Finally we have some clarification from the CofE on how the Rule of 6 affects church life. As expected, it has pretty much no impact on Sunday worship. The key area was always going to be small groups and social/outreach activities.
Here is todays updated guidance, with selected FAQs. This important rider is also given:
The Government has introduced new regulations making it illegal for groups of more than six people to meet, unless covered by exemptions.
The intention is to limit the spread of the virus by minimising close physical contact as much as possible. When deciding whether to proceed with an activity, depending on local circumstances, please bear this principle in mind.
Areas covered by exemptions to the ‘rule of six’ include work, children’s activities and charitable services.
There is also an exemption that covers places of worship making it possible for more than six people to gather for acts of communal worship. However, it is not a blanket exemption for any activity in a place of worship.
The advice below is provided to assist local churches in their planning and decision making.
It is everyone’s responsibility to comply with the law. This guidance is designed to help those who have responsibility for organising gatherings, to ensure they comply with the law and protect parishioners and the public, especially those most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.
We acknowledge and share the sadness many are feeling at not being able to meet together as we used to do. We prayerfully and confidently look forward to the day when we can all meet together again.
The rule of six
HOW DOES THE NEW 'RULE OF SIX' AFFECT CHURCH SERVICES?
Public worship can continue. There is an exemption that covers places of worship making it possible for more than six people to gather for acts of communal worship. However, it is not a blanket exemption. People must not be part of a group of more than six unless they are from the same household or support bubble.
ARE PLACES OF WORSHIP EXEMPT FROM THE 'RULE OF SIX'?
There is an exemption that covers places of worship making it possible for more than six people to gather there. The exemption covers church services and as well as some other activities that take place in church buildings.
However, it is not a blanket exemption. People must not be part of a group of more than six unless they are from the same household or support bubble.
CAN CHURCHES OPEN FOR INDIVIDUAL PRAYER?
Since 15 June, the Government has allowed access to places of worship for individual prayer and funerals. See our guidance on individual prayer.
Individual prayer should be individual. People must not be part of a group of more than six unless they are from the same household or support bubble.
If your church is opening for Individual prayer or public worship, please complete a risk assessment.
CAN CHURCHES HOLD SERVICES OF WORSHIP?
Since the 4th of July 2020, the Government has allowed public worship to resume. New regulations came into force on 14th of September 2020 limiting gatherings to no more than six people. Places of worship, alongside other COVID-secure premises, are exempt, meaning that the number of people able to attend services depends on how many can safely be accommodated, observing appropriate physical distancing and hygiene measures.
However people must not be part of a group of more than six unless they are from the same household or support bubble.
CAN BIBLE STUDY GROUPS OR HOME GROUPS NOW MEET IN PERSON?
A group can meet in someone’s home as long as there are no more than six people in the house in total, including those not taking part in the group at that time.
Groups can meet on church premises under the same conditions as apply to services of worship – for example, people attending must not be part of a group of more than six unless they are from the same household or support bubble.
However, Government guidance states:
“However, for activities and social groups where there is a significant likelihood of groups mixing and socialising ( and where it will be difficult to prevent mingling and therefore breaking the law) should not take place in a community facility.”
Please take this into consideration.
CAN CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE’S ACTIVITIES START AGAIN?
Yes, children’s activities being organised by the place of worship alongside or within a service or at other times during the week should follow principles in the general guidance from the Department for Education on Out of School Settings.
In outline, these recommend that, to reduce the risk of transmission, children and young people who attend should be kept in small, consistent groups, and of no more than fifteen children and at least one staff member. Children should be assigned to a particular class or group and should then stay in those consistent groups for future sessions and avoid mixing with other groups in your setting.
If possible, those attending should practise physical distancing in line with the government’s current guidance. As the risk of transmission is considerably lower outdoors, providers who normally run sessions indoors should consider whether they are able to do so safely outside on their premises.
The guidance document on children and young people’sactivities has not been amended since 24th August, and still states that no church pre-school groups can restart. But see the top of this page - I would expect an update to this document soon.