THE Bishops have issued new guidance on how to conduct weddings, funerals, and baptisms safely when churches reopen and the Government eases its restrictions.
The draft guidelines were released by the House of Bishops Covid-19 recovery group on Friday, to allow clerics to prepare for when occasional services and individual prayer can resume in church buildings. It is thought that such services will precede ordinary church worship.
For all three types of service, the documents state, clergy should keep a safe distance from others, including during planning meetings and pastoral visits to families in their homes. They must observe strict personal hygiene, and avoid the use and exchange of items such as hymn or prayer books. Congregations will need to observe strict social distancing and avoid physical contact.
For infant baptisms, the priest is advised not to take the child from its parents at any point. For weddings, it says, the priest does not have to touch the rings to bless them. Despite recent evidence to the contrary, the guidance also advises against singing.
Orders of service are permitted, but should be taken away by the congregation or otherwise disposed of. At weddings, “those signing the register should sanitise their hands before signing, complete all the signatures necessary for them, and then sanitise them again.”
Clergy should “sensitively” advise families in all cases that numbers at services may be restricted; and they have a responsibility to inform the congregation should a vulnerable person be present. As in earlier advice, video streaming should be offered where possible when the congregation size is restricted and for congregants who are shielding at home.
A complete video-conferencing wedding is ruled out, however: “It is not currently possible under English law for a wedding to take place using video conferencing technology without the couple, priest and witnesses being physically present.”
The draft guidance states: “If a couple want to cancel their wedding, the statutory fees will not be payable and must be refunded in full if already paid. Alternatively, they might wish to postpone their wedding to a mutually convenient date.”
The guidance also covers church cleaning: “Parishes should ensure that processes are in place to allow a suitable time to appropriately clean the area in which the service has taken place both before and after each service, paying attention to frequently touched objects and surfaces, using regular cleaning products.”
An introductory statement warns that the documents are for planning purposes only at this stage, and may be subject to change in line with any future government updates.
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who chairs the recovery group, explained: “The purpose of sharing this guidance is to be as ready as possible for a time when the risk has lowered sufficiently to resume some activities in our church buildings. While, of course, the Church is not a building, for many people our sacred spaces are very significant — and we look forward to a time when it is safe for them once again to become meeting places for worship, prayer and all they do to serve and bless their communities.
“We will continue to work with the Government to ensure that we can begin to reopen our places of worship in a phased way as soon as it is deemed safe and practical to do so, and hope that these resources will be of use to worshipping communities as they prepare for this time.”
The Government announced last week that shops would be permitted to reopen, with measures in place, from the 15 June. Bishops were among others to complain that places of worship have not yet been included.