As of 10th December 2021, masks must be worn indoors at all church services (unless you are exempt). See below previous notice from leadership, most of which still applies.
Risk Assessment for Services of Worship in Church from July 2021
As you know, from 19th July 2021 the Government removed most of the coronavirus legislation affecting churches. It is the responsibility of the Incumbent and PCC to respond to this change in the law, assessing local risks and providing guidelines for safe public worship following the recommendations of the Church of England.
Some people are looking forward to freedom from covid rules, particularly the freedom to sing hymns again and an end to use of masks. But we are only too aware that despite widespread vaccinations covid has not gone away and cases are rising nationally and locally. Whilst we want to get back to normal, many of us are still anxious about the risk of infection and some of our congregations have requested that sensible coronavirus precautions should be retained. As Christian people, members of the body of Christ, we will continue to be sensitive to each other’s needs, aware that some might still prefer to social distance and wear masks, even though the law no longer insists on this. The clergy will still need to don their masks at times, especially when preparing communion. Because they have contact with many people, we need to help keep our clergy safe so that they are free to minister and care for others, especially the highly vulnerable.
Therefore, as good Anglican congregations responding to this dilemma, we favour the middle way, urging caution to protect the vulnerable whilst using common sense to lift restrictions where appropriate. Each PCC will feel strongly in different ways. So let us look again at what we have been doing over the last year or so and see what is worth holding on to for the good of God’s people.
A reminder of our Team covid-safe practice:
After the third lockdown at Easter 2021, we re-introduced services in the Team providing Risk Assessments written by each PCC. We kept churches clean, especially paying attention to contact-points, like door handles, providing hand sanitiser at church doors as people arrive and as they leave, a QR Code sign and sign-in list to track people in the case of an infection. Where possible a one-way system has been encouraged, with doors open for ventilation and social distancing encouraged by blocking off pews etc. Worship spaces and service books were quarantined for 72 hours after use. Members of the congregations were required to wear masks by law. Hymn-singing has been banned apart from where a small choir of no more than six could lead, well set apart from the congregation. When preaching and leading, clergy and lay leaders needed to be aware of the use of their voices, particularly the direction of any air droplets when speaking and their proximity to members of the congregation.
These risk-assessed precautions against possible covid infection seem to have been highly effective. Therefore, even though the law has changed giving new freedom, we believe it makes good sense to keep most of these guidelines in place until the covid cases go down.
But what about those who would like to sing hymns in church again? Can we remove our masks for singing, or should we wear them when we sing? A scientist who is a member of our Team Council Sub-committee writes:
Despite the change in the law, the risks remain unchanged, so any risk-assessment-based approach should lead to the same control measures as before. Indeed, the risks will be increasing as the number of coronavirus infections climbs in the population.
I strongly recommend keeping all measures that we currently have in place. Weakening or removing any of them is contra-indicated at this time.
Whilst vaccination is highly effective at preventing death or serious disease (around 96%, depending on vaccine), it seems only about 40-60% effective at preventing infection.
It is likely that the government will be forced by high rates of hospital admissions to re-impose restrictions around the 3rd week of August, or later, given their previous tendency to delay.
This is a serious scientific and medical caution, and we are grateful for the helpful advice. So, what sort of guidelines are we recommending to PCCs so that we continue to protect our congregations from coronavirus?
Some suggested guidelines to retain good covid restrictions whilst giving new freedom to worship in church:
- Science shows that good ventilation is essential. Continue to keep the church door open for ventilation during services – in cooler weather bring a coat/scarf etc. This will help cut down risks of any virus spreading in the air if we choose to sing in church again.
- Continue to provide hand-sanitiser and QR Code/sign in list whilst cases are increasing.
- Continue to encourage social distancing.
- Although masks are still worn in shops and on public transport, mask wearing is no longer mandatory in church. Although the Government allows for personal discretion in the use of face coverings, in considering the vulnerable church members amongst us, the clergy and Team Council sub-committee strongly encourage churches to retain mask-wearing in church, especially where large numbers are present. We must show sensitivity and respect for those who are careful and anxious about covid. Where there is concern about possible covid infection, the final decision about masks should rest with the Incumbent and the PCC. The New Church of England Guidance (see attached document) on entering step 4 after Government restrictions are removed states that:
Although social distancing measures and face coverings are no longer required by law, the incumbent may still make decisions to retain some or all of these measures if they believe doing so is important for safety in their building, or if they judge that it will help people to feel more secure in returning to worship and other uses of the building. Who makes the decision on what happens in church settings and at events held in church buildings? The responsibility for making decisions about how to proceed lies with the incumbent. This applies to acts of worship, to events run by the PCC or church community, and to decisions on whether to hire out spaces or allow other events to proceed. 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. Your Archdeacon may be able to help if you would appreciate support with this.
- We would like to sing hymns in church again, even though it is still safer to sing outside in the churchyard. Singing in church would be safer if everyone singing wears a mask, and so the clergy strongly advise congregations to sing with face coverings on for the sake of their vulnerable fellow worshippers. Certainly, for bigger services with many attending, we strongly advise the wearing of masks. As our Team Council scientist advised us:
It’s going to be very hard to not make people feel different and put upon if some do and some don’t. The difficulty is that wearing a mask does not protect the wearer, it’s primarily to protect others. So it is not really a personal decision for your benefit, more a decision taken for other people’s benefit – or potential harm.
The doctor on our Team Council sub-committee also added:
My view is that if people wish to sing they should be masked […] we should remember that masking reduces the risk that we pose to others rather than protecting us from the risk others’ pose. You could say that it is a Christian act to mask.
Retaining masks in church might not be our personal choice but seems right in our efforts to support each other. We will see how this goes, listen to the science, and review our practice in the weeks ahead.
- It seems wise that there should be no physical contact by the sharing of the Peace in church, but congregations could share the Peace verbally outside as they leave where the clergy may greet them.
- If people choose not to wear masks in church, they must socialise outside and be careful not to come too close to others before or after services.
- It would be a good idea to continue to sit in family bubbles, including keeping alternate pews empty and give people ‘space’ in pews and space when we are entering or leaving church or lining up for communion.
- Collections: it seems wise to either continue to leave a plate out or to ask a person to offer the plate round, but not to pass it from person to person.
Team guidelines for leading Worship with Holy Communion
At Communion Services we need to continue to take care so that everyone is confident of what to do and how to keep safe. Therefore, the clergy team have devised these protocols, asking all clergy to observe them in every church in The Vale of Pewsey Team, so that everyone is clear about what is expected. We ask that all clergy (and retired or visiting clergy providing cover), Licensed Lay Ministers (LLMs) and Lay Worship Leaders (LWLs), should follow these protocols for keeping our congregations safe. We ask the Churchwardens and PCCs of each church to support the clergy in ensuring these protocols are upheld across the whole Team, so that there is no confusion and no opportunity for the coronavirus infection to spread.
For a Communion Service:
- Until covid cases go down again there should be no physical sharing of the Peace in church.
- Many churches have devised a way of coming to receive communion in a ‘one-way’ system. Congregations approach for Communion in single file, wearing a mask as they get up to go forward a safe distance apart, to receive the wafer standing, and file to the left or right, back to their pew. Where a church is small, it may still be more appropriate for the priest to bring Communion to people in their seats – this is a PCC decision.
- During lockdown our Bishop wisely discouraged use of the chalice and the clergy still think it unsafe for us to offer and drink communion from the common cup. However, where numbers are not too large, the priest may put some of the consecrated wine onto the wafers, so that together we can all receive in both kinds. The Church of England advises against congregational intinction of the wafer in the wine, which has always been an infection risk in the chalice. Theologically, the Church still assures us that even receiving in only one kind, we partake in ‘complete communion’.
- Since the easing of lockdown, Team clergy have provided their own chalice, paten, clean linens and disposable purificators, wafers and wine with water in a small bottle, to protect members of congregation and allow for easier set-up and clear-up.
- PCCs may ask the member of clergy taking a communion service to bring the elements and vessels for communion with them. If prepared locally only one person should prepare the bread and wine, vessels, and linen for communion. They must wear a mask and sanitise their hands before and during the preparation. The vessels and linen must be clean (washed with soap and water, or freshly laundered). The bread should be handled as little as possible and placed in either a covered ciborium or covered with pall or linen cloth.
- The elements/communion wafers for the congregation are to be covered over by a linen purificator during the service and as the priest consecrates them. The host raised and broken by the priest is to be consumed only by the priest.
- The priest must continue to use hand sanitiser, particularly before distribution and to wear a mask when dropping the host into each person’s hands (washing hands before and after touching their mask).
We hope these guidelines are helpful for your PCC and continue to keep our congregations safe from any coronavirus risk. We are most grateful to God for His loving protection and provision of our needs in this time of great change and trouble.
The Team Council sub-committee and clergy team are maintaining awareness of any changes in national Church and Government Guidelines and will review and communicate changes in practice when appropriate. If anyone needs clarification in updating their PCC Risk Assessment or help in keeping to these Team guidelines, please contact:
Deb Larkey, Mark Windsor or Brenda Woodrow at the Team Office
With our prayers and grateful thanks for your help, it is very much appreciated.
Deborah Larkey, Team Rector – 22nd July 2021