Gathering for in person worship services

As different parts of the UK enter and exit lockdowns, the restrictions on churches regularly change. The information below is correct to the best of our knowledge on 2 December. 

England

From 2 December churches and other places of worship will be able to meet for in-person services in the same way they could until the November lockdown. There is no set limit on numbers, but individual locations should assess the risks and establish safe capacity based on maintaining social distancing. 

Impact of tiers: In tier 1 areas people attending services may interact in groups of up to six while maintaining social distance between different households. These groups should not interact. In tiers 2 and 3 you should only interact with you household while attending church services. 

Wales

Churches in Wales can meet indoors for gathered worship services without any limits on numbers, subject to the maintenance of social distancing. Outdoor worship is also permitted but is restricted to 30 in number and subject to the maintenance of social distancing.

Scotland

Scotland’s tier system allows places of worship to open in all areas. In tiers 0 – 3 there is a cap of 50 people attending church services; in tier 4 this is reduced to 20 people. 

The restriction on travel for tier 4 areas means that while a church leader, worship leader and other staff can travel to or from a tier 4 area to their church in order to broadcast a church service, this allowance is not granted for people seeking to attend their place of worship. 

Northern Ireland

Churches in Northern Ireland are currently (between 27 November and 9 December) required to close for public worship services. During this two-week lockdown they may only open for a small number of people to stream or pre-record services, to run foodbanks and essential services, for private prayer and to host drive-in services. You can find out more here.

Key issues

Singing: At present it is strongly advised that singing is limited to those leading worship, and in these cases with precautions in place, such as additional distancing or screens. In Wales an organised group of up to six singers is permitted, with distancing maintained and the use of screens advised. An allowance has been granted in England for outdoor singing, in particular for carol singers in the lead up to Christmas. 

Tracking: It is advised that churches keep a record of who is attending services so this can be provided to NHS track and trace if positive cases are recorded. Likewise, churches are encouraged, but not required, to display QR codes for the NHS track and trace app (there is a specific app for Northern Ireland). For churches meeting in multiuse venues or commercial locations it is possible that the use of the track and trace QR is compulsory dependent on the venue and the activities that it provides. 

Communion: There is no specific ban on taking communion, although denominations may have advice and rules which churches may need to follow. Consideration will need to be given to how this can be done safely. We would advise against the sharing of a cup and breaking bread from a shared loaf. The safest way to administer the Lord’s Supper would seem to be for one person to distribute individual cups and pieces of bread or wafers while wearing gloves and where possible not giving these directly to the person receiving them.

Offerings: Churches are advised to make use of online or mobile giving wherever possible. If a collection is taken during a service this should not be passed around the congregation but in a specific place, for example by an exit. The person handling the money should thoroughly clean their hands before and after handling the collection. 

Refreshments: In order to serve refreshments before and after services, churches must comply with the guidelines for cafés and restaurants, which includes considering seating arrangements and access to where refreshments are served. Churches are also required to display a QR code for the NHS track and trace service and all attending must provide their details. In Wales this should be avoided except where they are integral to the worship, religious or belief ceremony.