The Government has announced measures aimed at reducing the spread of coronavirus. How can we respond as the church, how can we help people stay healthy, and how can we be a witness for Jesus at this time?

UPDATED — 12 May 2020 – this page will be updated to reflect the most recent guidance.

On Sunday, 10 May 2020 the UK Government announced minor changes to the lock down imposed in March to tackle the spread of coronavirus. Many of the small changes introduced only apply in England with the devolved administrations responsible for regulations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The leaders of these nations have reiterated that most of the regulations remain in place. 

In England there is an increased emphasis on going to work if you cannot work from home which means the focus on staying at home has been eased. Concerns remain about the practicality of both working and travelling to work in a socially distanced manner.

In each of the four nations of the UK there has been an easing of the rules on leaving the home for exercise. It is no longer restricted to once, which was never required in the legislation, and each nation has slightly different nuances to what is permitted. 

There are also changes in England and Wales allowing garden centres to open if safe to do so and municipal facilities such as recycling centres. 

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all maintained the core message of Stay at Home’, while in England this has shifted to Stay at Home’.

Across the UK most retail remains closed, with the latest guidance setting an aim of incrementally reopening in England from 1 June, along with an increased opening of schools. 

Government guidance

Advice for people demonstrating symptoms of coronavirus, primarily a high fever and a new and persistent cough, remains the same. You are to self-isolate for seven days if living alone, and if living with other people you and those you live with are to self-isolate for 14 days. Self-isolation means no contact with anyone outside the house, and not leaving your house or garden even if you are not in contact with other people. Where at all possible it is encouraged that other people collect any shopping and this is left outside the property.

The Government has announced support for employees who are furloughed from their employment and further announcements about this scheme for after June 2020 are expected iminently.

Churches are still required to be closed to the public, including for private personal prayer. In the revised government plan they are listed among venues that may, circumstances determining, be able to reopen from 4 July at the earliest.

The Government has announced that people entering the UK will be required to quarantine on arrival, however, this is not yet in place and it is expected that there will be an exception for arrivals from Ireland and France. 

Government and NHS links

Advice for church gatherings

From Sunday, 22 March, many churches across the UK have moved their services online, and church activities such as Alpha and small groups are following suit. Following the latest government measures this is advice is still in place for all gatherings. 

In the recovery road map published 11 May, churches and other places of worship are listed as included within Step 3 of the reopening schedule which will not happen until 4 July at the earliest. The government’s intention is to allow small scale wedding services from 1 June. These dates are dependent on the rate of infection and number of cases reducing sufficiently and safe practices being put in place. 

For the health of our congregations, our communities and our country, the advice for churches not to meet remains in place. This affects not only Sunday services but all gatherings, regardless of their size. This is not only following good advice to limit the spread of coronavirus, but is a legal requirement. 

There are a number of ways churches can operate online and care will be required to ensure they do not compromise the spirit and letter of the Government’s measures. The safest option is for contributors to either record content or broadcast live from their own houses. If filming or streaming content from your church can be done simply, this would also be an acceptable approach. Government guidance says:

A minister of religion or worship leader may leave their home to travel to their place of worship. A place of worship may broadcast an act of worship, whether over the internet or otherwise.” 

The government have clarified to the Evangelical Alliance that a minister of religion’ can include lay leaders, and volunteer camera operators and technicians can be included assuming they maintain appropriate social distance. The number of people involved should be kept to an absolute minimum and if travel and bringing people together can be avoided this is preferable.

Over the next few weeks we will start to draw together advice and guidance for how to meet again once it is allowed, and we will continue to engage with the government to ensure that churches are not restricted more than is necessary.

With churches not meeting physically on Sundays, how can you still support one another and witness to your community?

A group of church communications professionals have put together resources to help churches with their activities now they are not meeting physically together – this regularly updated document is available here.

In the light of the current guidance, pastoral visits to people in self-isolation should not take place in person, and phone and video calls should be used where possible. While not explicitly mentioned pastoral visits to those who are not self-isolating should be avoided as this is likely to be considered non-essential contact beyond your household. Make use of phone and video calls to provide support for your congregation, and possibly a letter through the door on your daily walk. 

The only further exception for the usage of church buildings is for the continuation of essential services such as food banks or homeless shelters.

Encouraging a Christian witness in a time of fear

Our lives have changed dramatically over the last few months. They have changed how we operate as churches, how we work, and how we live. We have seen situations that many never expected to see in their lifetime, the shortage of food, the queues to access supermarkets, the fear among many of leaving their homes. 

As well as helping churches and Christians navigate the immediate consequences on a personal and church wide level, we also want to provoke each other about what the future holds. We want to be an non-anxious presence that points to Jesus and makes him known in our world.

The Evangelical Alliance’s weekly Coronavirus Conversations dig into some of these issues, and we’re regularly posting thought leadership articles on our coronavirus hub.