PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF WALES
The General Assembly Board

Preparing to worship together in our buildings

Updated on 31/07/2020

Introduction

i. Meeting together with brothers and sisters in Christ is central to Christian life and a primary expression of church as the family of God. Our inability to meet due to necessary implementation of lockdown restrictions has been a source of much sadness and frustration.

ii. Sunday worship is the beating heart of congregational life. We all want to get back to enjoying being together again in God’s presence for praise, prayer and preaching as soon as we can. However, there are basic considerations that relate particularly to our service of worship to think about before we can recommence. Who will be available to take part and lead worship and who will be available to form the congregation? Is resuming physically-gathered public worship safe and viable yet? If not, do not be afraid to say, ‘this is not yet the right time to resume.’ Leadership means taking the right decisions, even when they are difficult.

iii. The simple instruction to suspend all activities was more straightforward to follow and implement than the gradual return to a variety of church life will be. So, the question of our readiness to begin to gather again will involve many careful considerations about what is possible, responsible, and desirable as some restrictions remain in place.

iv. Each congregation’s circumstances will be different, and they will come to a variety of decisions about what activities to recommence and how quickly. That should be expected and is entirely appropriate. However, the journey towards resumption for every congregation will involve similar stages.

v. It will be wise to take some time to think about what we have learned during the period of lockdown. What are the primary core activities of church life that we need to resume and maintain? Which things that we have always done seem less of a priority going forward? Are there areas in which we have grown in confidence in doing things differently or doing different things?

vi. Not everyone may be able to come back to church activities at the same time. Certain groups may need to remain shielded for longer than others. Do not encourage those who should remain shielded to return to church, even if that means that activities, including public worship, do not resume in your congregation as quickly as you might desire. The age profile of your membership will also be a significant consideration, with an older demographic representing a potential indicator that a return to some activities and gathering for worship should continue on hold.

vii. You will also need to think about how best you can communicate that some things have restarted and the building is now open to regular members, those in organisations and the local community. This may involve using websites, social media, church noticeboards, telephone contact, or socially distanced calls or delivery of updates to members at home.

viii. When you do begin to gather again for any activity and public worship in particular, some additional, or alternative, provision may need to continue to be made for those unable to return immediately. This may involve some of the ways you have been resourcing the congregation during the lockdown, however it will be important not to place too many demands on already busy members as normal patterns of church life begin to return and also need to be resourced. If producing and distributing worship recordings to those still at home, remember that some scientific research suggests that COVID-19 can remain active on metal and plastic surfaces for up to three days and on paper or cardboard for 24 hours. So do implement some basic sanitisation measures for those delivering materials.

ix. Be aware that many older members are likely to be resistant to the idea of staying away from church activities any longer. They may well have missed them the most. Think about how you will emphasise the importance of them following appropriate advice. However, the opposite may also be true with some members anxious about returning and choosing to stay away initially. It will be pastorally wise to consider how to sensitively and patiently build their confidence to come back.

x. It must be made clear that anyone displaying any of the symptoms of COVID-19, or who have been in close contact with any who have displayed symptoms, should not attend church activities under any circumstances. Some of your more vulnerable elders and office-holders may feel under pressure to resume their duties. Be careful to shield them from that danger as well as coronavirus. Do not allow pressure to be exerted upon anyone, even if it means that key people may not be available. This includes those who normally open, close, or clean your building, or who lead in worship.

Resolution

The Executive Committee of the General Assembly Board, following consultations with Presbyteries and reflecting on the responses to the questionnaire at the beginning of June have prepared this document in order to facilitate the reopening of our churches for congregational worship. At its meeting on the 28th of July, it was resolved that we permit reopening with immediate effect, subject to the following:

  1. Each church which wishes to re-commence congregational worship in our buildings must inform Presbytery of their intention, and provide both an outline of when they intend to commence and how they will resource this, and a completed risk assessment base on the template included at the end of this document. 
  2. This intention will need to take in to account the guidance set out in this document, and will need to be approved by the Minister (where the church is in a pastorate) and/or the elders of the church. The local consultation should also involve other members of the church whose contribution will be essential in effecting the decision, (e.g. caretaker, other members who have significant practical responsibilities), as well as the availability of those who would facilitate leading worship. 
  3. Having submitted the above to Presbytery, the Clerk will respond to each church Secretary confirming receipt and filing the documents on behalf of the PCW.  
  4. The Presbytery will not be assessing your approach or risk assessment as each Church may take different approaches to mitigating the additional risks introduced by the pandemic depending on their building, location, usage and membership. The Church Trustees are the only people capable of assessing and managing the risk. 

Although this will allow some churches to open immediately, we anticipate that, in order to make adequate preparations, most churches should not consider being able to reopen until the beginning of September at the earliest. We emphasise that decisions should be made with due regard for the circumstances locally, and subject to the oversight of Presbytery in each case.

As noted in the Government guidelines,

Places of worship play an important role in providing spiritual leadership for many individuals, and in bringing communities together. However, their communal nature also makes them places that are particularly vulnerable to the risk of spreading coronavirus.’

This resolution allows our churches to begin to gather together for worship, while acknowledging that we do so while we continue to live during this pandemic. We will balance our yearning to meet together with our responsibility to ‘love our neighbours’ well during this period by taking all possible precautions to protect and safeguard one another.

This document is framed by the current legislation, our priorities as a Church, and our care for others. In some instances, we will recommend going beyond what is legally required of us, and although this might cause some inconvenience, we are confident that our churches will embrace this as a sign of our willingness to serve well in our communities. The General Assembly Board will continue to follow both the national and local situation as we give permission to follow these guidelines, and adapt them as quickly as possible in light of any changes.

Summary of the main points

  • A ‘cap’ of 30 has been set for weddings and other ‘life event’ services such as baptism and funerals if not conducted during your usual worship services.
  • There is no numerical ‘cap’ on other services, but social distancing and Public Health requirements must be met.
  • The two-metre ‘rule’ applies for public worship except in situations where closer contact cannot be avoided; extra Public Health precautions must then be taken.
  • Consideration should prioritise keeping numbers below the maximum possible to further minimise risk.
  • Wearing of face-coverings in churches in England is obligatory from the 8th of August.  We recommend that face-coverings are also worn in our churches in Wales, particularly in a situation where the two-metre rule could not be met, but they should not be worn by children under 11 years old or other individuals with particular medical conditions. 
  • While those at extra risk and the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’, or specifically those who are ‘shielding’, should be advised not to attend at this time, any decision to do so is theirs alone.
  • Government guidance includes a request for names of attendees to be recorded and kept for 21 days to assist ‘track and trace’ if required.
  • Singing, and playing of brass or woodwind instruments is not permitted.
  • Public worship guidance includes surrounding grounds (including cemeteries, car parks etc).
  • Further Government advice about use of churches and church halls for non-religious activity is expected, specifically for out of school activities, e.g. clubs.
  • In Wales, services/events can be held outside up to a maximum of 30 persons.

Permitted use of our churches for Worship.

The Welsh and UK Government have revised legislation to allow Places of Worship to open for Public Worship.

THIS GUIDANCE IS ISSUED IN ORDER TO HELP CHURCHES LOCALLY TO PREPARE TO OPEN FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP.

IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT OPENING IS NOT MANDATORY.

THE DECISION TO OPEN THE BUILDING WILL LIE WITH THE MINISTER (WHERE THIS IS THE CASE) AND / OR ELDERS, WHO ARE OUR MANAGING TRUSTEES AND WILL BE CONFIRMED BY PRESBYTERY.

AN ASSESSMENT OF THE SUITABILITY OF EACH BUILDING TO COMPLY WITH THE CURRENT GUIDANCE/ REGULATIONS IS REQUIRED.

Below is a summary of the guidance.

‘A place of worship refers to a building used for regular religious ceremonies, communal worship or similar gatherings by religious organisations’. It includes the use of surrounding grounds, for example, adjoining carparks, courtyards or gardens which you own/rent/lease, and for which you are responsible.

There is no limit on the number of attendees for a worship service, however the capacity must be assessed by way of a risk assessment considering social distancing and other factors. (See Risk Assessment at page 16 of this document.)

Marriage, Funerals and Baptisms, which are generally referred to in the guidance as ‘life-event’ services, are limited to a total of 30 attendees, again subject to all 2 metre social distancing requirements. Attendance to these services should be by invite only, if not conducted during your usual worship services.

A risk assessment should be carried out to identify points of high risk in the building and mitigating action. (See Risk Assessment at page 16 of this document.)

Preparing for re-opening your building

 

To ensure the safe opening of buildings for worship as well as Marriages, Funerals and Baptisms, we present the following guidelines. You should ensure that what you expect from the decision on page 4 informs your response to these guidelines.

Preparing to re-open

Airing Buildings

It is advised to open windows and doors for a least an hour to allow airing of the building.

Cleaning

The building should be cleaned prior to opening, all surfaces, especially frequently touched areas, should be cleaned with standard cleaning products. Its recommended to wear suitable protective equipment such as disposal gloves and masks. Any potentially contaminated PPE should be disposed of.

The UK Government advice on cleaning non-medical buildings can be found at

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings

Once opened regular cleaning will be required, with the frequency dependent upon the extent of use and this will need to be assessed by individual churches.

Electrics

Check that the lights, light bulbs, emergency lights, fire alarms, security systems are in good working order.
There is risk of deterioration of portable electrical equipment caused by the damp and possibly mice while the buildings were closed. It is recommended to carefully check all electrical appliances.

Heating

If the heating system was turned off, it is recommended to switch it on in order to check for leaks.

Legionnaires’ disease

Flush through hot and cold-water systems with fresh mains water for a period of 5 minutes.

Larger buildings with more complex systems, such as stored cold water and showers may need more extensive cleaning and disinfectant. Its recommended that they are inspected by a qualified plumber.

Setting the building up to ensure social distancing and Hygiene.

 

Restrictions on capacity

The number of people permitted within the building will have to be assessed to allow 2m social distancing to remain between individuals and households. This of course will depend upon the size and layout of the premises.

In defining the number of people that can reasonably follow 2 metres distancing, the total floorspace as well as likely pinch points and busy areas should be considered (e.g. entrances, exits) and where possible alternative or one-way routes introduced.

The following should be considered in assessing suitability for opening communal worship, Funerals and Marriages.

  • restrict the number of persons in the congregation who attend, so that a safe distance of at least 2 metres (6 ft) can be maintained between individuals.
  • the size and circumstance of the venue will determine the maximum number, that can be accommodated whilst also facilitating social distancing, but numbers should be minimised as far as possible.
  • If possible, have a separate entrance and exit, with a clearly defined one-way route through the building. This can be indicated with directional signage, floor markings, – the more complex the route the more signage will be required.

Therefore:

  • What is the Maximum capacity of building to allow social distancing?
  • Can Separate Entry and exits be provided to alleviate pinch points?
  • How could you introduce a 1-way system to allow free flow of people?
  • Should floor markings be provided to emphasise 2m social distancing?
  • Is it practicable to close off pews and limiting use of individual pews to individuals or households?
  • Can you provide and locate antibacterial hand gel at point of entry, and exit?
  • Is access available to hand washing facilities with paper towels and receptacle for disposal?
  • Could the building be opened with these systems without being discriminatory to any individual or group
  • Would stewards be required?
  • Signs etc – Signage can be purpose made by the chapels, although laminated signs are preferable. They are available from local sign makers/printers, or nationally from one of the following.

Safety Box UK. https://safetybox.co.uk/coronavirus-covid-19-signs/

Dragon Signs Ltd. https://dragonsigns.com/ppe-products.html

Safety Hazard tape for restricting area can be sourced locally or from the following national suppliers:

Tool Station. https://www.toolstation.com/

Screw Fix. https://www.screwfix.com/

Barriers Direct. https://www.barriersdirect.co.uk/

Bilingual signage is available. Please contact Hedd Morgan ([email protected]) for any help with sourcing these products.

With respect to particular services, we include the following:

Funerals:
Only the following should attend, up to a maximum of 30 attendees, alongside the Funeral Director, any Chapel Attendant, and funeral staff:

  • members of the deceased’s household
  • close family members
  • or if the above are unable to attend, close friends
  • attendance of the Minister of choice or an alternative individual to lead the service.

Marriages, Baptisms and other Stand-alone services.
Maximum of 30 attendees includes all those at the ceremony, including the couple, witnesses, Minister and guests. It also includes any individuals who are not employed by the church, which may include photographers, caterers, stewards etc.

 

Hygiene

Provision of Hand Gel at both entrance and exit should be provided and signage advising it to be used as a condition of entry.

Touch free dispensers are available from local suppliers or nationally from the following.

PPEOnline Shop, https://theppeonlineshop.co.uk/

Tork Ltd. https://www.tork.co.uk/

Astral Hygiene ltd. https://www.astralhygiene.co.uk/

Taping off alternative pews should be considered to ensure social distancing.

Ideally the toilet facilities should not be used. If they are, then regular cleaning is required. Hot water, soap, paper towels and a bin (preferably with a plastic bag insert), will need to be provided.

Any creche facilities/areas in the church should be cordoned off, or cleared of equipment such as soft toys, cushions books etc.

You may consider restricting the opening times and operate a booking system if the demand is great at a particular time or for a particular service.

Holding Worship

Invite and Welcome

Track and Trace

The opening up of public places following the COVID-19 outbreak is being supported by the NHS Test and Trace service. In line with other government guidance for other venues including in the retail and hospitality sector, you should assist this service by keeping an accurate temporary record of visitors for 21 days, in a way that is manageable for your church, and assist NHS Test and Trace with requests for that data if needed for contact tracing and the investigation of local outbreaks.

  • The information should include each person’s name and contact telephone number.
  • The information for each individual should only be held for 21 days, and only held for the purpose of possible assistance with the NHS Test and Trace service, and then destroyed.

Vulnerable persons

  • Shielding individuals are still advised not to attend places of worship indoors. Advice for both the clinically vulnerable and extremely clinically vulnerable is however advisory and they can choose how to manage their own risks. We recommend that churches seek to actively dissuade these groups from attending public worship at this time.

Arranging the Service/Event

  • When considering reopening, you should pay due attention to who will lead the service, and to the demands on the Minister, or others who will be invited. In the case of our Ministers, the Pastorate will be responsible for a risk assessment that will ensure that the Minister is not placed in a position where he can compromise personal health, or compromise the health of others.
  • Set up so that Ministers and others with a formal part in the service, where possible, can be at least four metres away from the front row of the congregation while leading or preaching.
  • For the foreseeable future, assume that a friendly handshake is not appropriate as you welcome people to worship and other activities. If you are going to retain the services of a welcome team they should know this and follow good practice. It will also not be possible to distribute hard copies of announcement sheets as people arrive or distribute hymnbooks, bibles or magazines. Where it is not possible to project words on a screen, members can be encouraged to either bring their own hymnbook and Bible with them or take copies from the church for their personal use until such times as all restrictions have been lifted.
  • Bibles, hymn books and other reusable and communal resources e.g. service sheets or devotional material should be removed from use. Single use alternatives can be provided if they are removed by the worshipper. Items owned by the individual (a Bible, note book etc), to aid worship may be brought in, but must be removed again.
  • You must not use kitchens or serve tea and coffee before or after worship due to the challenges of physical distancing and the hygiene of handling and washing cups and spoons, serving biscuits, and the extra work involved in wiping down tables and serving surfaces after use.
  • Ensuring that your worship area remains clean of the virus is important. You may wish to wipe down all surfaces as you go, remembering that doing so immediately after use is more effective than a weekly deep clean. Remember this includes pews, chairs, tables, microphones, sound desk, pulpit, lectern and door handles. Alternatively, if your building is only used once a week, and not reused for a funeral or other service within 72 hours, you may choose to clean it in advance of the next use.
  • Following the change announced by the Welsh Government, effective from 3rd August 2020, children under 11 do not need to be socially distanced. This means that children under the age of 11 can move freely during your service/event.

Contents of Worship

  • People should avoid singing, shouting, raising voices and/or playing music at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult or that may encourage shouting. This is because of the potential for increased risk of transmission from aerosol and droplets, and any spoken responses during worship should also not be in a raised voice.
  • Activities such as playing of instruments that are blown into are prohibited in worship or devotions and in rehearsals. This is because there is a possible additional risk of infection even if social distancing is being observed or face coverings are used.
  • Only play musical instruments that are not blown into. Organs can be played, as well as general maintenance, but should be cleaned thoroughly before and after use.
  • Where music plays a big part in your worship, and recordings are available, we suggest you should use these as an alternative. Perhaps you will offer a service organised around only the reading of the Word, preaching and prayer. Might this be an opportunity to rediscover the value of periods of silent reflection and response in worship? Give careful thought to the creative use of material on screen where that facility is available. You may think about ways of playing music as an aid to praise and reflection rather than singing.
  • Where essential to worship, one individual only should be permitted to sing or chant, and the use of plexi-glass screens should be considered for the Minister / Worship leader etc, as this will further prevent transmission and the screen can be easily cleaned.

Communion Service

If churches choose to remember the Lord’s death in communion, they will have to make adjustments in order to ensure the safety and health of those attending. Hygienic preparation, the use of individual cups and bread pieces, served as single units are considered essential. The officiating minister will have to use hand gel before touching the bread and the one symbolic wine goblet. The cleaning of surfaces such as table tops, hand cleaning and the use of gloves and masks by those preparing the bread and the wine is also necessary.

Churches are encouraged to ensure individual cups and bread pieces are distributed as the congregation arrive at the church or are placed in the pews before the service. Some churches already have individual cups with ‘saucers’ on top. These should be prepared and covered before the service. Ministers/Elders/Stewards are not permitted to distribute the elements during the service. Churches can purchase ‘pre-packed’ sets from a variety of sources: https://www.church-supplies.co.uk/shop/250-fellowship-cups-prefilled/

Baptism Service

  • If churches wish to conduct a baptism, they should ensure that water should not be placed directly in the font/saucer. The Minister should bring water in a sealed bottle (the sort of bottled water that can be bought in the shops) and ensure that there is a properly cleaned small jug with a handle available, and pour the water directly into it from the bottle, at the appropriate time. The Minister should remove the bottle and jug at the end of the service.
  • The members of the household of an infant or candidate on profession of faith do not have to be socially distant from each other. The Minister should stand socially distant, and only approach an infant or candidate to administer the water. The Minister should not hold or touch an infant, or touch a candidate. The minister should take care to lift the vessel by the handle. The water should be administered by pouring from the vessel. In administering, the minister should take care not to speak or breathe over the infant or parents or the candidate.
  • Consideration needs to be given to where the parents or the candidate will sit before and after the baptism takes place, and to whether they will easily be able to make their way to wherever they will stand for the baptism. Once the minister has administered the water, he or she should step back to social distance immediately.

 Receiving the Offering

  • Passing the offering plate along rows must not be your practice for the foreseeable future. Encourage bank standing orders/ transfers. Consider a basket at the back of church for people to leave their gifts as they enter, but be mindful of security. Remember to include those gifts offered through bank transfers in the prayer of dedication. Anyone handling cash should wear gloves for counting and banking.

 Worship / Outdoor Event

Churches in Wales

  • Larger gatherings to a maximum of 30 individuals are permitted outdoors, but the two-metre social distancing rule has to be adhered to in all gatherings.
  • Attendance need not be by invitation only although organisers may choose to put procedures in place to manage attendance. The organiser is responsible for ensuring that capacity is not exceeded and may need to turn people away to maintain this. Where the service or ceremony relates to a life event, such as a wedding celebration, the organiser should ensure attendance is by invitation. This is because these events are often attended by people who would not normally attend places of worship and anticipating numbers may be more difficult.

Churches in England

  • Small gatherings up to a maximum of 2 extended households can meet outdoors for worship within the normal rules on gatherings.
  • Larger gatherings to a maximum of 30 individuals are permitted outdoors where this is organised by your church.
  • The numbers attending outdoor worship should be determined by a risk assessment but must not exceed 30 individuals. Attendance need not be by invitation only although organisers may choose to put procedures in place to manage attendance. The organiser is responsible for ensuring that capacity is not exceeded and may need to turn people away to maintain this. Where the service or ceremony relates to a life event, such as a wedding celebration, the organiser should ensure attendance is by invitation. This is because these events are often attended by people who would not normally attend places of worship and anticipating numbers may be more difficult.

Churches in Wales

Sunday Schools, Children’s Clubs and Toddler Groups organised by the church

  • Children under 11 years of age no longer need to be socially isolated from one another or from adults. Any adults involved in the work need to honour the two-metre rule of social isolation.
  • Churches can consider if it is possible, within their buildings or from outside, to hold an event for this age group.

Other Ministries

Although we do not currently issue guidance in relation to Sunday Schools and Children’s Meetings in England, or Youth Clubs in Wales and England, we will update this document when it is appropriate for churches to consider resuming these activities. We will update the document when further guidance is received in relation to ‘social’ meetings and also bookings.

Other Ministries

Although we do not currently issue guidance in relation to Sunday Schools, Children’s Meetings, Youth Clubs, we will update this document when it is appropriate for churches to consider resuming these activities. We will update the document when further guidance is received in relation to ‘social’ meetings and also bookings.

The UK Government Advisory documents can be found at

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-the-safe-use-of-places-of-worship-from-4-july/covid-19-guidance-for-the-safe-use-of-places-of-worship-from-4-july#general-actions-to-reduce-the-spread-of-infection

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-small-marriages-and-civil-partnerships/covid-19-guidance-for-small-marriages-and-civil-partnerships

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-managing-a-funeral-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic

WALES

https://gov.wales/guidance-reopening-places-worship-coronavirus-html#section-44821

https://gov.wales/guidance-local-authorities-funerals-covid-19

https://gov.wales/guidance-marriages-and-civil-partnerships-coronavirus

https://gov.wales/coronavirus-social-distancing-guidance

RISK ASSESSMENT

There are five stages in normal a risk assessment. These are:

  •  Identify the risks that have a potential to do harm
  • Identify who can be hurt and why
  • Determine appropriate ways to eliminate or control the risk.
  • Record your findings
  • Review and update as required.

We include a table below to help you in assessing the various risks. Your local risk assessment will be subject to your specific context. Although some risks are common, there will be risks arising from an individual situation. If you would like any further assistance, please contact Neil Poulton ([email protected])

You will need to copy this information to the Clerk of Presbytery before you re-open your building.