COVID-19: Church of England and RSCM updates

New guidance on “the rule of six”

The Church of England updated its Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for churches on Thursday September 17 to reflect the changes to the legislation which became effective on Monday. Yesterday, information specific to church choirs was posted on the Facebook page of the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) which was followed today by an update to its page of FAQs COVID-19: Guidance for Safely Resuming Group Music-making in Church. Below are extracts from:

On 18 September, further guidance was issued by the Church of England and the RSCM, along with a useful summary from the Diocese of Oxford. Extracts from these are included in our post Choirs and the “rule of six” – new advice.


Church of England Guidance

Last updated Thursday September 17 at 14:40

New FAQs

  • How does the new ‘rule of six’ affect regular church services? in The rule of six section
  • Are places of worship exempt from the ‘rule of six’? in The rule of six section
  • Can Bible study groups or home groups now meet in person? in Prayer and worship section
  • Can a choir sing during worship if there are more than six members? in Prayer and worship section
  • Can a choir rehearse? in Prayer and worship section

Updated FAQs

  • Can churches open for individual prayer? in Prayer and worship section
  • Can churches hold services of worship? in Prayer and worship section
  • Can we have worship outside? in Prayer and worship section
  • Can funerals still go ahead? in Life events section
  • Can weddings still go ahead? in Life events section
  • Can baptisms still go ahead? in Life events section
  • Can ordinations still go ahead? in Life events section

The Church of England continues to engage with the Government seeking clarification on a number of areas. We anticipate further updates in the next few days with further additions to the FAQs and we also continue to review the downloadable guidance papers which will be updated accordingly. All updates will be notified at the top of this page.

Key principles

The Government has introduced new regulations making it illegal for groups of more than six people to meet, unless covered by exemptions. The intention is to limit the spread of the virus by minimising close physical contact as much as possible. When deciding whether to proceed with an activity, depending on local circumstances, please bear this principle in mind.

Areas covered by exemptions to the ‘rule of six’ include work, children’s activities and charitable services. There is also an exemption that covers places of worship making it possible for more than six people to gather for acts of communal worship. However, it is not a blanket exemption for any activity in a place of worship…

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RSCM Guidance

Initial guidance

In light of the new Government advice which came into effect on Monday 14 September, a summary of the current situation with relation to worship within the Church of England is:

All church choirs are able to continue singing and rehearsing for Acts of Worship; as long as the activity is fully COVID risk assessed;

Rehearsals and preparation should take place within the curtilage of a place of worship;

The guidelines for the Catholic church continue to be based on Performing Arts guidance. Arrangements in Ireland and Scotland are also unchanged.

We are still seeking more clarification – as are the other music-support organisations – about some specific details; and as soon as we have this information we will update and re-issue our FAQs document, which also fully clarifies the ‘rule of 6’.

We understand the enormous frustration that is felt by so many at the current time, but can only re-state that we are doing everything we can to help move things forwards.

COVID-19: Guidance for Safely Resuming Group Music-making in Church

This Guidance is available here comprises 25 FAQs on practical issues of relevance to church choirs.

  1. So can we resume choir practice as usual?
  2. How many can be in the choir?
  3. Can children sing?
  4. With choristers (children), how far do bubbles need to distance?
  5. Within a bubble, how far apart to singers need to be?
  6. I don’t have any ‘bubbles’ (consistent, school-based groups of children) in my choir. How far apart should the singers be?
  7. If someone is ill and potentially diagnosed with COVID, does all the choir have to isolate?
  8. Can a choir sing at a pastoral service, then? (e.g. a wedding or funeral).
  9. What do we need to do about music copies?
  10. Can we use choir robes?
  11. What about masks?
  12. What about visors?
  13. What (additional) protection does the conductor need?
  14. Can we use the choir stalls?
  15. Do the musicians need to be a specific distance from the congregation?
  16. Can we process in church?
  17. Can the congregation sing?
  18. What instruments can we use in worship?
  19. Government guidance says: ‘Any instrument played during worship should be cleaned thoroughly before and after use’. What does this mean?
  20. Can music group singers share microphones?
  21. Government guidance says: ‘Groups of professional singers are now able to rehearse and record indoors for broadcast’. Can we record an amateur choir? We can see no reason not to be able to do so.
  22. Government guidance says: ‘Except for the limited circumstances outlined above, people should avoid singing, shouting, raising voices and/or playing music at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult or that may encourage shouting. This is because of the potential for increased risk of transmission from aerosol and droplets.’ So can the organ play a loud voluntary?
  23. Are Visiting Choirs welcome at Cathedrals and Greater Churches?
  24. Can an Officiant sing (at Evensong for example)?
  25. Can we think of planning school carol services?
  26. Where do I find the risk assessment materials?

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Summary of the new legislation

The most recent amendments to the legislation which imposes restrictions on social gatherings in England became generally available only minutes before they came into force at 12.01 a.m. on 14th September 2020. These Regulations amend the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/684 which now exist in a consolidated form – Latest Available (Revised) – although the Original (As made) version is also accessible.

In brief people may not participate in social gatherings, in any place, in groups of more than 6, unless they are members of the same household, two linked households, or exceptions apply. In areas covered by the Coronavirus, Restrictions relating to: Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford; Leicester; North of England) Regulations 2020 and the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions); and Bolton, the change only applies in relation to social gatherings which take place otherwise than in private dwellings.


Comment

The “new regulations” referred to in the Church of England guidance provide a link to the Home Office News Story Rule of six comes into effect to tackle coronavirus published on 14 September, which states:

“Exemptions [to the “rule of six”] include cases where a single household or support bubble is larger than six people. The rule also does not apply to gatherings for work or education purposes, and to other gatherings including weddings, funerals, and team sports organised in a COVID-19 secure way.

Venues following COVID-19 secure guidelines – such as places of worships, gyms, restaurants and other hospitality venues – can still hold more than six people in total. But within those venues, there must not be individual groups larger than six, and groups must not mix socially or form larger groups.”

Within the News Story there is a link to Cabinet Office Guidance Coronavirus (COVID-19): Meeting with others safely (social distancing) which states that as well as the listed exemptions, venues following COVID-19 secure guidelines will be able to continue to host more people in total – such as religious services in places of worship – but no one should mix in a group of greater than 6. This includes places like a pub, shop, leisure venue, restaurant or place of worship. It states:

“When you visit one of these places you should:

  • follow the limits on the number of other people you should meet with as a group – no more than six people unless you all live together (or are in the same support bubble)
  • avoid social interaction with anyone outside the group you are with, even if you see other people you know
  • provide your contact details to the organiser so that you can be contacted if needed by the NHS Test and Trace programme“.

There is yet further guidance from government: Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can’t do and Coronavirus (COVID-19): Meeting with others safely (social distancing).

The new legislation and the problematic issue of “mingling” will be covered in a later post.

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Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "COVID-19: Church of England and RSCM updates" in Law & Religion UK, 17 September 2020, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2020/09/17/covid-19-church-of-england-and-rscm-updates/

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