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C of E offered guidance for end of Covid Plan B

25 January 2022

‘Incumbents should feel empowered to make locally appropriate decisions’


Ely Cathedral’s voluntary choir, the Ely Cathedral Octagon Singers

Ely Cathedral’s voluntary choir, the Ely Cathedral Octagon Singers

THE common cup can be used once again at holy communion, although, “given continued potential risks to health”, it remains permissible for the eucharistic president to be the only one to receive the consecrated wine, updated C of E guidance on Covid-19 says.

The guidance was issued on Tuesday by the House of Bishops Covid-19 Recovery Group to take into account the lifting of Plan B restrictions in England, on Thursday (27 January). The restrictions came into force in December in response to the threat of the omicron variant (News, 10 December).

The guidance says that England is moving towards “an endemic situation” in which emergency measures are not required. But its guidance — in line with government departments and public health bodies — makes it clear that places of worship may bring in optional precautions based on their own risk assessment.

This guidance emphasises what churches “could” do rather than “should” do. It describes church leaders as “navigating their local situations”. Incumbents should feel empowered to make “locally appropriate decisions, including taking different approaches to different types of services and events where the risks may vary”.

Good communication is the key to managing expectations around large gatherings, it says. “It is strongly urged that the approach to differences of opinion is above all pastoral and that the help and support of senior pastors is sought if and when that is helpful.” The guidance reinforces the continuing emphasis on good hygiene and ventilation to help reduce the spread of the virus.

Church buildings can now open as visitor attractions. Singing and musical performances of all kinds are allowed, including congregational singing, and choirs and worship groups can perform without legal limitations. But the guidance warns of the risks of these “particle-generating” activities in poorly ventilated spaces where people are in close contact, and advises additional precautions in those situations.

There are no limits on the number of people, including choirs or any other amateur performance groups, who can gather indoors or outdoors. Bell-ringing is not restricted by social distancing rules. The NHS Covid pass is no longer mandatory for any event.

While clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) people no longer need to shield, churches should consider how they can provide for the needs of this group, which may include clergy, lay leaders, and PCC members, as well as members of congregations and visitors, the guidance says. Clergy, the guidance suggests, “may wish to discuss with their Bishop or Archdeacon the best way to proceed given their specific circumstances”.

Steps that can be taken to provide a safe and accessible space include continuing with online service provision, in addition to in-person services; providing alternative means to access shared materials such as orders of service and prayer cards; “zoning” spaces to allow those who wish to continue social distancing to do so; and providing “some services which retain aspects of previous guidance such as no congregational singing, full social distancing, no shared materials and so on”.

Places of worship are not legally required to display a request, or ask people, to register for NHS Test and Trace, or to display the QR code. “You may still choose to display the QR code to offer people the chance to check in but you do not have to, and you cannot insist on people registering.” It is neither a requirement, and “nor is it appropriate”, to ask people whether they have been vaccinated.

Two full pages of the new guidance are devoted to holy communion, with the emphasis that this is guidance, not instruction: “Where either ministers or members of congregations have concerns about participating in a service of Holy Communion, it is important that no pressure is placed on the priest to preside at Holy Communion or on parishioners to receive the Sacrament.”

Face covering comes down to a matter of choice. The president and other ministers should consider wearing them, especially in confined spaces such as the sacristy, and “some suggestions for [their] use by the congregation, especially around the time of receiving Communion, could be posted in the church.” Churches should consider a policy of how to share the Peace. There is precise detail about the administration itself, with a reminder that reservation of holy communion is regulated by law.

Numbers at the occasional offices, such as weddings, baptisms, and funerals, are not regulated by law, but potentially by the pre-pandemic capacity of the building, the guidance says. It continues: “However, there is an expectation by Government that people act responsibly in indoor spaces, particularly where large numbers of people are involved.”

A risk assessment may be taken to identify which additional measures — such as restricting numbers, or limiting or avoiding singing by the congregation — would be most helpful, and provide a clear rationale for decisions taken. But the guidance says: “The incumbent may refuse to take those services they are not legally obliged to take, if they are not comfortable in taking them. They could also seek alternative ministerial cover for any service where they would feel put at risk in taking it themselves.”

The guidance contains advice on holding social, community, and fund-raising events safely. There are no longer any restrictions on serving food and drink, and people do not have to be seated in their households, or bubbles, to eat and drink. Cafés can reopen with no restrictions in place, although government recommendations on face coverings in crowded and close contact settings should be taken into account.

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who chairs the Recovery Group, described the two years of the pandemic as a very challenging time, and thanked front-line workers and parishes.

“People have made huge sacrifices to protect one another — not only those they know and love, but strangers they might never meet,” she said. “We’ve learnt again as society, something of what it means to love our neighbour, as Jesus taught.

“And it has certainly not been without cost. The loneliness and isolation many have experienced; the impact on people’s mental health; the lost jobs and failed businesses and strained relationships must not be overlooked.

“Yet, terrible as the toll from this virus has been, and continues to be, the actions people have taken have saved lives and prevented countless infections, with all the potential long-term consequences that could go with them. We may never know what good has been done.”

She advised: “We must continue to be cautious. In our churches, government rules have been eased, but I would still encourage congregations to consider what mitigation can best protect others.”

Read the updated guidance here


Forthcoming Events

2 July 2022
Bringing Down the Mighty: Church, Theology and Structural Injustice
With Anthony Reddie, Azariah France-Williams, Mariama Ifode-Blease, Luke Larner, Will Moore, Stewart Rapley and Victoria Turner.

4-8 July 2022
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From HeartEdge and St Augustine’s College of Theology.

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