Coronavirus – Re-opening Places of Worship – Updated 23rd July 2020

Advice to IM Churches

The government has advised that our church buildings can be opened for public worship from July 4th providing this can be done safely.  But how do you distil the relevant information from the government guidance?  Here is a short document to give you the salient points from the guidance and some further information in the form of some Q&A.

We hope this helps you as you consider whether to re-open your churches now.  A copy of this advice will also be sent to each of your churches.

The latest detailed government guidance can be found here.

Salient Points from Government Guidance

  • An advisory maximum of 30 attendees has been set for weddings and other ‘stand-alone’ services such as, for example, a baptism if not conducted during ‘routine communal worship’
  • There is no numerical maximum on other services, but social distancing and public health requirements must be met during these services
  • The two-metre rule applies for public worship except in situations where closer contact cannot be avoided; if this is the case, extra public health precautions must then be taken
  • Consideration should be given to keeping numbers below the maximum possible to further minimise risk
  • Wearing of face-coverings is voluntary
  • While those at extra risk and the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ should be advised of the risks of attending public worship, a decision to do so is theirs alone
  • Government guidance includes a request for names of attendees to be recorded and kept for 21 days to assist ‘track and trace’ if required (further details from the government are expected to help churches who wish to do this)
  • Singing, chanting and playing of brass or woodwind instruments are not recommended, but a further update will follow soon
  • Detailed instructions on ‘consumables’ suggest that Sacrament services can be held if specific guidance is followed, including a suspension of using a common cup for wine – if your church uses this practice
  • Public worship guidance includes not only the church building but surrounding grounds (including car parks and courtyards); meetings in other places should follow other guidance for people meeting in public spaces
  • Refreshments should not really be served at this point
  • Further Government advice about use of churches and other church buildings for non-religious activity is expected.

Detailed Questions & Answers

The government has advised that our church buildings can be opened for public worship from July 4th as long as this can be done safely.

No, there is no requirement to open.  You should only open if you consider it safe to do so.  All churches are encouraged to consider continuing to stream worship or other events, both to avoid large gatherings and to continue to reach those individuals who are self-isolating or particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 as well as to  those who have joined worship for the first time online during the lockdown period.  Whatever is decided, please consider how to communicate this to your members and community.

You should take the actions on the Building Checklist that was sent to your church and undertake a risk assessment to look at your own situation, as each church building and the local circumstances there are different.  If you need help with either of these, please contact the Resource Centre in the first instance and help will be provided.

The government has advised the following:

  • For communal worship, limits should be decided locally on the basis of the capacity of the place of worship, following a risk assessment
  • For weddings there should be no more than 30 people in attendance
  • For funerals there should be no more than 30 people in attendance

For other life event ceremonies (for example, baptism) there should be no more than 30 people in attendance unless this takes place during routine communal worship.

You should undertake a local risk assessment to gauge the capacity of the building, allowing for safe entry and exit points and communal areas.  The number of people permitted to enter at any one time should be limited to ensure at least 2 metres (or 1 metre with risk mitigation where 2 metres is not possible) between households.  The sorts of things to consider include:

  • Size and layout of the building, including ventilation
  • Total floor space, pinch points, busy areas, entrances and exits, and where possible alternative or one-way systems should be used
  • Travel to and from the church building - whilst it may be possible to safely seat a number of people in the building, it may not be safe for them all to travel to and from, or enter and exit, and so numbers may need to be reduced to allow for this
  • What other venues are open locally and whether to stagger entry times with other venues to avoid queues or congestion in surrounding areas
  • Travel routes and whether it may be necessary to consider one-way travel routes, including between transport hubs and churches.

This needs to be addressed as part of the risk assessment.  Things to consider include:

  • For frequently used places, mark areas using floor tape to help people to maintain social distancing. If your floor surfaces are historic or delicate even so-called ‘temporary’ adhesive products can cause damage if they are left in place for an extended period.  Advice is normally available from the manufacturer’s website
  • Consider additional mitigations such as: avoiding face to face seating, reducing the number of people in any one area, improving ventilation, using protective screens and face coverings as appropriate, closing non-essential social spaces, one way flow, staggering arrival and departure times to avoid congestion at entrances and exits including such things as exiting one row at a time, using alternative rooms to separate worshippers
  • Queue management to reduce congestion and contact
  • Clear signposting or assistance with sufficient “stewards” to help maintain compliance
  • Those leading worship reminding worshippers of the need for social distancing and hygiene.

This may be necessary for some churches and you may consider introducing a booking system to help with managing numbers, particularly where demand will be high and space limited.

This is not mandatory, but in line with other government guidance for other venues you are advised to keep an accurate temporary record of visitors for 21 days, in a way that is manageable for your church, that can assist NHS Test and Trace with requests for that data if needed for contact tracing and the investigation of local outbreaks.  The government is working with faith leaders to make the process for recording these details compliant with data protection legislation and as manageable as possible.

On entering and leaving the church building everyone should be asked to wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds using soap and water or to use hand sanitiser if hand washing facilities are not available.  There should be signs and posters on safe hygiene practices.  You should provide hand sanitiser in multiple locations in addition to toilet facilities.

Toilets should be kept open if at all possible and carefully managed to reduce the risk of transmission.  Steps that will usually be needed to make the use of toilets as safe as possible:

  • Signs and posters about safe hygiene (there are many types available)
  • Social distancing marking in areas where queues normally form, and the adoption of a limited entry approach, with one in, one out (whilst avoiding the creation of additional bottlenecks)
  • If possible, make hand sanitisers available on entry to toilets where safe and practical, and ensure suitable handwashing facilities including running water and liquid soap and suitable options for drying (either paper towels or hand dryers) are available. Communal towels should be removed and replaced with single use paper towels
  • Agree clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets, with increased frequency of cleaning in line with usage. Use normal cleaning products, paying attention to frequently hand touched surfaces, and consider the use of disposable cloths or paper roll to clean all hard surfaces.  Special care should be taken for cleaning of portable toilets and larger toilet blocks
  • Keep the facilities well ventilated, for example by fixing doors open where appropriate and safe to do so
  • Putting up a cleaning schedule that is kept up to date and visible
  • Providing more waste facilities and more frequent refuse collection.

Certain groups of people may be at increased risk of severe disease from COVID-19, including people who are aged 70 or older, regardless of medical conditions.  Individuals who fall within this group are advised to stay at home as much as possible and, if they do go out, to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside of their household.  You may want to consider whether, based on your local circumstance, you have set times when churches are open solely for those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, such as those over 70 or clinically vulnerable.

Those who are considered to be extremely clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 will have been advised to shield and are currently advised not to meet more than one person from outside of their own household, and therefore not currently advised to attend places of worship.  From Monday 6 July, those shielding individuals may choose to gather in groups of up to 6 people outdoors and form a support bubble with another household, they will therefore still be advised not to attend places of worship indoors.

Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 (a new continuous cough, a high temperature or a loss of, or change in, their normal sense of taste or smell) should not attend the place of worship due to the risk that they pose to others; they should self-isolate at home immediately with other members of their household.  Remote participation should be considered, for example by live streaming.  This applies equally to any individuals who work at the place of worship.

Where individuals are self-isolating due to a possible or confirmed case of COVID-19 in the household, or because they have been requested to so by NHS Test & Trace, they should participate remotely.  See stay at home guidance for households with possible or confirmed COVID-19.  Guidance is different for funerals, see guidance on managing a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic.

We should warmly welcome all children and young people; they are part of the worshipping body of Christ.  Young children should be supervised by the parent or guardian and appropriate hygiene precautions followed.

Any shared facilities for children, such as play corners, soft furnishings, soft toys and toys that are hard to clean, should be removed and/or put out of use.

Outdoor playgrounds are permitted to open where a risk assessment shows that it is safe to do so - see relevant government guidance.  Particular attention should be paid to cleaning frequently touched surfaces by children and those that are at child height.

Principles in general guidance from the Department for Education should also be followed for any separate children’s activities being organised by the place of worship alongside or within a service.

If you only have one service on Sunday, then it would be sensible to clean the church after the service.  If you are having more than one service cleaning the whole church may not be possible.  In this case, we suggest wiping down those surfaces that are likely to have been touched, paying particular attention to those frequently touched surfaces.  You will need to ensure you have identified people to undertake the cleaning.  A decision should be made locally on how frequently cleaning should take place based on an assessment of risk and use of the building.  If the church is not going to be used for 72 hours there is no need to clean it.

It is best not to use communal service sheets or books that can be touched repeatedly by different individuals, and which may be difficult to clean.  Individual service sheets should not be handed out at the entrance as this is likely to breach social distancing.  However, they may be placed on pews/seats before the service, and then taken home by worshippers.

Alternatively, people could print off their own service sheets and take them home afterwards.  Similarly, people should be encouraged to bring their own bibles and take them home with them.  In circumstances where worshippers cannot bring their own books, churches should keep a selection of clean books for individuals to use.  Clean books should be quarantined for 48 hours since their previous use and should be quarantined for 48 hours again after use.

Yes.  Organs can be played for services, practice, and general maintenance, but should be appropriately cleaned before and after use.

No.  Other than where essential a single singer appropriately socially distanced along with the use of plexi-glass screens should be considered to protect worshippers from them, as this will further prevent transmission and the screen can be easily cleaned.

People should avoid singing, shouting, raising voices and/or playing music at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult or that may encourage shouting.  This is because of the potential for increased risk of transmission from aerosol and droplet.  Spoken responses during worship should also not be in a raised voice.

You may wish to consider the use of recordings as an alternative to live singing.

Yes, as long as there are no wind instruments or singing.  Players need to be appropriately socially distanced, and the music should not be so loud that it encourages people to shout above it.

People from the same household or “bubble” can sit together.  Everyone else will always need to observe appropriate social distancing.  It may be helpful to remind people as they enter, and to supervise this if needed.

At present there is no government requirement to wear face coverings in places where social distancing can be complied with.  However, people may wish to do so, and this is a personal decision.

Where possible cash donations should be discouraged.  Where this is not an option, cash should be collected in a receptacle that is set in one place and handled by one individual, as opposed to being passed around.  Regular cleaning and hygiene should be maintained, and gloves worn to handle cash offerings where giving continues.

Hospitality spaces within a place of worship, such as cafés, are permitted to open but should be limited to table-service, social distancing should be observed, and with minimal staff and customer contact in line with government hospitality guidance.  We would suggest at the moment churches do not consider using café spaces or coffee areas to reduce the potential for transmission.

If anyone becomes unwell with symptoms of COVID-19 in a church building they should go home immediately and be advised to follow the stay at home guidance.  If they need clinical advice, they should go online to NHS 111 (or call 111 if they don’t have internet access).  In an emergency, call 999 if they are seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk.  They should not visit the GP, pharmacy, urgent care centre or a hospital.

Other people who may have been in contact with the person who has become unwell should wash their hands thoroughly after the interaction, but they do not need to take any other specific action unless they develop symptoms themselves or are advised to do so by NHS Test and Trace.  If they do develop symptoms, they should follow the stay at home guidance.

The church should be cleaned in line with Government guidance where a suspected case of COVID-19 has been recorded.

Other groups must undertake to conduct their own risk assessment and observe physical distancing and public health guidance.