Following the publication of the updated MHCLG Guidance COVID-19: guidance for the safe use of places of worship during the pandemic, at 17:38 the Church of England issued two new documents: New Lockdown Guidance, Live streaming Worship and an updated Risk assessment template for opening church buildings.
Extracts from the New Lockdown Guidance are reproduced below; reference should be made to the full document and the sources it cites, the guidance on live streaming, and the risk assessment template.
COVID-19 New Lockdown Guidance
“This guidance is written to support churches as they make decisions about steps they need to take as the new lockdown comes into force on the 5th November. We have learned much from our previous experience that will help us at this time – how to have churches open for private prayer, how to offer high quality streamed worship, how to have our churches open as venues for food banks etc.
Rather than seeking to give direction on the minutiae of the many choices that must be taken, the aim of the guidance contained here is to point to sources of information where understanding can be gained on specific issues and to set out some principles which can help guide decisions more generally. It’s important to recognise that what can happen in any particular place will differ according to a whole host of factors such as churches’ size and context, staffing and whether key personnel are shielding or not. “
Key Guidance Documents
While we are in this period of lockdown there are some key guidance documents that support activities we can do published by the Government, other organisations and on the Church of England’s national coronavirus national coronavirus webpage. These are there to help you make decisions locally, recognising that every place has its own circumstances and will need to address these in its own way.
Our churches can remain open for individual prayer, which is defined as a person or household entering the venue to pray on their own and not as part of a group, led prayer or communal act. Collective or congregational prayer and regular scheduled services are not permitted. This includes a Minister of religion or lay person/volunteer leading devotions or prayer of any sort. If possible, arrangements should be made to broadcast services, enabling people to watch and worship at home.
For those broadcasting a service, they can bring together those people essential for the content of the service, and for technical support. If musicians or singers usually form part of the service being broadcast, they may participate but only if they are essential to the delivery of the service. The numbers or people involved should be kept as small as possible to minimise risks and participants should follow strict hygiene and physical distancing measures. No congregation may be present.
Support groups (to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support) are permitted to go ahead as with the previous guidance can take place in gatherings of groups of 15 (subject to capacity) again with appropriate COVID-19 secure arrangements in place. Support groups for new parents and vulnerable young people can continue and a new FAQ has been introduced to highlight this in the section on ‘Schools, nurseries and Youth Provision’.
Please note amateur choir practice or group bell ringing is not permitted at this time.
The Government sources include:
- Places of Worship Guidance, (updated 6 November 2020);
- Performing Arts Guidance, (updated 5 November 2020); and
- The safe use of community multi-use facilities, (updated 13 October 2020).
Remember it is the nature of the activity which defines which guidance we should be using, not the status of the building.
From the Church of England’s national webpage, the key resource documents are:
- Individual Private Prayer
- Pastoral Encounters
- Keeping church buildings clean
- Safeguarding FAQs
- Test and Trace
- Church Heating
Other guidance documents are remaining available on the coronavirus web page for reference but may not be applicable under current restrictions.
For our church buildings to be open we need to have conducted a risk assessment for which a template example is given. The Safer Churches document also illustrates safe ways to manage the flow of people into and out of the building while noting that corporate worship and some of the other activities it mentions are not possible at this time.
The webpage also links to resources on prayer and worship as well as digital resources. As we approach Christmas there are resources provided as part of the Comfort and Joy campaign that can help with online and at home offerings by churches to their communities.”