THE prospect of large “bubbles” formed from three households over Christmas is giving churches a new challenge as they plan services.
New Church of England guidance, based on the latest government guidance on places of worship, states that, while church buildings may reopen after lockdown, and worship may resume in all three tiers, how many people may attend and how this is to be safely managed must be decided locally according to the capacity of clergy and their buildings.
The partial lifting of government restrictions on mixing, allowed during the five days from 23 December, mean that churches that have become used to seating individuals and single households at two-metre distances are contemplating the influx of larger groups.
The new C of E guidance contains tips on how services and events might be managed during the five days of lifted restrictions. “You should ensure that the possibility of larger groups attending has been included in your risk assessment. Bear in mind that there is no requirement to ensure Christmas bubbles sit together, only that they do not interact with anyone outside their bubble.” A system of alternate pews, for example, should not be altered.
In the smallest church buildings, the clergy and churchwardens will have to make the difficult decision to restrict numbers on Christmas Day — by ticketing or first-come-first-in — or holding multiple services to cater for more people. Most cathedrals are offering ticketed services over Christmas.
The new guidance continues: “Where it is possible to do so, using a booking and seat-allocation system will help to ensure that different Christmas bubbles and households can stay 2m apart from each other. Let everyone know that attendance must be booked and, if applicable, that they should expect to sit in designated areas.” The free online system Eventbrite is recommended.
“If you do not have a booking system, consider how you will manage if larger groups turn up and there is not space to accommodate them. Good signage, a defined waiting area (which might be outside), and a way of counting people into your church will all help.” Basic hygiene practices should also be considered in this case.
Now that congregations are permitted to sing outdoors, carol services are also being rethought. In normal times, larger parishes and groups of parishes may hold dozens of carol services connected to local schools and organisations. A list of “top tips” on holding outdoor carol services has also been published on the C of E website.
These include choosing the “safest, most accessible” space for everyone, and completing a church risk assessment, or a statutory one if the space is not a church or churchyard. “The Government has encourage those attending to be seated where possible, so you could invite people to bring their own seating.”
It also suggests finding an outdoor sound system, speakers, and extra lights “for atmosphere”. Carol sheets should be avoided, it says: “Make words available for people to view on a phone or print off at home.”
Brevity is also advised for both the service and readings, as is dressing warmly.