The Catholic bishops have updated their Covid guidance for churches following the decision to lift “Plan B” measures tomorrow.
The new guidance represents an almost total return to pre-pandemic practice, with holy water stoups, hymn books, missals and other worship aids restored. People can also offer the sign of the peace again.
The bishops of England and Wales, who met yesterday to discuss their response, say that while anyone who wishes can continue to wear a face mask, they can also choose not to.
In addition, pews can be occupied as they were before the pandemic and any tape can be taken down. “There is no need for formal social distancing in church buildings, although those present should be sensitive to the needs of others around them,” the guidelines state. “Churches should continue to ensure there is good ventilation, balancing this against the need for church heating, especially at this time.”
While it is still “good practice” to sanitise hands on entry and exit of churches, there is no need any more for readers or other ministers to sanitise their hands before reading or performing other ministries in the church, although all ministers of Holy Communion should still sanitise their hands for the distribution.
Holy water stoups may be refilled, but care should be seen that the water is changed regularly, at a minimum of once a week, the bishops say.
Holy Communion must continue to be given under one kind only for the time being and congregational singing may continue, although the bishops do request “general encouragement” to wear face coverings while singing.
The guidance for churches document recognises that the vaccine programme in England and Wales has had a major impact in reducing death and serious illness from infection with Covid-19. “The Church in England and Wales supports the vaccination programme and encourages people to be vaccinated.” The bishops also say: “Alongside the positive effects of Covid vaccination, it should be stressed that any people displaying symptoms of Covid-19 should stay at home and not participate in acts of worship in church.”
Parish social activities can resume and home visits can continue or begin again if they had been suspended.
The Church of England also updated its guidance, stating that the responsibility for making decisions about how to proceed lies with the incumbent. “Singing and musical performances of all kinds are allowed in churches, including congregational singing, and choirs and worship groups can perform without legal limitations.” Bellringing is no longer restricted by social distancing rules and there are no limits on the number of people, including choirs or any other amateur performance groups, who can gather indoors or outdoors.
The Church of Enland adds: “Places of worship are not legally required to display or ask people to register for NHS Test and Trace.”
In addition, the Anglican guidance says: “It is not a requirement, nor is it appropriate, to ask people if they have been vaccinated.”
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