C of E issues emergency guidance on conduct of baptisms, weddings, and funerals

19 March 2020

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BAPTISMS, weddings, and funerals can still go ahead, but must be “very significantly scaled back”, says new Church of England guidance.

The guidance from Church House, Westminster, confirms that baptisms, weddings, and funerals can still go ahead, but that only small numbers should be present. Those over the age of 70 and those with an underlying health condition are “strongly discouraged from attending in the present circumstances”.

For funerals, “immediate family” should be invited; for baptisms, the candidate, the candidate’s parents, guardians, or carers, godparents, and the minister only should be present; and for weddings the priest, bride, bridegroom, and two witnesses. No personnel, such as vergers or organists, should be present.

The guidance states that meetings held before the service should be conducted by phone or online, and suggests that technology could be deployed to enable those unable to be physically present to join the service via an online link. Recordings of the service and Orders of Service could also be sent out.

The guidance on weddings reassures couples that, “if you wish to rearrange your day, we will do everything we can to help you do so.” Any fees or deposit paid to the church will be refunded in full. For couples who wish to go ahead, but the reading of whose banns in public worship has not been completed, a Common Licence or Special Licence can be sought.

Families are advised that, during baptism, a parent, guardian, or carer will be asked to hold the infant throughout the service. The priest should use a shell or similar implement to pour the water, and the person holding the infant should be asked to wipe the child’s forehead with paper towels, which can then be thrown away.

Communal Bibles and other items should not be used, and baptismal candles should be handled by one person only. The application of oil and signing of the cross should be done using an implement that avoids the need for direct physical contact. Baptism by immersion should not take place.

An accompanying press release states: “Incumbents have an obligation to baptise the children of parishioners and in cases such as where a child is in danger cannot delay doing so. However, the guidance acknowledges that families may wish to postpone a baptism and encourages clergy to help rearrange as an appropriate time.”

For weddings, the advice is that “the priest does not have to touch the rings to bless them, nor does he or she have to touch the couple’s hands as part of a prayer or blessing, so it is possible for the service to proceed as normal.” Apart from the couple themselves, everyone else should observe a social distance as far as possible.

On Thursday, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said: “Couples and parents, friends and families will have been planning for months, even years for their special moment, whether a wedding or a christening.

“Now it can go ahead — but with only the minimum required in attendance. You may need to cancel or postpone.

“Whatever decision is made, God’s love and blessing will still surround all those who would have been there that day.

“Prayers will still be offered, and there will be a special day to look forward to in the future.

“We encourage those who would have been there to hold couples and families in their prayers, and pray that everyone will know God’s love is holding them at this time.”

An accompanying blog by the Archbishops’ Council’s Head of Life Events, the Revd Dr Sandra Millar, includes suggested prayers for couples weighing up whether to go ahead with their wedding, and for family members unable to attend.

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