Following the revised government guidance COVID-19: guidance for the safe use of places of worship, we posted COVID-19: Step 3 guidance for the safe use of places of worship in England, which has been updated to include the relevant regulations.
On 15 May 2021, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales published Covid-19 Route Map: Step 3 Guidance which notes “key to implementation of this guidance is the Government’s understanding of moving away from centralised detailed regulation to prudent local judgements”. The document outlines a number of General Principles relating to:
- Prevailing Local Conditions
- Cleaning of Churches
- Social Distancing and Capacity of Churches
- Congregational Singing
This is followed by more specific guidance on:
- Acts of Worship, including the Sacrament of Reconciliation
- Home Visits
- Social Activities
- Catechetical Groups/Formation Groups/Prayer Groups
- Non-Church Buildings
The Guidance notes that “while the virus can land on surfaces and can infect people if they touch those surfaces and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes, this risk is lower than the risk from aerosol or droplet spread”; it suggests there are several key things which churches and parishes have been doing, and should continue to do, which significantly reduce this risk.
Noting that the regulation on social distancing requires that a reduced capacity exists in all churches, the Guidance suggests that “it is possible and advisable now to make a reassessment of the Covid-secure capacity of churches based on the principles of combination prevention”, and gives a number of specific examples.
“Based on these considerations, some churches may conclude they can safely increase the Covid-secure capacity of the building factoring into the calculations the mitigations of coverings, ventilation and vaccines listed above (eg by making spacing 1m where there is good ventilation and good mitigation measures). In some churches, this reassessment may bring the Covid-secure capacity up to 50% of that of the building”.
With regard to singing, it observes “indoor congregational singing is still prohibited at Step 3 and further guidance from Public Health England is expected before the 21 June Step 4 date is reached. The use of small cantor groups and other small choirs is now permitted, and the following guidance is still current following the principles of safer singing”. However, we note that there is a degree of inconsistency in government guidance on singing which needs an early resolution.
Other aspects of the guidance include:
- use of water in certain circumstances, “with caution to prevent splashing” ,but Holy Water Stoups to remain unfilled;
- the Sign of Peace remains suspended;
- Holy Communion in one kind only, but Communion on the tongue permissible and Concelebrations are permitted with Communion by intinction;
- relaxation of prohibition on use of confessional boxes or rooms.
The Church of England guidance was also updated on 17 May 2021