Towards opening churches in July

Following the Prime Minister’s Address on coronavirus on 10 May 2020, UK government issued a further tranche of advice, extracts of which are reproduced below; links to the full documents issues on 11 May have been added to our Coronavirus updates – index page.

In addition, the Church of England has issued the following Statement.

Statement on latest Government guidance on coronavirus


The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said: “We note from the Government’s COVID-19 Recovery Strategy that churches could be open from July as part of the conditional and phased plan to begin lifting the lockdown. We look forward to the time when we are able to gather again in our church buildings.

“We are examining what steps we will need to take to do so safely and are actively planning ahead in preparation. We strongly support the Government’s approach of continuing to suppress the transmission of the virus and accordingly, we recognise that at this time public worship cannot return in the interests of public health and safety.”

Notes to editors

More information and current guidance from the Church of England can be found on our dedicated webpage.

Extracts from new guidance

Alert Levels

Government advice is based upon five alert levels. The Prime Minister stated:

“Level One means the disease is no longer present in the UK and Level Five is the most critical – the kind of situation we could have had if the NHS had been overwhelmed.

Over the period of the lockdown we have been in Level Four, and it is thanks to your sacrifice we are now in a position to begin to move in steps to Level Three.”

The document Our plan to rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy, Cabinet Office, states

“Over the coming months, the Government will introduce a range of adjustments to current social distancing controls, timing these carefully according to both the current spread of the virus and the Government’s ability to ensure safety. These will happen in “steps,” as set out in the next chapter, with strict conditions to safely move from each step to the next… “

“Step One

The changes to policy in this step will apply from Wednesday 13 May in England. As the rate of infection may be different in different parts of the UK, this guidance should be considered alongside local public health and safety requirements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland…”

“Step Two

The current planning assumption for England is that the second step may include as many of the following measures as possible, consistent with the five tests: A phased return for early years settings and schools; Opening non-essential retail; Permitting cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed-doors; Re-opening more local public transport in urban areas, subject to strict measures.

Step Three

“The next step will also take place when the assessment of risk warrants further adjustments to the remaining measures. The Government’s current planning assumption is that this step will be no earlier than 4 July, subject to the five tests justifying some or all of the measures below, and further detailed scientific advice, provided closer to the time, on how far we can go.

The ambition at this step is to open at least some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been required to close, including personal care (such as hairdressers and beauty salons) hospitality (such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation), public places (such as places of worship) and leisure facilities (like cinemas). They should also meet the COVID-19 Secure guidelines. Some venues which are, by design, crowded and where it may prove difficult to enact distancing may still not be able to re-open safely at this point, or may be able to open safely only in part. Nevertheless the Government will wish to open as many businesses and public places as the data and information at the time allows.

In order to facilitate the fastest possible re-opening of these types of higher-risk businesses and public places, the Government will carefully phase and pilot re-openings to test their ability to adopt the new COVID-19 Secure guidelines. The Government will also monitor carefully the effects of reopening other similar establishments elsewhere in the world, as this happens. The Government will establish a series of taskforces to work closely with stakeholders in these sectors to develop ways in which they can make these businesses and public places COVID-19 Secure.”

[Slides to accompany the Prime Minister’s coronavirus press conference on 11 May 2020 illustrate the five Alert Levels and the Steps of adjustment to current social distancing measures. However, it should be noted that the former uses the same colour scale as the one deployed on the R dial, which implies some connection between the two.]  


Further aspects of the current guidance are described in other documents. In relation to Staying alert and safe (social distancing):

2. Staying at home

You can also attend the funeral of a close family member or member of your household (or, of a friend, if no one from their close family or household is attending). Religious ministers or leaders can leave their homes to go to their place of worship, but these should remain closed to the public.

3. Businesses and venues

For the time being, certain businesses and venues are required by law to stay closed to the public. These include … places of worship (except for funerals).

“You can also attend the funeral of a close family member or member of your household (or, of a friend, if no one from their close family or household is attending). Religious ministers or leaders can leave their homes to go to their place of worship, but these should remain closed to the public

With regard to weddings, Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can’t do states:

1.12 Can weddings go ahead?

There’s no change at this time. We understand the frustration couples planning a wedding must be feeling, so we have set out our intention to enable small wedding ceremonies from 1 June. As with all coronavirus restrictions on places of worship, venues and social distancing, we will look to ease them as soon as it is safe to do so.


Whilst the statement of The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, is specific to the churches of the Church of England, government guidance relates to the situation in England. As the Institute for Government notes, “the UK’s four-nation lockdown exit strategy could create confusion amongst the public and lead to non-compliance of guidance and rules if not communicated transparently”.

Bishop Sarah’s statement regarding the opening of CofE churches from July correctly reflects government guidance on Step 3; this is distinct from the government’s intention “to enable small wedding ceremonies from 1 June” for which, presumably, different provisions are envisaged.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales issued a statement in which they said “The timing and the manner of the opening of churches touches profound sensitivities and spiritual needs. The Government’s document and statements fail to recognise this…In dialogue with the Government, the Catholic Church will continue its engagement in this process and has already submitted a detailed plan, in full accordance with public health guidelines, for churches to be opened for private prayer”.

Further changes to the legislation and additional guidance will be reviewed in future posts as they become available. [Updated 13 May 2020, 06:44]

Postscript, 13 May 2020, 14:42

Five new ministerial-led taskforces have been set up to develop plans for how and when closed sectors can reopen safely in England, following the publication of the UK Government’s roadmap to rebuild Britain. Places of worship, including faith, community and public buildings with fall within that under the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. More details in our post here to which the following update has been added:

At 17:53 on 13 May 2020, the Assistant Editor of the Church Times, Ed Thornton, tweeted “Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick says he’s been “speaking to faith leaders and will convene later this week a task force to establish when and how places of worship can open safely”. Thornton added: “In summary: no earlier than 4 July, places of worship could be allowed to open (if data says it’s safe), and potentially private prayer in places of worship permitted before then. Task Force being convened later this week with faith leaders.”.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Towards opening churches in July" in Law & Religion UK, 11 May 2020,


4 thoughts on “Towards opening churches in July

  1. Pingback: Coronavirus updates – index | Law & Religion UK

  2. Pingback: Caring for places of worship during coronavirus (COVID-19) | Law & Religion UK

  3. Pingback: Ecclesiastical court judgments – May | Law & Religion UK

  4. Pingback: COVID-19 Coronavirus: legislation and guidance | Law & Religion UK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *