The following briefing by The Revd Gethin Rhys, Policy Officer of Cytûn/Churches together in Wales is cross-posted, with permission, from the Cytûn website.
Gethin reminds readers that every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this information, but it should not be relied upon for the purposes of legal advice.
The latest Regulations
It is now lawful to arrange to reopen places of worship. In accordance with Regulation 12 of The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 2) (Wales) Regulations 2020: in the context of COVID-19 the principal additional legal duty of the ‘person’ (which can be a body such as a PCC) responsible for the building is to:
(a) take all reasonable measures to ensure—
(i) that a distance of 2 metres is maintained between any persons on the premises (except between two members of the same household, or a carer and the person assisted by the carer);
(ii) where persons are required to wait to enter the premises, that a distance of 2 metres is maintained between them (except between two members of the same household, or a carer and the person assisted by the carer),
(b) take any other reasonable measures for that purpose, for example measures which limit close face to face interaction and maintain hygiene such as—
(i) changing the layout of premises including the location of furniture and workstations;
(ii) controlling use of entrances, passageways, stairs and lifts;
(iii) controlling use of shared facilities such as toilets and kitchens;
(iv) otherwise controlling the use of, or access to, any other part of the premises;
(v) installing barriers or screens;
(vi) providing or requiring use of personal protective equipment, and
(c) provide information to those entering or working at the premises about how to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus.
(2A) Measures that may be taken under paragraph (2) for the purposes of minimising the risk of exposure to coronavirus at the premises also include—
(a) ceasing to carry out certain activities;
(b) closing a part of the premises.
There are, of course, other legal requirements – such as general health and safety, safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, data protection, and so on – which remain in force also, and they should not be forgotten when making arrangements to re-open.
The Welsh Government has, in partnership with churches and other faith communities, drawn up guidance regarding implementing these legal requirements. Regulation 13 places a duty on the ‘person’ responsible for the premises to have regard to this guidance (and other relevant Government guidance – see below). It is important, therefore, that the ‘person’ responsible reads this guidance carefully.
The Welsh Government has said that from August 3 it is no longer necessary to maintain a physical distance of 2 metres between individuals under 11 years of age, or between those children and adults, but this change has not been incorporated into the Regulations. It is especially important, therefore, that in arranging any activity involving children under 11 that a risk assessment is drawn up taking this into consideration – as well as other matters regarding safeguarding children.
In the case of funeral services held indoors, there is a legal restriction on who may attend. Under Regulation 14(2)(h) it is permissible to attend a funeral:
(i) as a person responsible for arranging the funeral,
(ii) if invited by a person responsible for arranging the funeral, or
(iii) as the carer of a person attending.
The Government guidance regarding funerals is here, and those arranging a funeral must have regard to it. (It should be noticed that although this guidance is addressed to local authorities, it is relevant to funerals held in places of worship also).
In the case of weddings and civil partnership ceremonies (which must be held indoors), there is a similar restriction on who may attend – under Regulation 14(2)(g), which provides that an individual may:
attend a solemnization of a marriage or formation of a civil partnership—
(i) as a party to the marriage or civil partnership,
(ii) if invited to attend, or
(iii) as the carer of a person attending;
The guidance to which one must have regard when arranging a wedding or civil partnership is available here.
From August 7, the additional restrictions placed on multi-purpose community centres have been lifted, and this includes community use of places of worship. Unfortunately, the Welsh Government’s guidance for community buildings has not yet been updated. However, we understand that, in essence, this guidance will be similar to that for places of worship, and that guidance should be used for now in arranging to restart community activity. The Wales Council for Voluntary Action has drawn up practical guidance for community centres, which may be useful for community use of places of worship also.
There is further guidance that will be useful for some places of worship:
- Tourism and hospitality businesses (including cafés operated by churches);
- Retailers (including shops and charity shops run by places of worship);
- Workplaces (all places of worship are workplaces for employees and/or volunteers, but this guidance will be especially relevant to specific workplaces such as church offices);
- Culture and heritage destinations and venues (including historic places of worship open to the public);
- Child care and play schemes registered with the Local Authority;
- Open access playschemes for children; and
- Landlords of residential property – note, in particular, the guidance regarding increasing the notice period to 6 months.
The best way to fulfil the legal obligations is to carry out a risk assessment covering at least those matters listed in Regulation 12. A number of denominations have drawn up templates for this purpose. The templates prepared by the Church in Wales and the Presbyterian Church of Wales have been drawn up based on the Regulations applicable in Wales. Churches of other denominations and non-denominational churches would need to adapt some of the contents to their own governance arrangements.
It is likely that every place of worship will wish to use posters to guide people who enter the building. The Church in Wales and the Baptist Union of Wales have published bilingual posters that can be used for this purpose.
The law permits up to 30 people to gather in the open air, subject to physical distancing, for any purpose. In accordance with Regulation 14A, more than 30 may gather for the following reasons:
(a) work or provide voluntary or charitable services;
(b) where the person is an elite athlete, train or compete;
(c) meet a legal obligation;
(d) access or receive public services;
(e) access childcare or participate in supervised activities for children.
These Regulations do not require the drawing up of a risk assessment for such open-air meetings, but in the case of activities organised by a place of worship it may be a legal requirement to do so for other reasons (e.g. with regard to safeguarding children and vulnerable adults), and it is good practice to do so whenever an event is organised.
Churches which are part of a denomination, especially where the denomination is the trustee of the local building, should seek the advice of their denomination regarding any specific denominational requirements. It should be noted that the guidance issued by a number of cross-border churches is based on the Regulations applicable in England rather than those applicable in Wales. This is a matter for the individual denomination, and where there is any conflict between denominational advice and the Welsh Regulations, this should be raised within the relevant denomination.
Amongst the most important differences between the Regulations in England and in Wales are:
- In England it is a requirement to wear a face-covering inside a place of worship (except under some specific circumstances); it is not a legal requirement to do so in Wales, although some denominations are advising this.
- In England it is permissible to lower the physical distancing indoors to 1 metre if additional safety precautions are taken; but in Wales it is a legal requirement to take all reasonable steps to keep to 2 metres distancing indoors.
- In England there is an upper limit of 30 on the numbers who may attend a baptism, wedding or funeral service (unless it is part of another public service of worship); in Wales, attendance at weddings and funerals (but not baptisms) is restricted to invitees (see above) – but the maximum number is determined by each place of worship rather than by regulation.
The Presbyterian Church of Wales has published helpful information on some of the other differences between regulations in England and Wales.
Many of those who are responsible for places of worship are concerned about their liability for conforming to the Regulations, especially when they are changing regularly. It may be helpful, therefore, to read the Welsh Government’s guidance for enforcement officers, in order to see what they will be looking for and how they will proceed in order to ensure compliance with the law.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions. We will add to this section on a regular basis.
Musical instruments and singing
The Welsh Government guidance currently advises against congregational singing and the playing of wind instruments indoors. A soloist may sing behind an appropriate screen if that is essential to the worship. On August 7 the guidance regarding playing pipe-organs was amended to read: The decision whether to play an organ that requires air to be pushed through the mechanism should be based on a risk assessment and adherence with physical distancing, for example from the remainder of the congregation and avoiding use of a registrant, hand hygiene and cleaning guidance. It is advised that you use alternative instruments such as a piano, electronic instruments or recording.
Where it is desired to consider using a pipe-organ, consideration should be given to using the Church in Wales’s bespoke risk assessment template.
Cleaning the building
The Welsh Government’s guidance for places of worship includes useful general guidance. Public Health England has published more detailed guidance about general cleaning and about cleaning a building when it is found that someone with Covid-19 has been present.
Test, Trace, Protect
The Welsh Government guidance does not recommend keeping a list of all those who have attended a service or event unless people have been unable to maintain a physical distance of 2 metres, for example, those who take part in a wedding or baptism service. However, some denominations recommend that such a list should be kept at all activities. If it is decided to keep a list, it is important to adhere to data protection regulations (GDPR).
Individuals who are anxious about attending
There is no requirement on anyone to attend a place of worship for any purpose, and it is important to ensure the pastoral care of anyone who is anxious regarding this.
- It may be of help to some to use the risk assessment tool for individuals which has been devised by the Welsh Government. Although drawn up principally for workplaces, it can be used by anyone up to 79 years of age and gives an indication of the individuals’ risk level with regard to Covid-19. The United Reformed Church has drawn up a similar risk assessment for members of congregations including those aged over 80. It uses a slightly different metric.
- The Welsh Government has produced a suite of easily read materials for the public, offering general advice on keeping safe.
- The Welsh Government has created badges and lanyards for individuals to wear in order to remind others to keep their distance.
Baptism by immersion
Baptism by immersion is not currently permitted. The Baptist Union of Great Britain has published brief guidance regarding some ways of arranging believers’ baptism in the current circumstances. It is important to conduct a risk assessment prior to arranging a service of this kind.
Church governance meetings
It is no longer a legal requirement to work or volunteer from home unless that is impracticable, although the Welsh Government continues to advise that home working/volunteering should continue where possible. Nonetheless, holding church governance meetings (e.g. PCC, Deacons, Elders, etc) within a church building or community centre is now permitted, subject to adherence to the above Regulations and that the local risk assessment permits. Where some members of the meeting are elderly and/or in poor health, this should be taken into account in the risk assessment.
Worshipping in premises not owned by the faith community
It is the ‘person’ responsible for the premises who is required to ensure conformity with the Regulations and arranging a risk assessment. It is, therefore, necessary to discuss with that ‘person’ how and when worship may resume.
Cite this article as: Gethin Rhys, “Coronavirus-related legislation: Cytûn’s briefing for churches in Wales” in Law & Religion UK, 13 August 2020, https://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2020/08/13/coronavirus-related-legislation-cytuns-briefing-for-churches-in-wales/