COVID-19: Safe use of places of worship in England from 4 July

On 29 June, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government issued COVID-19: Guidance for the safe use of places of worship from 4 July extracts of which are reproduced below.


1. Introduction

This guidance will come into effect from 4 July 2020 in England alongside the relevant associated changes to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, [not yet available]. Until 4 July you should continue to refer to the current guidance online here, which also sets out the current regulations., i.e. the principal regulations, SI 2020/350, as amended.

This guidance remains under review and may be updated in line with the changing situation.

Changes from 4 July

From 4 July, gatherings of more than 30 people will be permitted but only in certain public places as set out in law. This will include places of worship and their surrounding premises. There are however activities where it is advisable to restrict numbers to 30 within a place of worship for public health reasons. This guidance sets out those activities as well as how to ensure your place of worship is COVID-19 secure.

Whilst engaging in an activity in the place of worship or surrounding grounds, all parties should adhere to social distancing guidelines. From 4 July, 2 meters or 1 meter with risk mitigation (where 2 meters is not viable) between households are acceptable.

For acts of worship taking place away from the place of worship and surrounding grounds, as defined below, please follow the relevant guidance on the number of people permitted to gather in those spaces.

The following table sets out where it is advisable to limit the number of people within a place of worship due to the potential for increased spread of COVID-19.

Table 1

Activity Advised gathering limit
Communal worship, including led prayers, devotions or meditations by a Minister of Religion or lay person. Limits for communal worship should be decided on the basis of the capacity of the place of worship following a risk assessment (see Section 5 ‘Restrictions on Capacity’).

Social distancing should be strictly adhered to ( see Section 5 ‘Social Distancing’).

Marriage ceremonies Marriage ceremonies should have no more than 30 people in attendance, and social distancing should be strictly adhered to. See more detail in COVID-19: Guidance for small marriages and civil partnerships.
Funerals Funerals should have no more than 30 people in attendance, and social distancing should be strictly adhered to. See more detail in the COVID-19: guidance for managing a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic.
Other life cycle ceremonies (defined as “Religious ceremonies to mark rites of passage, which are separate, self-contained ceremonies as opposed to marking a life cycle event or rite in the course of routine communal worship”) Other life cycle ceremonies should have no more than 30 people present unless the life cycle rite takes place during routine communal worship.

Social distancing should be strictly adhered to.

This guidance applies to places of worship when being used for a religious purpose or in preparation for a religious purpose.

Where a place of worship’s premises is used by other user groups, only those activities permitted by law should take place. Businesses which cannot yet operate are listed here (such as indoor fitness, indoor soft play, indoor performances in front of a live audience, etc).

For permitted uses of a place of worship not included in this guidance, you should refer to the specific guidance linked below:


Comment

In an update on 29 June, the Diocese of Oxford stated “With the government guidance now published, we anticipate updated guidance from the national church being available in the next few days”. This statement was echoed by the Church of England on 30 June, .

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "COVID-19: Safe use of places of worship in England from 4 July" in Law & Religion UK, 29 June 2020, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2020/06/29/covid-19-safe-use-of-places-of-worship-in-england-from-4-july/

 

12 thoughts on “COVID-19: Safe use of places of worship in England from 4 July

  1. So, if the marriage is set in the context of a service of Holy Communion (as some are) will it be “marking a life cycle event or rite in the course of routine communal worship” so that the limit on the number attending “should be decided on the basis of the capacity of the place of worship following a risk assessment.”? Or, if such a service would not be ‘routine’ communal worship, what is the logical basis for this discrimination against weddings?

    However, the second column set out above is headed ‘ADVISED GATHERING LIMIT’, so that the 30 limit for weddings (and funerals) is only advisory and is not a legally enforceable limit. Hopefully, common sense will prevail, and decisions will be made for all services (including weddings and funerals) relative to the seating capacity of the building.

    • It’s got to be ‘routine’ worship so if a wedding is not happening as part of a regular or normally scheduled religious service it would be subject to the 30 limit at least thats my reading of the regulations There’s also the basic legal principle that the specific takes precedence over the general therefore since Weddings are specifically mentioned in the guidance and regulations the numerical limit of 30 would apply regardless of whether any religious service takes place as well

      • That’s part of the problem at the moment, Neil. The original emergency regulations (SI 2020 No. 350) have not yet been further amended to make clear what is allowed in law (but subject to guidance/advice.) It really is putting the cart before the horse to conduct important government business in this way, and serves to show what a shambles the present administration is revealing itself to be.

        Also, Parliament is sitting, so there is no justification for the Amendment No.5 (England) Regulations (whenever they appear) being made by the Health and Social Care Secretary without proper debate in Parliament. In other words, I suggest that Matt Hancock could not properly state (as he has done with the original regulations and subsequent four amending regulations) that “In accordance with section 45R of [the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984] the Secretary of State is of the opinion that, by reason of urgency, it is necessary to make this instrument without a draft having been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”

        • Agreed Issuing ‘Guidance’ when the regulations themselves have not been issued is certainly putting the cart before the horse

          • The guidance does have this definition:
            “Should”: “Where the guidance states that an activity should take place this is not a legal requirement under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, however it is strongly advised that consideration is given to following the advice being given to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”

            So the 30 limit for weddings is not mandatory. However, section 8, ‘Enforcement’, draws attention to powers of enforcement available to local authorities under Health & Safety legislation.

            Still no new amending regulations on the Government ‘Legislation’ website, though it does have the The Patents, Trade Marks and Registered Designs (Fees) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020 (SI 2020 No. 644)

          • As at just after 1.00 pm on Friday 3 July, there are still no amending regulations for England on the legislation.gov.uk website confirming the relaxations to the ‘lockdown’ due to take effect tomorrow. There are, though, The Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020 (SI 2020 No. 663)! Perhaps we should be expecting further guidance on signage in places of worship for those using such scooters!

          • The new (No. 2) regulations were made at 10.00 am this morning and laid before Parliament at 3.00 pm: The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020 .SI 2020 No.684.

            These No. 2 regulations substantially replace the ‘first’ regulations, SI 2020 No. 350: see reg 2.

            Disingenuously, the rubric at the beginning states: “In accordance with section 45R of that Act the Secretary of State is of the opinion that, by reason of urgency, it is necessary to make this instrument without a draft having been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”
            Matt Hancock ought to be summoned by the Speaker to the H of C to explain this.

  2. Thanks for putting the new guidance on the Blog. I’ve been through it and one area that does strike me is ‘life cycle ceremonies’ which must be limited to 30 people unless they are part of general worship.

    Baptisms certainly fall into this category as would religious circumcision but I’m not too sure about Confirmations, if held as part of a Mass then they would be ok but if held separately then the 30 limit would apply similarly first communions and Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies 30 limit unless part of a routine ie scheduled service.

    The guidance also refers to ‘foodstuffs’ which would include Communion Hosts these should be put in the hand not the mouth but the emphasis is on ‘should’ the guidance itself says that ‘should’ is not compulsory so Communion on the tongue is legal.

    All in all for Anglicans and Catholics it’s going to rely a lot on individual Bishops as to how they interpret this guidance for their Churches. About the only thing I can say for certain is that handshaking (sign of peace) and sharing the Chalice will be stopped which is one positive from this pandemic.

    • Neil: I cannot resist a further question, on your final sentence: “About the only thing I can say for certain is that hand shaking (sign of peace) and sharing the Chalice will be stopped which is one positive from this pandemic”: Shaking hands at the Peace, and sharing the Chalice, appear to me to be two distinct phenomena; so which of these is the “one positive from this pandemic”? – And at this point you seem to have shifted rather drastically from an objective analysis of the implications of the current documentation, to a subjective attitude about whichever of the phenomena it is that you wish to be rid of (or did you really mean *two* positives?)

      • Agreed, 2 positives not just 1
        My comment on the sign of peace and sharing the Chalice was said ‘tongue in cheek’ they are 2 innovations into Christian worship which I deprecate

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