Advice for incumbents from the Archbishops’ Council, Cathedral and Church Buildings Division
Following its meeting via Zoom on the afternoon of 5 May, the House of Bishops issued a Statement announcing their backing of phased approach to revising the access to church buildings (ref.1). Further to this, the Archbishops’ Council, Cathedral and Church Buildings Division issued Access to church buildings during lockdown: advice for incumbents, version 1, 6 May, and an updated version 2 on 7 May (ref.2).
This guidance reflects the situation following the Statement from the House of Bishops on 5th May 2020. At the present time church buildings remain closed to the general public in line with government requirements. The aim in the paper is to enable the re-opening of church buildings so that clergy and parishes can confidently and safely continue their ministries. This advice is written to help clergy return to their churches safely. It is intended to be helpful and not to put an additional burden on clergy whilst at the same time enabling clergy to pray and livestream in a way that protects both their and others health.
It notes that Churches differ considerably in their layout, content, age and context. The document is intended as a helpful guide of things incumbents may wish to consider as they re-enter their churches. Part 1 is a checklist for: before using the church building for private prayer or streaming; and using the building safely. Part 2 contains detailed guidance on:
- what to consider when re-entering a building that has been closed;
- what precautions should be taken when using the building to ensure the incumbent’s own safety and the safety of anyone else accessing the building;
- whether multiple people may now enter the building provided they do so one at a time;
- the necessity of recording who enters and exits the building and when;
- ringing the bells, winding clocks, or raising and lowering flags;
- permissible activities;
- checks before locking up.
As indicated in the House of Bishops’ Statement, decisions on the timing of when to implement specific advice on ministers or worship leaders praying and streaming from their church buildings should be made by individual Diocesan Bishops, depending on their local situation, such as that from the Diocese of Oxford.
. While church buildings remain closed for public worship, in line with Government advice, the Bishops agreed in principle to a phased approach to lifting restrictions, in time and in parallel with the Government’s approach, with three broad stages as infection levels improve:
- An initial immediate phase allowing very limited access to church buildings for activities such as streaming of services or private prayer by clergy in their own parishes, so long as the necessary hygiene and social distancing precautions are taken;
- Subsequently access for some rites and ceremonies when allowed by law, observing appropriate physical distancing and hygiene precautions;
- Worship services with limited congregations meeting, when Government restrictions are eased to allow this/
It was agreed that the decision on the timing of when to implement the revised advice on ministers or worship leaders praying and streaming from their church buildings should be made by individual Diocesan Bishops, depending on their local situation.
. The document will be kept under review and updated as events develop, with each update issued as a new version. The current version will always be available to download from the Church of England website via the Coronavirus FAQs page.