flowersCoronavirus: funerals, weddings, baptisms and pastoral responses

Latest update:  9 October 2020

Since mid-June, it has been permissible for churches in England to open for private and individual prayer. Far wider opening of churches in England has been permitted since 4 July 2020, including public worship, weddings and baptisms.

Official government guidance ‘COVID-19: Guidance for the safe use of places of worship from 4 July’ covers most activities that churches are likely to engage in, and emphasises the importance of a local risk-assessment. A summary of some key points in the guidance is available on our website (churches will need to ensure that they consult the official guidance directly for full details). 

Essential voluntary activities in church buildings, such as blood donation and food banks, homeless services and registered early years and childcare provision continue to be permitted, but any opening of church buildings for tourism remains prohibited.

See our page 'Preparing for when church buildings re-open' for links to further reflections and guidance on preparing for 'the new normal'.

In the current extraordinary circumstances, the normal routines of funerals, weddings and baptisms are all challenged. Member Churches of Churches Together in England are responding to Government advice by adapting their usual practices to the urgent and serious requirements to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Many of our Member Churches have established coronavirus guidance web pages, including:

Advice for funerals

See the Government's COVID-19: guidance for managing a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic. A 'modest number' of both family and friends can now attend a funeral. However, funerals in a place of worship should be limited to 30 attendees. Mourners can now stay overnight outside their home. 
Options around holding memorial services at later times – after coronavirus restrictions are lifted – will be considered by many churches.

Advice for weddings

From 28 September, no more than 15 people can legally attend a wedding ceremony, even where this can be safely accommodated with social distancing in a COVID-19 secure venue. This is the maximum number for all attendees at the event, including the couple and guests. Anyone working is not included as part of the legal limit. There is more detailed guidance in ‘COVID-19: Guidance for small marriages and civil partnerships’

Advice for baptisms, confirmations and ordinations

Baptism and confirmations may take place.  No more than 30 people should be present, unless the event is part of a routine communal worship service.

Where rituals or ceremonies require water to be applied to the body, small volumes can be splashed onto the body, but full immersion should be avoided. Others present should move out of range of any potential splashing.

Where an infant is involved, a parent/guardian or other member of the infant’s regular household should hold the infant.

All worshippers should maintain social distancing.

There is no specific advice about ordinations. However, like other life events,  these can now take place with appropriate social distancing.

Pastoral care

Normal patterns of pastoral care will also continue to be affected although new guidance coming into force on July 4 will allow groups of up to two households to meet in any location - public or private, indoors or outdoors. Individuals can meet with different households at different times. Social distancing  should be maintained with anyone not in the same household (or support bubble).
In general, assisting neighbours or vulnerable members of a community by shopping or talking to them with at least two metres distancing apart, is permitted. Care should be taken to ensure good safeguarding practices are upheld at all times.

Essential voluntary or public service, such as food banks, homeless services, and blood donation sessions based in church buildings may continue.

Health Care Chaplaincy - The President of the College of Health Care Chaplains, Simon Harrison,  wrote an advisory to churches in early April.

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