Restricted church services in England from 4 July

The Prime Minister’s statement to the House on coronavirus on 23 June 2020 included an update on the opening of places of worship from 4 July. He said:

“I know that many have mourned the closure of places of worship, and this year, Easter, Passover and Eid all occurred during the lockdown. So I am delighted that places of worship will be able to reopen for prayer and services – including weddings with a maximum of 30 people, all subject to social distancing.”

These and other comments are from the “Transcript of the speech, exactly as it was delivered”. With regard to social distancing:

“…given the significant fall in the prevalence of the virus, we can change the two-metre social distancing rule, from 4th July”.

“Where it is possible to keep 2 metres apart people should. But where it is not, we will advise people to keep a social distance of ‘one metre plus’, meaning they should remain one metre apart, while taking mitigations to reduce the risk of transmission.”

Some of the guidance on how businesses can reduce the risk by taking certain steps to protect workers and customers will have parallels in relation to meetings of faith groups. These measures include: avoiding face-to-face seating by changing office layouts; reducing the number of people in enclosed spaces; improving ventilation; using protective screens and face coverings; closing non-essential social spaces; providing hand sanitiser; and changing shift patterns so that staff work in set teams.

“Whilst the experts cannot give a precise assessment of how much the risk is reduced, they judge these mitigations would make “1 metre plus” broadly equivalent to the risk at 2 metres if those mitigations are fully implemented. Either will be acceptable and our guidance will change accordingly”.

In the Church of England’s Press Release, the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who leads the Church of England’s Recovery Group, welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement. She said:

“We will not be returning to normality overnight – this is the next step on a journey. We’ve been planning carefully, making detailed advice available for parishes to enable them to prepare to hold services when it is safe and practical to do so. It is important to say that the change in Government guidance is permissive, not prescriptive.

[…]

There will still be restrictions and we must all still do everything we can to limit the spread of the virus to protect each other, especially the most vulnerable. The online services and dial-in worship offerings we have become used to will continue.

[…]

Detailed advice for parishes and cathedrals is available on the Church of England website. It will be updated, as necessary, in the coming days to reflect the detail of the Government guidance once published.

Weddings will be able to resume, along with other services. Updated advice for couples will be published on our website this week. The Church of England Recovery Group will also issue advice on subjects including singing and music for which a review by Public Health England is currently in progress.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury also welcomed the prospect of churches opening for public worship; the Church of England tweeted:

“We understand that the reference to a maximum of 30 people applies only to weddings and not all services, where numbers will depend on the size of the building and the specific circumstances. The Government will be publishing guidance on places of worship in due course.”

Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, welcomed permission for weddings to resume and the reopening of places of worship but urged a cautious approach to prevent a second spike in cases. She said that the Board of Deputies welcomed the Government’s decision to allow religious services and weddings of up to 30 people from 4 July and had been working with different religious denominations to ensure the right balance between preservation of life and the maintenance and restarting of worship:

“However, on the day that we reveal that the total number of deaths in the Jewish community has reached 500, we would urge people to proceed with caution and stick within the Government’s guidelines to ensure there is no second spike in cases.”

Comment

The Cabinet Office updated Staying alert and safe (social distancing) until 4 July on 24 June, but at the time of updating this post (06:03, 24 June), there was no reference to “1 metre plus” distancing, or to the permitting of services in places of worship, it adds nothing to the Prime Minister’s statement. Also on 24 June the Cabinet Office issued Review of two metre social distancing guidance stressing “the severe economic costs to maintaining 2 metre distancing”.

Nevertheless, as we have stated earlier, the definition of “social distancing” is included in “soft law” guidance, and there is consequently no associated offence with the infraction of the recommendations. The restrictions on gatherings, however, are governed by the latest amendment to section 5 Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, SI 350. Various interpretations have been placed upon the meaning and application of the concept of the “maximum of 30 people, all subject to social distancing” for weddings, for which the next amendment to s5 SI 2020/350 should clarify

With regard to social distancing, Cath Noakes, Professor of Civil Engineering at Leeds University tweeted “In case you were wondering, the physics of droplets and aerosols hasn’t changed. 2m is still safer than 1m. And the same mitigation applies – ventilate, wear a face covering, wash your hands, clean surfaces, stay apart”. Indeed.

Further posts will be published when details of the new legislation and guidance are known, which will also be added to our Directory of COVID-19 information –  Coronavirus updates – index.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Restricted church services in England from 4 July" in Law & Religion UK, 23 June 2020, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2020/06/23/restricted-church-services-in-england-from-4-july/

17 thoughts on “Restricted church services in England from 4 July

  1. What about singing. Is it permissible after 4th July? I’ve read 4 reports that say it won’t be allowed.
    We have 2 funerals coming up.
    Also the comment ‘“We understand that the reference to a maximum of 30 people applies only to weddings and not all services,’. Surely it’s all services as the latest rules state there cannot be gatherings of any sort of more than 30 people?

  2. No mention of singing. Speech spreads droplets and loud speech spreads more. Priest or reader should therefore stand back from congregation. It is not fair to assume that singing spreads droplets like loud speech. An opera singer does not make a candle flicker 15 cms from his mouth. The only evidence I can find about droplets and singing was old methodology back in 1967, examining droplets and TB spread. Can the CofE ask a physics department to use modern laser technology to assess droplet spread while singing? It may be different for trained and untrained singers.

    If we are in rows, the row in front is facing away from us. Should we wear masks in church? Can we sing in masks?

  3. Can I ask for clarification from Government sources if:

    We as a Church are allowed more than 30 people as long as social distancing is respected?

    If singing is allowed in public places of worship, or is it only Church of England guidelines?

    Thanks,

    Alan Ward.

    • It’s certainly the case, under the Government guidelines, that from 4 July more than 30 people will be able to gather in a place of worship for a service, so long as social distancing is observed: the exception is weddings, where the limit on attendance is 30 people maximum.

      As to singing and to the conduct of religious services more generally, we haven’t seen any Government guidance yet: we’ll post on it as soon as it appears.

    • Further to Frank’s comment, on Thursday 25 June, in response to various questions on Church Services: Covid-19, The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous) said:
      ” Sadly, I have to tell [Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)] that singing and chanting are not allowed even at a distance, due to the additional risk of infection, and woodwind and brass instruments should not be used, but that still leaves many other instruments.”
      Those who have been following the issue of singing and chanting might wonder on what basis the reference to “woodwind and brass instruments” was slipped in. Whilst we could hazard a guess, in the present state of uncertainty, it would only be a guess and there are enough urban myths in this area already.

  4. We are a singing group who are considering reconvening in a church for rehearsal. We are not a church group. What is your view on whether or not this permitted?
    Allen

  5. Can churches have an outdoor service in the churchyard after 4 July? If so, is there a limit on how many and would it be legal for everyone to bring some food (individually which they don’t share) and eat in socially distanced groups after the service?

        • At 16:02 to today, 2nd July, the Church of England issued a new FAQ on its web site

          “CAN WE HAVE WORSHIP OUTSIDE?
          Yes, providing the churchyard or land around your church is owned or managed by you (for example by the PCC) and guidance for public worship is followed (see separate FAQ).

          Please see our guidance on churchyards for more information.”

          • That is splendid, thank you. I had not checked the COVID 19 page yet today so missed this document’s release today.

          • I have not had access to my laptop for a couple of days so only caught this recent update by chance. dp

  6. Is there a limit on how many church services you can have in one day – say on a Sunday – with the restrictions with COVID?

  7. Pingback: COVID-19 Coronavirus: legislation and guidance (II) | Law & Religion UK

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