COVID-19 Latest Information for Churches
(Published 6 January 2021)
You will undoubtedly be aware of the government’s latest round of announcements, which have culminated in a national lockdown with effect from midnight Monday 4 January 2021. The lockdown supersedes all previous local tiering restrictions, and must be adhered to at all times. A summary of what can and cannot be done during the national lockdown can be found at: National lockdown: Stay at Home - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
A copy of the government’s guidance ‘National lockdown: Stay at Home’ is available for download in the Useful information section on the right of this page. Churches should ensure that congregations have access to and understand the guidance, and follow the restrictions during any services / events held within the church building.
Failure to follow the restrictions may lead to personal and local church prosecution. The police can take action against individuals meeting in larger groups. This could, for example, result in Fixed Penalty Notices of £200 (rising to a maximum of £6,400) and fines of £10,000 for those responsible for holding or being involved in gatherings of over 30 people. Churches should be aware that where breaches of the law occur, any litigation will be the responsibility of the local Pastor (as 'venue manager') and not NEC.
Safe Re-opening of Churches
We took the decision at the start of the lockdown to exercise caution regarding the opening of churches for worship, particularly noting the risks presented to our congregations on the basis of the ethnicity, age and other vulnerable characteristics of many of our members. Clearly this position still remains, and is of particular concern given the uncertainty regarding the current transmission of the virus.
The NEC is maintaining its primary focus on the safety and wellbeing of all congregations, and is therefore advising churches to deter from opening for services other than those deemed essential. This position will remain in place until the situation becomes clearer. Should churches choose to open for services / events, they must commit to and follow all NEC and government guidance, which can be summarised as follows. Churches should:
- determine whether opening is essential and safe, and whether participants are being placed at unnecessary risk;
- follow the national (or local) lockdown restrictions regarding social mixing that apply;
- adhere to the wearing of masks (unless exempted) and social distancing between households at all times whilst in church buildings;
- complete written risk assessments with sufficient measures in advance of every occasion that the church building is planned to be open;
- ensure the contact details of all individuals attending any service / event are captured and made available if requested by test and trace services; and
- follow strict government guidelines on how services are to be conducted as outlined in the places of worship guidance: COVID-19: guidance for the safe use of places of worship and special religious services and gatherings during the pandemic - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Wedding, funeral, and baptismal services, the provision of essential voluntary services for vulnerable people (e.g. hot meals, food banks), and the broadcasting or filming of worship services are all permitted to take place providing restrictive conditions are strictly maintained. The safekeeping of service / event participants must be ensured (i.e. the mingling with anyone outside of households or support bubbles is prevented, and strict social distancing is maintained at all times).
Churches should note that given the increased stringency of government guidelines and legal restrictions, new risk assessments will need to be completed where churches are wishing to open for services / events. This will ensure that all new government expectations are met, and that there is documented evidence of this should it be requested. Risk assessments should be reviewed regularly to ensure they remain accurate and sufficient. Churches can amend previously completed risk assessments for this purpose. A template risk assessment document is also provided in the Useful information section on the right of this page.
Further updates will be provided on this webpage as developments continue to be announced. Churches should also regularly check and familiarise themselves with the content of GOV.uk webpages, and local tiering information that may be published, sharing these with their local congregations.