Advice for Churches – COVID 19

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A report by the Revd Gethin Rhys, Cytûn Policy Officer with current advice for churches and their officers in this period.

A meeting was held of the Task and Finish Group on Places of Worship convened by Welsh Government and a public Q&A was held on the current position regarding places of worship. Welsh Government will provide a full set of FAQs derived from these sessions in due course.

However, in light of the number of queries we are receiving from churches, I thought it would be useful to provide some of the answers to the most pressing questions about the current “Red Phase” of re-opening.

What follows is not legal advice, and should not be relied upon as such.

  1. Where a place of worship or Community Centre (including a Community Centre attached to a place of worship) wishes to re-open for use by a registered childcare provider, the childcare provider should ask the Local Authority to testify that such the childcare provided is essential for the community. As far as I am aware, there is no official format for this, but some evidence that the Local Authority wishes the facility to open is essential in order for it to do so. (This condition does not apply to childcare providers who own their own premises or rent commercial premises, and Welsh Government have promised to attempt to address this inconsistency in the regulations).
  2. The solemnization of marriage is now a permitted use for places of worship. However, for all denominations apart from the Church in Wales, this depends on the couple being able to give notice to the local registrar and arrange for the marriage to be registered. We understand that registrars’ offices are gradually reopening for this purpose. Welsh Government is working with the Faith Communities Forum to draw up appropriate guidance for holding such services – in terms of numbers in the congregation, how to pass the rings safely, etc. – and guidelines on these will be available prior to the end of the notice period for the first marriage services. This also applies to civil partnerships, where churches are registered for that purpose. [In the meeting, a question was asked about those religious traditions which hold marriage services without registration, and Welsh Government are looking in to those situations].
  3. In terms of using places of worship for private prayer, funerals or weddings, Public Health Wales officials who were present gave the following guidance regarding cleaning:
  • The most important step is that individuals wash their hands upon entering the building with soap and water or hand sanitiser.
  • In terms of cleaning the building, the whole building does not need to be cleaned between each person or use, but the following advice published today outlines the principal requirements:  The general principle is that you should not touch anything which members of another household have touched. Doorknobs, bells and light switches are all potential sources of infection. Touching surfaces should be avoided wherever possible, and anything you do need to touch should be cleaned thoroughly afterwards. https://gov.wales/guidance-staying-local-and-gatherings-coronavirus
  1. Welsh Government understand that people will need to enter the place of worship prior to reopening in order to put everything in place – such as safety information, directional signage, instructions on where to stand/sit, and so on. In the case of employees who do this as part of their paid work, this is unambiguously permitted by the regulations. In the case of volunteers, the regulations are currently ambiguous, and it was promised that this would be discussed with the legal team. In the mean time, volunteers who are assisting with maintenance or the preparation of places of worship should keep their numbers as small as possible, keep at least 2m apart at all times, and follow the cleaning advice above rigorously.
  2. At the moment, it is not permissible to arrange open air services, but this will be considered by the Task and Finish Group as part of the next stage (the Amber Phase), which is likely to begin on a phased basis in July.

Welsh Government’s guidance for places of worship can be read here – https://gov.wales/guidance-reopening-places-worship-coronavirus-html – and it includes multiple links to more detailed guidance on specific matters.