On the morning of 18 September, the Church of England updated its FAQ “How does the ‘rule of six’ apply to choirs?” which is now in the Prayer and Worship section of its advice. A further update was posted in the afternoon, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advice on the Conduct of Public Worship, v2.4; this revised the earlier version (v2.3) and includes the “rule of six” provisions which limit gatherings of people, subject to certain exemptions; the relevant sections are 5 and 17. As the new legislation is incorporated in other advice, we can expect to see further updates from the Church of England.
The recent revisions, which are summarized below, develop the issues discussed in our post COVID-19: Church of England and RSCM updates on 17 September; a valuable summary was circulated by the Diocese of Oxford on 17 September.
HOW DOES THE ‘RULE OF SIX’ APPLY TO CHOIRS?
The latest update to the introduction of the Government’s Performing Arts guidance states that:
“…from 14 September non-professional performing arts activity, including choirs, orchestras or drama groups can continue to rehearse or perform together where this is planned activity in line with the performing arts guidance and if they can do so in a way that ensures that there is no interaction between groups of more than 6 at any time. If an amateur group is not able to ensure that no mingling takes place between these sub-groups of no more than 6 (including when arriving at or leaving activity or in any breaks or socialising) then such non-professional activity should not take place.”
We understand that there is an ongoing discussion between Government departments on how the new rules will impact amateur choirs in places of worship and the guidance relating to places of worship will be updated as soon as possible.
Please see our guidance on public worship for more information.
Please also see guidance from the RSCM on the safe resumption of choral singing.
In its comprehensive update 18 September: Coronavirus (COVID-19) latest, the Diocese of Oxford states inter alia,
“The logistics of coming out of lockdown is proving a lot harder than going into it. Government regulations on the rule of six only entered into law at midnight on Sunday. There has been much work since to understand the impact for churches. Yet questions remain and there are inconsistencies in different sets of government guidance and legislation that need to be worked through.
We suggest reading the information and links in the first two sections [of its guidance] carefully, and also Guidance for the safe use of places of worship in section 3. Then skim sections 4 to 6 to check that you have already sighted yourself on those documents; only click through to those that feel unfamiliar. Many of these documents will be updated in the coming days, so we will write again when that happens.
3. New and updated government guidance
- Guidance for the safe use of places of worship during the pandemic significantly updated 17 September. Note: there is some ambiguity concerning amateur choirs when read across to other government guidance. We hope to have further guidance shortly. Updates include: rule of six regulations and exemptions | guidance on singing and playing brass and wind instruments | small wedding receptions. See also: religious services checklist .
On 18 September, the RSCM updated its advice COVID-19: Guidance for Safely Resuming Group Music-making in Church , which is prefaced by
“In light of the new Government advice which came into effect on Monday 14th September, a summary of the current situation with relation to worship within the Church of England is:
- All church choirs are able, in principle, to continue singing and rehearsing;
- If your choir has more than 6 members (noting that arrangements for under-18s are separate and excluded from this), this is only possible if your choir effectively operates as social groups of 6 – i.e. there must be no mingling between groups, including before and after services and/or rehearsals, and employing appropriate social distancing etc within each group. If you don’t think the choir can avoid mingling at an activity, it should not take place;
- Under-18 singers are exempt from new legislation; it is imperative that adults maintain social distancing at all times;
- Concerts in church: further guidance will be forthcoming.
Other issues highlighted in the guidance [in green and yellow in the original] include:
- The responsibility for this rests at local level – PCCs, incumbents and churchwardens. The RSCM is not itself responsible for the implementation of these guidance notes; and the spirit underpinning all your decision making should be one of reasonableness and responsibility.
- Rehearsals should take place within the place of worship for any choir over 6 in number – not in buildings which fall outside the church footprint (e.g. a church hall or community facility). The use of church premises by non-church (secular) choirs and other music groups for rehearsal is currently being urgently clarified with relevant government departments. 
- The ‘Rule of 6‘ does not apply to church choirs, but social distancing and mitigation measures (e.g. screens, cleaning, and other routines) must be in place. 
- Are Visiting Choirs welcome at Cathedrals and Greater Churches? Yes, but only for acts of worship, and as long as the said cathedral/greater church has satisfied itself that its own risk assessment and protocols (such as using different rehearsal space from resident choir) are robust.