COVID-19: Communal worship from 2 December

The Diocese of Oxford has circulated a comprehensive update on the latest position in relation to COVID-19, which is reproduced below, with permission.

30 November: Coronavirus (COVID-19) latest

Communal worship can resume from 2 December, subject to relevant social contact rules in each tier. That our churches can remain open and public worship can continue at all tier levels (albeit with some restrictions) is, once again, testament to the huge amount of effort and care to ensure our churches are COVID-secure by people in every parish and also the representations made to the government by our bishops and archbishops.Many recipients of this C19 update will have close ties to their local schools. The teacher wellbeing index, just out, shows a worrisome increase in teacher stress levels in the new academic year from 62% to 84%. What are the simple ways your parish could show appreciation to the teachers and staff at your local schools?

Please read sections 1 to 3 carefully, then skim sections 4 to 7 and only click through to those that feel unfamiliar or need revisiting. Remember that it’s not always obvious by their titles that government guidance documents are applicable to the church. The links listed in section 4 are shown as they are relevant to parishes and should be read by incumbents, wardens and other church officers.

This C-19 includes a Local Authority Safety Advisory Group (SAG) checklist (see section 3), which may be helpful for any parish planning a community event involving more than 30 people.

We hope these updates continue to be helpful. Let us know what questions you have and what additional information would you like to see in future editions. As ever, please contact your area office or archdeacon with any urgent questions relating to your parish/benefice.

1. Summary

  • New: local tiers
    National restriction rules remain in place until 2 December and must be followed until they expire. On 2 December different tiers of restrictions will apply in different parts of the country. With the exception of parishes in Slough (Tier 3), all other areas in the Diocesewill be placed in Tier 2 – High Alert.
  • New: communal worship
    From 2 December, people can attend places of worship in all tiers, and communal worship can restart, though the rules on who they can meet with at places of worship will depend on the tier.

– In Tier 2 places of worship remain open but you must not socialise with people from outside of your household or support bubble while you are indoors there, unless a legal exemption applies.

– In Tier 3 places of worship remain open, but you must not attend with or socialise with  anyone outside of your household or support bubble while you are there, unless a legal exemption applies

  • New: ‘Christmas bubble’
    Between 23 and 27 December, people may also attend a place of worship with members of their Christmas bubble. This applies in all tiers. From 28 December, people must follow the guidance for the tier in their area. Christmas bubbles will no longer apply.
  • New: Carol singing
    Congregations can sing carols outdoors as part of a service as long as individuals, households or bubbles maintain 2m distancing and other good public health hygiene practices are in place. Door-to-door carol singing is permitted but you must abide by the relevant gathering limits. Where there are any performances or services in an indoor setting, a choir is permitted to sing but the total number of individuals involved should be limited and the congregation should not join in. See section 3.
  • New: Nativity Plays
    As part of worship, Nativity plays can go ahead. Performances by school pupils should take place within existing school bubbles and avoid mixing across groups. See section 3.
  • New: weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on numbers of attendees – 15 people can attend wedding ceremonies and receptions, 30 people can attend funeral ceremonies, and 15 people can attend linked commemorative events. While anyone working is not included as part of the limit on those attending (the limit is currently 15 people), this refers only to those whose presence is reasonably necessary for the event to take place. See Advice for clergy conducting weddings in section 4
  • Check you’ve done this:

2. New Church and Diocesan guidance / new resources

  • Bishop Steven writes: “I hope that all clergy and lay ministers will give due time to being with family in the short five-day window where up to 3 households can mix indoors as part of a ‘Christmas bubble’ (23-27 December). Everyone will need to make their own decisions in this, but as bishops we want to give clear and explicit permission to you to take the first Sunday of Christmas as leave or TOIL (which is one of the five days).Services can be recorded locally. We will also have a Church at Home service available to the whole Diocese on that day. Please, also, plan due time for rest and recreation in the period immediately after Christmas to be refreshed for the challenging months ahead. Thanks for all the care being invested now in planning for Advent and Christmas.”
  • See the Church of England website FAQ section
  • RSCM guidance for church choirs (updated for December)
  • A library of free resources for churches and individuals this Advent.
  • Free advent audio meditations from Discovering Prayer

3. New and updated government guidance

4. Existing and updated Church guidance
last updated is indicated in brackets

(unchanged since 30 September)

6. Unchanged government guidance

  • Guidance for the safe use of places of worship during the pandemic
    updated several times in recent weeks and checklists updated, please familiarise yourself with the current version. See also: religious services checklist
  • Guidance for small marriages and civil partnerships
    updated to incorporate Local COVID Alert Levels, changed rules on face coverings, distance between tables, singing in groups of more than 6, dancing, music volume and enforcement.
  • Guidance for the safe use of multi-purpose community facilities
    updated to include guidance on new local COVID alert levels, plus changes in legislation to track and trace.
  • Working safely during coronavirus: performing arts
    It is this document that applies to choirs, orchestras and drama groups (see also ‘What you can and can’t do’, below) recent updates include staging and capacity | risk management | outdoor events | local COVID Alert levels | dancing and singing.
  • What you can and can’t do
    A useful summary of general restrictions and regulations in place for England. See 3.18 regarding amateur choirs.
  • Meeting with others safely(social distancing)
    support groups of up to 15 participants are currently allowed. These are formally organised groups to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support. This includes support to victims of crime, recovering addicts, new parents, people with long-term illnesses, those facing issues relating to their sexuality or gender, and those who have suffered bereavement.
  • Support bubble
    What a support bubble is. This version of the guidance explains childcare bubbles and also guidance for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

7. Liturgical resources

As ever, please contact your area office or archdeacon with any questions. Don’t forget that Church at Home is back for the foreseeable future. If you have parishioners who can’t attend church and you’re unable to offer an online parish service of your own, then Church at Home is available to watch, listen to or dial in to at 10am each Sunday

C-19 guidance notes are sent automatically to all licensed clergy, wardens, lay chairs and also those who have opted in for C-19 updates. A complete listing of guidance is available in the Coronavirus section of our website (see message library).

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "COVID-19: Communal worship from 2 December" in Law & Religion UK, 1 December 2020,

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