On the evening of Wednesday 2 December, the Church of England published new guidance following the publication of the updated Government’s guidance for the safe use of places of worship. Our post New COVID-19 legislation and guidance to 5 December included links to the 6 new/updated FAQs; 3 new documents; and 5 updated documents. These are considered in more detail below.
The Church’s new guidance was issued following the updating of the MHCLG’s COVID-19: guidance for the safe use of places of worship from 2 December on 1 December 2020. As with all government guidance of this type, there are three issues of importance:
- the legislation relevant to the guidance, in this case The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers)(England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/1374 for which there is an Explanatory Memorandum.
- the timeline of changes made to the guidance, shown in the “see all updates” to identify what has been updated; and
- other guidance and legislation which in relevant to specific aspects of the guidance, in this case Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19): Performing Arts and COVID-19: suggested principles of safer singing.
The new or updated FAQs listed below, are here (scroll down).
Singing, Carol Services & key Christmas considerations:
- Can carol singing or carol services take place this Christmas?
- What is permitted in my tier?
- Are nativity plays possible in church?
- Who can attend church as part of a Christmas Bubble (23 to 27 December)?
Prayer and worship
- Can churches hold services of worship?
- What guidance is available for Holy Communion?
- Can weddings and funerals go ahead?
These were issued by the House of Bishops COVID-19 Recovery Group on 2 December. Extracts are given given below, but reference should be made to the complete document.
- Advice on Christmas bubbles, v1. Between 23rd and 27th December, people across England are allowed to form ‘Christmas bubbles’. The rules for this can be found on the government website. There is no upper limit to the number of people who can be in a bubble, provided only three households are included.
The government has said that people in a Christmas bubble can meet in private homes, public outdoor spaces, and places of worship. This means that for this five-day period it will be legal for groups larger than one household to attend church.
Apart from this change, all other rules applicable to the tier you are in still apply – so Christmas bubbles can not mix with other groups, and if people are attending who are not in a Christmas bubble they will continue to need to abide by the rules around distancing from other households.
- Risk assessment Template for Outdoor Worship, v.1. The template has been created based on guidance from the Health and Safety Executive and is intended for use from 3rd December onwards for worship and church-led gatherings taking place outside. A separate risk assessment template is available for all indoor activities.
- COVID-19 Receiving Holy Communion in both kinds by simultaneous administration, v1.1. An “intinction lite” option following the Archbishops” Ad Clerum guidance, on which we will not comment other than note the absence of a reference to gluten intolerance. The guidance explains “[r]ecognising the ongoing nature of the pandemic, and a longing in some churches to receive Holy Communion in both kinds, this document offers a procedure for simultaneous administration of the consecrated bread and wine in a manner that seeks to minimise the possible health risks. Bishops may wish to invite the clergy in their diocese to use this procedure. Before doing so, it is recommended that clergy discuss it with the PCC. This procedure seeks to minimise the COVID risk from receiving Communion in both kinds, although it will not remove it entirely”.
- COVID-19 Advice on the Conduct of Public Worship, v 2.7. Update on version 2.6: on the 29th November the Government announced that congregational singing outdoors was permitted. Following this we have updated section 17 on singing. In addition as of the 2nd December the Government has re-introduced the three tier system of Covid risk areas. In all tiers Places of Worship can remain open and public worship can continue. However, in tiers 2 and 3 (high and very high risk areas) the ‘rule of six’ does not apply. In these areas individuals, households and support bubbles can attend worship but must not mingle with others and physical distancing should be maintained.
- Keeping church buildings clean, v3. This advice is based on the government’s guidance on cleaning in non-healthcare settings (updated 16 October 2020) and guidance on the safe use of places of worship (updated 6 November 2020). Advice on cleaning of historic surfaces is based on the guidance issued by Historic England (24 July 2020) and the Canadian Conservation Institute (24 July 2020), neither of which was written specifically for churches, so this advice needs to be interpreted based on the local context and situation.
This advice should be read alongside the government guidance and the Church of England’s advice on opening cathedrals and church buildings to the public.
- COVID-19 Outdoor Worship and Churchyards, v5.0. Specific Government guidance on places of worship and for performing arts highlights what is possible with outdoor worship. There are many excellent resources to help with this, such as a wild worship field guide produced by the Sanctuary Centre and prayer stations from Engage Worship. Further advice and lots of practical resources and examples can be found on our new Outdoor Worship page.
- Risk Assessment Template for Opening Church Buildings to the Public, v7. From 3rd December, regardless of tier, churches are permitted to open for all purposes that can be carried out in a Covid-safe way. There may be specific local regulations, especially in tier 3 areas, that place additional restrictions on certain activities. There are varying limits on mixing of households that apply in different tiers. Before completing this risk assessment you can see what is permitted in your tier by checking this document.
The government guidance for the safe use of places of worship during the pandemic requires a COVID-19 risk assessment to be carried out for every building and site open to the public. This document provides a template risk assessment, with links to the relevant advice notes. It relates to opening up church and cathedral buildings to clergy and members of the public entering for any permitted purposes. As well as offering guidance on best-practice, the template is also intended to help parishes make a decision on whether to open for any or all of these purposes or not, based on their local circumstances, resources and context. Specific guidance linking to advice on the lockdown period is available on the Church of England Coronavirus pages.
- COVID-19 Permitted Activities under the 3 Tier System, v.2. Updates on version 1.1: The information has been updated in the light of the new Tier Regulations made on 30 November. The main changes from the previous Tier Regulations are concerned with outdoor carol singing, and ‘Christmas linked households’ during the period 23rd to 27th December. It has also been clarified that children under 5 do not count towards the 15-person maximum at support groups/mother and toddler groups