Church Of England Issues Three Phased Return Guidance

Following the Government’s plea for the Church of England to start officiating small funerals in their buildings again, the House of Bishops met via Zoom to discuss and agree a phased approach in reopening church buildings for official duties.

The House of Bishops reiterated that current church closure decisions were made in accordance with Health England’s social distancing advice but also recognised that a reduction in new Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions was a welcome sign of improvement.

It was agreed that the Church of England would reopen their buildings using a three-phased approach starting with activities such as steaming of services or private prayer by clergy in their own parishes. These changes can be enacted immediately ‘so long as the necessary hygiene and social distancing precautions are taken.’

Following this, once restrictions are lifted, church buildings will only reopen for a limited number of rites and ceremonies allowed by law. Although the Church did not specify, this could involve funeral services.

The final phase will see religious buildings opening their doors for worship services with limited congregations meeting.

Ultimately, the final decision on when to start using religious buildings will be at the discretion of individual Diocesan Bishops and will be dependent on the health situation in their areas.

The three phases were guidance only and ‘national Church of England guidance will be updated in the coming days with further advice on how the staged process could be implemented.’

Dame Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London, commented:

“We are hugely grateful for all that our churches and clergy have been doing to support the Government’s message to stay at home, to support the NHS, and to save lives.

“While it is clear there will be no imminent return to normality, the emphasis is now turning towards how and when aspects of social distancing can be eased, although we remain mindful of the potential risks of a second wave of the virus.

“Nevertheless, it now makes sense for us to start to look ahead to the potential easing of restrictions so that our clergy and churches can be prepared.”

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