The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales are working with our Public Health advisors, Public Health England and the Government in order to provide clear directives for the opening of our churches safely which minimises the risk of virus transmission.
What is “Individual Prayer?”
Individual prayer within a place of worship 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. They must be socially distanced from other individuals or households. Collective or communal prayer and regular scheduled services are not permitted at this time. This includes any minister of religion or lay person leading devotions or prayer.
Opening and operating safely
Stewards. At least two stewards will be present in the church throughout the time it is open for prayer; the stewards will ensure that hand sanitisation occurs at entry, social distancing is maintained by people in the church and if a pre-determined capacity is reached, they prevent others from entering the church. (Through, for example, a “one in, one out” policy.) People with cold or flu-like symptoms should be asked not to enter.
Alcohol hand gel will be provided at the door, with notices asking people to sanitise their hands as they enter and leave the church.
Seating. Where people can sit or kneel in prayer will be marked two metres apart from one another in all directions. Benches will be blocked off to facilitate social distancing. People who are part of the same household can sit together but those not from the same household should maintain social distancing while in church.
Cleaning. The church will be cleaned fully at least once a day, using appropriate cleaning products and paying particular attention to touch points (door handles, collection boxes etc). Areas that are likely to be touched frequently (such as door handles) should be cleaned more often.
Hand washing. The toilet in church will remain closed to prevent any risk of transmission of infection. The toilet will be available to allow people to wash their hands and liquid soap will be provided and will be cleaned frequently.
Face Coverings. Government has advised that cloth face coverings (and not surgical masks) could be worn for reassurance by people in enclosed areas but are not strictly necessary. Churches do not need to supply face coverings. People should not see their voluntary use disrespectful to prayer or the sacred space.
Children. While children are unlikely to become very ill, they are capable of both being infected by the virus and of spreading it. Parents or guardians bringing children into a church should not be discouraged from doing so, but it will be important for parents to manage their children appropriately, particularly ensuring they touch as few surfaces as possible for their own safety.
Vulnerable People. It remains a person’s own choice to come to church to pray. Churches may wish to consider setting aside a section only for people who are more vulnerable to serious disease if infected, and clearly signposted as such, or otherwise having a designated time only for people who are more vulnerable and wish to pray privately.