The UK Government has announced revisions to the coronavirus lockdown and details of how they intend to ease measures over the coming months should conditions allow. If these proposed changes go ahead, church communities will be able to meet in person from early July.

Many of the changes only apply to England and separate regulations stipulate the rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each of the devolved administrations has reiterated that the ongoing message remains to stay at home and only minor amendments have been made to the regulations, for example, allowing exercise more than once per day. Our director of Wales, Siân Rees, has taken a look at some of the differences between England and Wales. 

The Government has sought to start the process of easing the lockdown, but in doing so has sparked confusion and uncertainty about what is allowed. Undoubtedly, easing lockdown measures is harder than imposing them, especially as the Government wants to avoid a renewed increase in cases and deaths from COVID-19. However, the challenges and uncertainties have left many unsure what the next few months will hold for them. The Government is also expected to imminently announce amendments to the job furloughing scheme which is due to end on 30 June.

At the heart of the new guidance is an alert system and a three-step process to begin reopening sectors that have closed down. The first step in that process begins tomorrow (13 May) with changes in England that allow people to be outside for an unlimited amount of time and unrestricted reasons and the opening of garden centres. The Prime Minister has also sought to encourage businesses which are not required to be closed and where work cannot be done from home to reopen if safe to do so; this means that people are being encouraged to leave their homes for work in more cases than at present. This has in turn raised concerns about the safety of public transport, which is especially integral to workers in metropolitan areas. 


There is no prospect of churches being able to open their buildings in the near future, and places of worship are included in step 3 of the changes, which won’t be introduced until 4 July at the earliest. Opening places of worship comes with heavy caveats and the requirement that this will only be permitted if it can be done safely; the guidance notes that in places where social distancing cannot be maintained they may not be able to safely reopen. Like most of these measures, this is England-specific, and the devolved administrations may introduce different timetables in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

The Government’s intention is for small-scale wedding services to be allowed from 1 June, but there has been no firm commitment to this, and it is likely only 48 hours’ notice will be given before further changes come into force. The UK Government intends for many of these further changes to be taken synchronously across the UK, but this will require agreement and the devolved administrations will ultimately decide when changes take place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Churches and charities providing support for vulnerable people will continue to be able to do so, including through the use of church buildings where necessary. The Government’s funding package for charities has been criticised as too little compared to the challenges many are facing and is said to lack clarity as to how the funds will be accessed. The first package of funds to support organisations responding to domestic abuse has been released, but uncertainty remains including as to whether the administration of funds through the National Lottery Big Community fund will see government money combined with lottery proceeds, which would be a hurdle for many Christian organisations wishing to access the support.

The change which allows people to spend more time outdoors removes the strict rules on purpose so will require updated legislation; this has also sparked concern that people will flock to tourist spots and beaches. People in rural areas are concerned, that with many amenities closed, this could cause problems for the local population and risk spreading the infection further. 

The areas of work that are most likely to be impacted by the direction to resume operations where possible are not evenly distributed across the population. Professional and managerial occupations are easier to continue remotely, and aside from industries that have been shut down, service industries, manufacturing and retail are disproportionately staffed by people on lower incomes. This means that the request to return to work away from home is likely to fall on those who can least afford to go without work: the poorest will be made more vulnerable. 

It places a heavy burden on employers to provide safe working environments, and requires discretion from employers to acknowledge that many may be uncomfortable or unable to return to work at this point. There is also a lack of clarity about what will happen to children of people in this category as school provision is still restricted to the children of key workers. These are issues that churches will need to be aware affect people in their congregation, as well as asking questions about when churches can meet, we should also be looking on employers to provide safe working environments, government to support this and for employees to be confident in their own safety and welfare.

The Evangelical Alliance is consistently engaging with government over the measures that affect churches and Christians more broadly. We will be pressing for clarity as to the steps that churches will have to take to reopen, and the criteria by which this will be allowed. In the coming months we will also seek to help churches think through steps they can take to prepare for the future.