Baptisms can no longer take place in churches, and should only take place at home, hospital, hospice or other location in case of an extreme pastoral emergency, where baptism may be administered by a lay person. The order for emergency baptism is appended below.
Prayer and witness
The duty of the people of God to witness to Christ is not diminished at this time; neither is our obligation to pray without ceasing for our communities and all in need. We commend all that is being done in God’s service to care pastorally for our communities, and to enable worship, prayer and devotion to continue at home.
We continue to hold all who are anxious, all who are unwell, and all who are grieving in our prayers, asking that the presence of the risen Christ may be near to us all and give us assurance, peace and strength at this painful and anxious time.
An Order for Emergency Baptism
In an emergency, if no ordained minister is available, a lay person may be the minister of baptism. Before baptizing, the minister should ask the name of the infant / person to be baptized. If, for any reason, there is uncertainty as to the infant / person’s name, the baptism can be properly administered without a name (so long as the identity of the person baptized can be duly recorded).
The following form is sufficient:
The minister pours water on the person to be baptized, saying
I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Then all may say the Lord’s Prayer and the Grace.
Any person who has administered baptism privately in an emergency should make a careful record of the date and place of baptism and of the identity of the person baptised. He / she should forward details to the parish priest as soon as possible and without delay.
The parish priest should ensure that the customary record is entered in the baptismal register.
The Bench of Bishops
24 March 2020
O God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: grant to us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.