COVID-19: update from the Church of England on reopening church buildings

Yesterday, 9 June, Becky Clark, Director of Churches and Cathedrals and Secretary to the Church Buildings Council and Cathedrals Fabric Commission, circulated the following update on reopening of church buildings – which is posted here with her permission.

New risk assessment template

In response to the Government’s announcement that individual private prayer may resume in our churches and cathedrals from 15 June, we have published a revised risk assessment to help parishes and Chapters decide whether they are in a position to open safely and, if they are, to fulfil the requirement that we understand will be in Government guidance that a risk assessment be completed. It is very important to emphasise that churches may open from 15 June, not that they must or should.

The Bishop of London, as Chair of the Recovery Group, wrote to all Bishops earlier today, 9 June:

“As you are already aware, the Government announced at the weekend its intention that individual prayer will be permitted by law in places of worship in England from next Monday (15 June). This is very much a permissive change rather than a prescriptive one – it will still be a matter for local churches and cathedrals in liaison with their bishops or deans to decide to what extent they wish to take this up, if at all, in light of their own particular circumstances. We are awaiting new Government guidance and regulations on this area to be published but, in the meantime, we have now updated our risk assessment template for church buildings. That can be downloaded from the Coronavirus page of the Church of England website.”

The current version is marked as a ‘planning document’. This is because we don’t yet have the final government guidance and so will update this document as soon as it is available.

You can access the risk assessment, in an editable Word format, here. 

New guidance on temporary permissions

We have published a new document which outlines the approach that the Dean of the Arches and the Cathedrals Fabric Commission believe should be taken to the temporary necessary changes to enable social distancing and hygiene measures to be put in place. The message from the Dean of the Arches has been sent directly to Chancellors and Registrars. You can access the guidance on permissions here.

As part of our general work checking and consolidating guidance, we have combined the existing guidance for contractors and for construction workers into a single document with a separate, dedicated risk assessment at the end of the new document. You can access this revised document here

Later this week I hope to also be able to let you know of an update to our general guidance document on accessing church buildings, which will reflect changes in various elements of government guidance and recent decisions of the House of Bishops.

There are now resources available on the main Church of England Coronavirus pages from the Liturgical Committee and advice notes to help with planning for when ordinations, baptisms, and weddings can take place, as well as advice on Holy Communion. These will be updated as the situation develops. These are not primarily focused on buildings matters but are intended to help churches and cathedrals plan for the near future

Guidance on singing and music is in preparation, although we are dependent on Government for when it may be published. Dr David Knight from my team is involved in developing that and we will circulate it as soon as it is available

Funerals in church buildings

Following a meeting of the House of Bishops this morning, 9 June, the Bishop of London wrote to outline a decision of the House relating to funerals

“Following on from that Government announcement, and in light of the changing circumstances it reflects, including a welcome reduction in the rate of Covid-19 related deaths, the House of Bishops has revised its advice on conducting funerals inside church buildings from 15 June as long as they take place within Government guidance. However, as with individual prayer, this is permissive and not prescriptive. There will be places where, for a number of reasons, it might not still be advised to conduct funerals inside church buildings and the decision will be taken locally, with the diocesan bishop.”

There is a guidance note available on the website to help local churches plan to conduct funerals safely

Accessing church buildings for clergy, staff and volunteers

We have been working with the Government to gain confirmation that accessing cathedral and church buildings for purposes of preparation to re-open is allowed under the Emergency Regulations, even though this purpose is not specified in the legislation. Happily, we have now received this update from MHCLG

“The regulations require a place of worship to be closed except for the uses permitted: funerals, to broadcast worship, provide essential services and early years childcare. Our lawyers advise that if the place of worship is being cleaned or preparing to open, there’s a strong argument it’s still closed whilst these activities are happening, provided members of the public can’t access it.”

We have asked for specific clarification on the matter of organists or other musicians coming into church buildings to practise and will update you on this as soon as possible. At present, under the Regulations it is not permitted.

Government officials have also provided some information on more than one person being present in the place of worship for these purposes

Reg 7 covering mass gatherings should be considered if there is to be more than one person working in the place of worship at any one time, which says that more than one person gathering indoors is not permitted unless under certain exceptions in 7(2), the most relevant of which would be if the gathering is ‘reasonably necessary […] for work purposes, or for the provision of voluntary or charitable services’. This should cover those employed by the place of worship, or those contracted to provide services such as cleaners, maintenance staff, but this could also cover volunteer members of the community.”

3 thoughts on “COVID-19: update from the Church of England on reopening church buildings

  1. Pingback: Funerals allowed in CofE churches from 15 June – Thinking Anglicans

  2. Thank you for all the information about COVID19 rules and regulations, but there does not seem to be anything about dressing the Altar eg; Altar drapes/frontals, the candles they can be lit but not blown out, no snuffer can be used as the oil candles wick is pushed down. If possible could you give me some advice or what and can not be done with the Altar. As it has been advised the fewer rooms and cupboards we go into the better it is for the congregation as the person/s are not disturbing the atmosphere.

    • Thank you for your comment Vivian. Your archdeacon would be the best person to give advice on these matters as he/she would be in a better position regarding the circumstances relating to your church. Regards David

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