A phased return out of lockdown for churches (a draft proposal)

Over the past few months, churches have willingly complied with COVID-19 lockdown measures. We have done so because we believed it was the right thing to do as we sought to love our neighbours. Throughout the lockdown we have sought to continue to care for the communities around us often providing practical and emotional support to the wider community as well as spiritual care. We have overcome many obstacles to do so.

Church leaders do not want to rush back to physical gatherings in a way that will put lives at risk. However, we would like to see a clear route-map of the way forward so that we can plan and prepare. The hardest thing for many people is feeling that they are in the dark about what is happening.

I personally feel that the government give the appearance of having lost their way a little in terms of moving forward. On the one hand there seem to have been failures on their part such as the way that prominent figures clearly breached the spirit of lockdown and confused the message. Additionally, not all interventions have been helpful. I believe church leaders and members were generally happy to see a clear plan for moving out of lockdown from the 4th July as first proposed in the Government’s roadmap document. The response to minority pressure for earlier provision of private prayer seems to have distracted from this purpose and missed the point that this is not the primary purpose of places of worship.

However, I also believe that these types of plans are best put together by practitioners on the ground who have a solid grasp of the needs and the challenges involved in implementing them. So I would like to see church leaders involved in putting together the plans for re-opening. These plans could be checked through by CMF and proposed via SAGE.

So, here is my strawman to get us thinking.

Enablers

  • Churches should confirm that they have a clear plan in place to comply with social distancing, cleaning, hand-washing etc and that venues have been risk assessed. 
  • Church members should receive clear communication on the dos and don’ts for when attending
  • Means to support Track and Trace such as attendance records should be put in place
  • Consultation should happen where possible with local authority public health teams

Phase 1 – July – August

  • Venues set up to enable seating in lines with current social distancing measures. 
  • Open on Sundays similar to private prayer approach at the moment. This would mean that there would be no sung worship or live preaching and public prayer. However to enable a sense of corporate unity, churches would be able to project prayer suggestions onto screens, stream background music and recorded talks.
  • People should be asked to keep their attendance at buildings to 30 minutes
  • Children’s activities will not be provided and children will remain the responsibility of parents when attending.
  • There will be no provision of refreshments on site.

In parallel, where possible, churches should be encouraged to provide outdoor, socially distanced gatherings with a maximum attendance of 50. These might include some singing and preaching.  This will make best use of the summer.

Phase 2 September to October

  • Venues should be able to seat at 30% of normal capacity. 
  • Time at venue restricted to 1 hour.
  • Reintroduction of spoken prayer and preaching
  • On the basis of research the possibility of reintroducing singing should be considered.
  • Children will remain the responsibility of parents.
  • The possibility should be investigated of re-introducing some refreshments provided that the same guidelines are followed as for the hospitality industry.

Phase 3 November to December

  • Increase seating capacity to 50%
  • Begin to reintroduce children’s provision in line with latest guidance for schools and child-care
  • Allow normal time provisions
  • Gull reintroduction of all aspects of worship including baptism and communion (with guidelines in place such as pre-cut bread, no common cup etc)

Phase 4 – January 2021

  • Begin moves towards full re-opening.

This is just a strawman, quickly jotted down but I would love to see this fleshed out by others in order to provide a basis for further conversations with the Government.

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