Church of England: Places of worship and new restrictions

[This is a re-issue of the post of first published on 9 September which due to a glitch within the system, became inaccessible to readers.]

Further to the developments earlier in the day, at 18:38 on Wednesday 9 September, the Church of England issued the following statement:

COVID-19: places of worship and restrictions on social gatherings

Following the announcement of new ‘rule of six’ restrictions to help limit the spread of coronavirus, the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who chairs the Church of England’s recovery group, said:

“I welcome confirmation from the Prime Minister that places of worship can still hold more than six people in total, despite the new restrictions on gatherings, and the reassurance that public worship can continue, ensuring that our churches are there for people in their communities.

“We will continue to work with the Government on specific areas relating to our churches and church-based activities.”


Bishop Sarah’s carefully-worded statement follows the earlier tweet of Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government, which additionally indicates the limits on weddings, funerals and life-cycle events.

In addition to these, there will be areas relating to churches and church-based activities for which the “rule of six” is applicable, although these may not be known until the legislation and guidance has been published. However, the Diocese of Oxford has posted a useful summary of what is known about the latest COVID-19 restrictions with regard to parishes/benefices.

It is known that from Monday 14 September [emphasis added]:

  • Places of worship are Covid-secure venues, so they are exempt from the 6 people limit for services of public worship and private prayer;
  • However groups inside church should not be more than 6, groups should not combine and there must be social distancing between groups.
  • Covid-secure weddings, funerals and other stand alone services can go ahead up to a limit of 30 people.

“as ever, there is a lot of detail still to emerge. National Church colleagues are working hard with government departments and Public Health England to ascertain the detailed information parishes need, such as groups in other church settings, home groups, PCCs, APCMs etc.”


On Friday 11 September at 9.30, the Church of England issued the following update on its page with Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for churches: [underling in original]

“The Government has announced that new regulations relating to the ‘rule of six’ are being prepared.

Those regulation will not come into effect until Monday September 14 2020. Until then all of the advice below continues to apply as before.

The Church of England is engaging with the Government and will provide new advice to churches but we do not expect to be in a position to provide that until the week beginning September 14.”

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Church of England: Places of worship and new restrictions" in Law & Religion UK, 13 September 2020,


17 thoughts on “Church of England: Places of worship and new restrictions

  1. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 13th September | Law & Religion UK

    • At the present time, the Church’s COVID-19 Advice for Conducting Funerals, v5.1 includes:

      Q15. What about a wake?
      “There should not be a “wake” or gathering after the funeral, but if there is one, clergy are advised not to attend.”

      I expect that once the new legislation is in place, the Church of England will update all of its guidance to include “the rule of six”.

  2. Greatly appreciate your blog. Have just found the new SI amendment which now also bans ‘mingling’ in relation to gatherings organised by charitable institutions. (s.2(3)(2B)(b)(ii).

    Would value your thoughts on whether it is now illegal to say ‘Good morning’ to others at church services who are not in the same qualifying group.

    I realise this would not be illegal if you met the other person on the street (as long as the total number of people greeting each other does not exceed six), but the new restrictions seem to make this illegal at the gathering.

    Presumably once off the premises of the church you can ‘mingle’ within the rule of six since you no longer fall within the restrictions of s.2(3)(2)(a).

    • Thank you James for your thought-provoking comment which has serious implications, (also alluded to in a Tweet by Archbishop Cranmer (no link to his blog!)).

      As with such undefined terms, whilst there is a temptation to adopt the Pooh Bah approach (“Oh, as your Solicitor, I should have no hesitation in saying “Chance it —”), given the possibility of the involvement of a “meddlesome busybody” – a term used in the judicial consideration of R v Monopolies and Mergers Commission, ex parte Argyll Group Ltd 1986 1 WLR 763), an appropriate degree of caution would be urged.

      On the principle that each case turns on its own facts, it could be argued that whilst is some circumstances saying “Good Morning” might be permissible, the exchange of “Peace be with you” could be regarded as involving an element of mingling.

  3. Thanks for your reply. I was checking that I wasn’t jumping at shadows.

    As a presbyterian we don’t have ‘the peace’ but we are into ‘fellowship’. We are used to lingering for a good hour after services spending time with each other. That hasn’t been happening since lockdown but I am amazed the law is now seeking to remove the opportunity even to exchange a few words with others in the church. Theologically we are closer family than those we live with (if they aren’t also Christians).

    I would like think a persistent ‘meddlesome busybody’ would receive a (socially distanced) pastoral visit! 😉

    • Current Church of England advice on the Peace is:

      “3. Are we able to share the Peace? Unfortunately, in order to minimise risk, there should be no sharing of the Peace through physical contact.”

      although locally we are not sharing this optional part of the service. Also we have been asked not to gather outside church after Mass and avoid large groups remaining in the churchyard. In this respect the Zoom option after the streamed service provided an opportunity for informal contact.

  4. How do choirs stand with rehearsals? As it is neither a form of worship nor private prayer, is this counted as a gathering of more than six people and therefore not allowable at the moment?

    • I have been following various threads on Twitter in preparation for a post on mingling and gathering. Of the two options you quote, I would have thought the s.5(2)(a) exception is the more likely and follows the Principal Regulations prior to their amendment. The RSCM has indicated stated:

      “Urgent clarification is currently being sought on what this actually means for choirs and music in worship and any questions that may arise as a result. We are working with the CofE to clarify with the Government, and will post additional material in our FAQ’s as soon as we can”

      It has been indicated that help unpacking the guidance will be published by
      @RSCMCentre on Wednesday 16 September.

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