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Guidance for churches during a time of mourning

09 September 2022

Bells to toll, books of condolence opened, and approved liturgical resources published

Church in Wales

The flag of St David’s Cathedral in Wales is flown at half mast on Thursday night

The flag of St David’s Cathedral in Wales is flown at half mast on Thursday night

CHURCHES are being encouraged to ring muffled bells today [Friday] for an hour at noon to mark the death of the Queen. Flags are to be flown at half mast, and to remain at this height until the day after the funeral, apart from on the day of proclamation, Saturday.

Official guidance, issued on Thursday evening jointly by Lambeth and Bishopthorpe Palaces, provides a detailed framework for parishes. Dioceses have also issued advice, to ensure a choreographed response during the coming days.

Churches and cathedrals have been asked to prepare for an influx of visitors seeking solace. “It is expected that the death of Her Majesty the Queen will be a time of significant national mourning and parish churches will play a key role in the life of the nation,” says the guidance.

Churches are asked to hold an informal service of reflection “as soon as it is practical to do so”. The guidance reminds parishes of the need to carry out risk assessments in the light of the continued threat of Covid, and suggests offering online or hybrid alternatives.

A national service of prayer and reflection will be held at St Paul’s Cathedral at 6 p.m. today. Two thousand seats will be allocated to the public on a first come, first served basis. The service will be broadcast on the BBC. The Prime Minister Liz Truss and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan are expected to attend.

Approved liturgical resources are available on the Church of England website. Orders of service and structures for public worship and prayer at home are provided, including prayers for use at Morning and Evening Prayer, Holy Communion during the period of mourning, a service of prayer and reflection, and a commemoration service that could be used as a vigil before the funeral. The resources include suggestions for suitable hymns and musical settings. There is also guidance on leading school assemblies.

Public online books of condolence have been opened on both the Royal Family and the Church of England websites.

Cathedrals will be open for prayer and for people to light candles and sign books of condolence throughout the official period of mourning, and it is expected that many parish churches will follow suit. There is also an online option on the Church of England website. Clergy are asked to work with the local authorities to identify sites for the laying of flowers, and for their eventual disposal.

Sunday worship this weekend is expected to continue as normal, although parishes “may wish to review their plans for services”, says the guidance. On Sunday afternoon, bells will be rung again at 4 p.m. in celebration of the accession of King Charles. On this occasion they should be unmuffled, before returning to muffling until the day of the state funeral.

The funeral is expected to be held on Monday 19 September at Westminster Abbey. Cathedrals will hold civic services during the weekend beforehand, and parishes are also invited to consider putting on a special service. On the day itself, parishes are invited to toll muffled bells immediately before the funeral service begins.

According to the guidance, weddings, funerals and baptisms may continue as planned through the national period of mourning, although “particular sensitivity” should be shown when considering any planned to take place on the day of the funeral.

Similar arrangements are being put in place for churches in the Church in Wales. Bells would be muffled, books of condolence opened, and special evensongs were due to be held on Friday. Read the full guidance for Welsh churches here.

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