Law and religion round-up – 16th August

Organs, singing, weddings and disputes over individual communion cups…

Church of Scotland and COVID-19

On 14 August, the Church of Scotland issued updated guidance on reopening its church buildings. The guidance reflects additions made in response to the move to phase 3 in Scotland’s route map through and out of the pandemic and also includes updated information on letting church halls.

Wedding and civil partnership receptions in England

On Friday, the Westminster Government announced that from Saturday 15 August, in England:

“up to 30 people, but no more, can attend a marriage or civil partnership, where this can be safely accommodated with social distancing in a COVID-19 venue. This maximum number includes all those at the ceremony, including the couple, witnesses, officiants and guests. It also includes any third-party suppliers, such as photographers or security, but does not include staff employed by the venue or any third party catering staff.

During all activity linked to the marriage ceremony or civil partnership formation, all parties should adhere to social distancing guidelines. 2 metres or 1 metre with risk mitigation (where 2 metres is not possible), are acceptable.”

And virtual marriage registration?

In a word, “No”. In reply to a Written Question [52183] from Rachael Maskell (Lab, York Central), the  Home Office said:

“Meetings to complete the legal preliminaries of giving notice for a marriage or civil partnership [in England & Wales] must be conducted in the presence of the relevant registration official and cannot take place virtually.”

Safeguarding and the Charity Commission

The Church Times reports that Baroness Stowell, the Chair of the Charity Commission, has been asked by a  group which includes the Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Revd Alan Wilson, to intervene on the issue of safeguarding within the Church of England: “We do this with reluctance, having tried and failed to secure redress through multiple complaints across the structure.” In a statement released on Tuesday, the Lead Safeguarding Bishop, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gibbs, said that the Church had been made aware of the complaint to the Commission and would “cooperate fully with any future process”.

Individual cups for Holy Communion…I

At the virtual meeting of the General Synod in July, Mrs Mary Durlacher (Chelmsford) to asked the Chair of the House of Bishops: “Will the House of Bishops reconsider the prohibition of use of small individual cups as a valid ‘common sense’ pro tem way of sharing the Communion wine while current constraints remain? [Q68]. In response, The Bishop of London replied on behalf of the Chair of the House of Bishops:

“A The Legal Advisory Commission has stated “it is contrary to law for individual cups to be used for each communicant” and that “the doctrine of necessity cannot be appealed to in order to justify the use of individual cups even in circumstances where there is a fear of contagion from the use of a common cup. … the Sacrament Act 1547 makes provision for cases where a necessity not to deliver a common cup arises: in such a case the normal requirement that the sacrament be delivered in both kinds is disapplied by statute. Even if a shared cup cannot be used for medical reasons, the use of individual cups remains contrary to law … . In such cases reception should be in one kind only.” The House cannot authorise or encourage a practice which would be contrary to law.”

In response, the legal opinion The legality of the use of individual cups for communion wine was prepared by 6 barristers on the instructions of Mary Durlacher.  They concluded that the legal opinion provided in the answer to Question 68 is in error and that there is nothing in law which prohibits the use of individual cups for the administration of Holy Communion.

The opinion has now been sent to all members of the House of Bishops, the Officers of the General Synod (the Archbishops, Prolocutors and Chair and Vice Chair of the House of Laity), the Clerk of the Synod and the Chair of the Business Committee (with the request that the opinion be copied to all members of the General Synod).  The House of Bishops has been invited to withdraw its opposition to the use of individual cups on the grounds that the House’s guidance in this regard is unlawful.

We note that question [68] to General Synod was prompted as a pro tempore solution while current constraints remain. Regardless of whether the use individual cups for the administration of Holy Communion is permitted in ecclesiastical law, their introduction would need to satisfy hygiene considerations – a factor to be resolved by other churches – and would require faculty authorization for their introduction in each church wishing to introduce them (see Matthew Chinery’s comment below).

Individual cups for Holy Communion…II

Singing in churches

On 13 August, BEIS updated its guidance Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) which was updated to Stage Four guidance permitting performances indoors and outdoors, although with a limited socially-distanced audience indoors. As we have noted earlier, this guidance relates to “people who work in performing arts, including arts organisations, venue operators and participants” and is part of the government advice “work and financial support during coronavirus”. Consequently, it is not directly applicable to church choirs, but “both professionals and non-professionals (meaning those participating in performing arts other than for work purposes), or groups which include non-professionals, should refer to this guidance for their activities”.

  • There should be no group singing by worshippers. Places of worship should take account of the Performing Arts guidance.
  • Small groups of professional or non-professional singers will be able to sing in front of worshippers both outdoors and indoors from 15 August. Singing in groups should be limited to a small set group of people and should not include audience participation.
  • Where music plays a big part in worship, and recordings are available, we suggest you consider using these as an alternative to live singing.
  • Any instrument played during worship should be cleaned thoroughly before and after use.

The Church’s guidance is awaited with great interest.

“it’s organ organ all the time with him”

At least those such as Organ Morgan will now have the opportunity to play the pipe organ in chapel, though not necessarily “up every night until midnight”, following a change in the Welsh Government’s guidance. Initially, this discouraged their use, stating:

“Singing, chanting, shouting and/or playing of wind instruments and organs that require air to be pushed through the mechanism should be specifically avoided…It is advised that you use alternative instruments such as a piano, electronic instruments or recordings”.

However, common sense (or a better understanding of the mechanics of the pipe organ) has prevailed and since 6 August, this has been replaced with the advice:

“The decision whether to use an organ which requires air to be pushed through the mechanism during a ceremony should be based on a risk assessment and adherence with social distancing, hand hygiene and cleaning guidance. The use of alternative instruments such as an electronic keyboard or recorded music should be considered.”

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10 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 16th August

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

  2. Lovely to note the reference to Organ Morgan. But will the Welsh Government have to protest: “Organ Morgan, you haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said!” – to which his response: “…and then Palestrina.” 🙂

    • I suspect that the Welsh Government will wish to keep quiet on this one. Amongst its early suggestions was the possibility that organ pipe should be cleaned individually. This resulted in a Twitter thread which culminated in the post on the Beaker Folk blog Praise Him on the Shiny Mandolin. Had that been posted before I wrte the Organ Morgan piece, I would have been tempted to use extracts for “And finally…” and omit Organ Morgan!

        • Despite being one of my favourite composers, I can only speculate. From 1544 to 1551, Palestrina was the organist of the Cathedral of St. Agapito, so it would be unusual if he hadn’t written some organ music even if it was unpublished. However, I suspect Dylan Thomas’ reference was a joke. DavidP

  3. I suspect that the Sacrament Act 1547 has received more hits on in the past month than at any time since it was made available online!
    However, I wonder if by drawing attention to it the House of Bishops have unwittingly opened another can of worms.
    I note that Chapter VIII (the only Chapter not repealed) includes the requirement “that the preist which shall ministre the same shall at the least one day before exhorte all persons which shalbe present likewise to resorte and prepare themselfs to receive the same”.
    The only time when I can recall having received such an exhortation is one Sunday over 50 years ago when the Priest-in-Charge of the Church I then attended, having received complaints that he never used the Book of Common Prayer Communion service, used it in full (including the exhortation) to demonstrate why he didn’t use that form of service!
    Does the House of Bishops intend to now amend Common Worship to include the exhortation as a mandatory item so that celebrants do not unintentionally contravene the Sacrament Act 1547?

  4. On the subject of individual cups in Communion, I note that the most recent advice from Baptists Together (Aug 13th) states that: “Small wine cups can be lifted from trays and placed in the hands of those receiving” ( (page 6).

    Similarly, the Methodist Church’s guidance (July 10th) states that:”if wine is to be distributed, individual cups should be used and offered to communicants to take from the tray themselves”. (

    So these denominations seem to have resolved hygiene considerations!

  5. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 6th September | Law & Religion UK

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