The removal of legal regulations.

As of 15 February 2022, almost all legal regulations in Northern Ireland concerning Covid-19 have been removed in law. This includes those very few legal requirements which still applied to places of worship. 

Many churches and places of worship applied principles and practices that went beyond the minimum legal regulations. It may be that further guidance is issued by the Department of Health specifically for places of worship in due course but the link to previous guidance appears to be unavailable at this time.

So as congregations and wider society adjust again to the new phase we are in, it may be wise for some of the practices we have developed to protect public health to continue for a period of time. As has already been the case for many months, this will be a decision for denominations or individual churches to make depending on their governance structure.

Some points to consider

  • It would be prudent to continue the practice of regular risk assessment, considering what mitigations might be appropriate in line with the particular activity, physical space and the rate of community transmission etc.
  • The importance of basic public health advice remains – like good hand hygiene, ventilation, cleaning, clear signage and organisation.
  • It may be that some churches will retain an area in their buildings allocated to socially distanced seating for a period of time for those who are more at risk etc.
  • Contact tracing is not required but could still be helpful in some circumstances.
  • All legal regulations have been removed in domestic settings so home groups and Christian hospitality etc can continue without legal restrictions.
  • The legal regulations did not prohibit singing and instead this was addressed through the previous guidance. It stated:

    Whilst singing and chanting is discouraged, if they do occur, make sure it is done as safely as possible by making sure that:

  • singing takes place only in larger well-ventilated spaces, or outdoors
  • performance or rehearsal is for limited periods of time at a reduced level of loudness, using microphones for amplification if available
  • limited numbers of people sing together
  • singers are spaced at least two metres apart in all directions (at least one metre apart if the additional measures or controls recommended in government COVID-19 guidance for the performing arts are applied)”.
  • As singing is still deemed to be an activity that can increase the likelihood of the spread of the virus, it would be wise to consider what mitigations might be appropriate in a given situation. For example, some churches will continue to ask that people wear masks while singing for a period of time, at least until the levels of community transmission of the virus are reduced. 
  • Again it would be prudent to consider good hygiene and public health advice when planning for the sacraments of communion and baptism.
  • Comment

    We have been so encouraged by the response of so many churches throughout this pandemic ever-keen to maintain public worship and witness, serve and bless, while also standing alongside local communities in the pain of lockdown at times. 

    Many practical challenges remain for churches around corporate worship, church life together and acts of witness and service. With all legal restrictions removed, it is now over to churches to discern how best to re-establish relationships across their wider congregation and community. 

    Different churches will reach different decisions on the speed and scope of the changes they make to their practices in the months ahead. Moving ahead together as a congregation and wider church body as good news people, committed to the worship and witness of Christ, must remain our priority.

    We’re always happy to chat if we can be of any help and please be assured of our prayers as you navigate through these days.