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Face coverings ‘strongly advised’ as more churches prepare to reopen

24 July 2020

Bishop of Manchester remembers ‘sacrifice’ of frontline workers

Diocese of Winchester

Volunteers at the Above Bar Church, Southampton, distribute meals to people across the city

Volunteers at the Above Bar Church, Southampton, distribute meals to people across the city

PRIESTS, worshippers, staff, volunteers, and any other persons entering Church of England churches and cathedrals should wear a face covering from tomorrow, Church House has confirmed.

New guidance on face coverings was published on the C of E website on Thursday, and other documents, including on weddings, baptisms, and funerals, have been updated to reflect this.

It states: “We strongly advise that face coverings should be worn by all those attending a place of worship, including ministers, worshippers, staff, volunteers, contractors and visitors, where there may be other people present; remembering that they are mainly intended to protect other people, not the wearer, from coronavirus Covid-19 and that they are not a replacement for physical distancing and regular hand washing.”

In line with government advice, children under 11 and people with disabilities or certain health conditions are exempt. The church guidance on face coverings does not mention holy communion, but states that masks can also be removed “to eat or drink, but only if you need to”, as well as to take medication and avoid distress or injury.

The Government announced last week that face coverings, either a mask, a fabric covering, scarf, or bandana, would be compulsory in all shops and supermarkets in England from 24 July; wearing face masks in Places of Worship was “encouraged” (News, 17 July).

On Thursday, just 24 hours before the news rules came into effect, the Government announced that face coverings would be compulsory in all enclosed spaces, including indoor shopping centres, transport hubs, banks, and post offices, and when buying takeaway food and drink. Restaurants, pubs, and gyms are exempt. Wearing face masks on public transport has been mandatory since June.

People who did not comply with the new rules could be fined up to £100. Since face coverings in places of worship is only advisory, there is no question of any fine for non-compliance.

Last week, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, led a socially distanced memorial service in his cathedral for coronavirus victims. The levels of sacrifice required of frontline workers during the past months “must not become a feature of the future”, he declared. He described the service as “a small step” to saying that coronavirus victims’ “lives count, and the loss of them matters to us”. An online book of remembrance was launched. 

In Scotland, churches reopened this week for their first public services since March, for congregations of up to 50. In England, singing and chanting, however, are restricted, and the contact details of all those present must be collected beforehand. In response to some churchgoers’ reluctance to return, the Scottish Episcopal Church’s advisory group has released a video indicating what to expect. It can be watched on Facebook and YouTube.

Churches in Wales have also been allowed to reopen since last Sunday if they can abide by safety regulations, which include two-metre distancing and cleaning protocols. A coronavirus safety assessment must be completed beforehand.

In Northern Ireland, St Mary’s, Ardmore, in Derry, closed its doors again after two parishioners, a married couple, announced last Friday that they had contracted the virus. They had been at a service in the church in the days before they tested positive.

The Evangelical Alliance’s Changing Church survey, carried out in May, found that 59 per cent of the church leaders who responded had seen an increase in interest in the Christian faith since the beginning of the lockdown. At two-thirds of the churches surveyed, however, there were concerns about a loss of income, and at one quarter, a worry about not being able to pay staff.

The president of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, Simon Linford, wrote a blog post this month expressing frustration that bell-ringers were being asked at the last minute not to ring, although the council had worked closely with the Church of England Recovery Group to put in safety measures to allow bells to be rung again. Since then, the council has said that “some towers are now able to hold restricted ringing in one form or another,” and is encouraging those who can to ring for the 75th anniversary of VJ Day on 15 August.

Last Sunday morning, the bells of Southwark Cathedral rang out for the first time since March. Only six of the cathedral’s ring of 12 were used, to comply with social-distancing guidelines.

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