As Wales leaves its two-week 'fire-break' period, the Welsh Government permits the resumption of church services as of Thursday, 9 of November.

After a seventeen day period, where places of worship were unable to open their doors, the end of Wales’ fire-break’ signals for many people the return to meet as a church again in person. Many churches may decide to continue to gather digitally, whilst some will choose to enter their church buildings again. What we do know, and what has been made clear in these past months, is that church means far more than simply a building.

Whilst churches are again able to reopen, guidelines for how we meet remain in place. Adhering to the two-metre rule between households and self-isolating if you have any symptoms are still very much in force, and it is worth both reminding and familiarising yourself with the Government’s advice regarding church services, as updates occur regularly. 

Churches should also seek to adhere to the guidance provided by their denomination. Guidance issued by the Evangelical Alliance should not be relied upon for the purposes of legal advice.

Risk assessments for church buildings

Guidance has been given by the Welsh Government to assist in making sure church buildings reopen in the safest manner possible. Much of this guidance remains the same as it was before the nation went into a fire-break’, and leadership teams still have a duty to maintain the highest level of cleanliness in the church buildings, so as to mininimise the risk of COVID-19 transmissions.

The Government’s guidance regarding the reopening of places of worship, which includes guidance on the use of toilets, face coverings and the cleaning of buildings among other things, can be found here: https://gov.wales/guidance-reopening-places-worship-coronavirus-html

The Welsh Government has provided template signage which you may find useful. It is available in Welsh, English and multiple other languages. These signs are recommended for use in both indoor and outdoor meetings: https://gov.wales/safety-and-physical-distancing-signs-employers-coronavirus

In-person gatherings

Similarly to before the fire-break’, churches can again be reopened for public worship services. Whilst there is no limit on the number of people who can attend an indoor meeting, it is subject to the capacity of the building as you maintain a two-metre physical distance between households. 

Anyone experiencing COVIDsymptoms should not attend a place of worship, and whilst shielding is no longer in force, it is advised that those who are vulnerable and in this category seek medical advice before attending a place of worship. 

Both weddings and funerals are allowed to take place, where they are attended on an invitation basis only. Again, there isn’t a limit on the number of people who can attend these services, for it is subject to the capacity of the building whilst maintaining a distance of two metres between households. 

If at all possible, full immersion baptisms should be avoided. However, if essential, the use of a baptistery should follow the same guidance as swimming pools. Only one baptism should be allowed per session, after which the water should be drained and the baptistery cleaned. To comply with physical distancing guidance, baptisms should either be by self-immersion (self-immersion means only the candidate should be in the baptistery or pool and not touched by anyone unless they are from the same household) or undertaken by a member of their household.

Singing

Whilst the Welsh Government has made slight changes to the rulings concerning singing in places of worship, congregational singing should still not take place indoors. Likewise, woodwind and brass instruments and chanting are advised against. If appropriate, worshippers can read hymns, songs, prayers or other texts in a lowered voice. 

Places of worship are now permitted to have up to six singers as part of an organised and consistent group. These groups should remain fixed, who rehearse and perform together, and maintain a two-metre distance between each singer. If you are unable to maintain a two-metre distance between singers, a larger group of this kind cannot be formed.

Singing and playing music outdoors is allowed; however, it must be as part of an organised activity, therefore adhering to the maximum limit of 30 people, keeping a two-metre distance between households, and volumes being kept low wherever possible.

A full list of specific risk assessments for organised groups who are singing or playing musical instruments are available here, in the fifth chapter.

Food and drink

Distributing food or drink (consumables) should be avoided except where they are integral to the worship or religious or belief ceremony. If it is necessary to handle consumables during a ceremony then those giving and receiving the item should wash their hands before and after exchange and avoid contact. Where possible a distance of two metres should be maintained. Utensils must not be shared between people.

This guidance should also be followed for outdoor worship. More information and guidance can be found in the seventh section.

Youth and children activities

Places of worship are able to provide supervised activities for children up to the age of 18. These can include activities such as​Sunday schools and children’s services. With the exception of the relaxed rules for children under 11, these supervised activities are subject to the same guidance mentioned previously concerning hand washing, singing, food and cleaning. 

Small/​Home groups and pastoral work

People should not gather indoors with anyone who is not a member of their household or extended household unless they have a good reason. Up to two households (usually family or close friends) may join together to form an extended household whereby meeting inside is possible. Once formed, these extended households can’t be changed. However, meeting outdoors is permitted.

Whilst not able to meet in each other’s homes, the Welsh Government has announced that community centres will be open for small groups to attend indoor activities. The limit for these groups is 15 people.

Church leaders should avoid entering other people’s homes for pastoral care; however, they are permitted if deemed absolutely necessary. It is also allowed if the in-person meeting is for a compassionate reason.

Face coverings

Places of worship are indoor public places and so the requirements will apply there as in other public places. We consider that those leading worship or a ceremony may have a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering if they cannot effectively do so while wearing one, as long as they have taken sufficient precautions such as staying continually over two metres away from others and/​or wearing a visor. Please check with your particular denomination and/​or church ahead of a service to avoid embarrassment. 

Coverings at a wedding

Guests will need to wear face coverings, but given the importance to couples of the ceremony and the level of risk involved, we consider it is reasonable for the couple to remove their coverings for a kiss, for taking vows and for a​first dance, as long as other measures are in place to protect people attending the ceremony from the risk of contracting coronavirus (e.g. guests staying 2 metres away from the couple at all times).

If you have any further questions, please see the recent government guidelines in full here.