As lockdowns ease, churches are being allowed to reopen in some places. Naturally, there is concern that this is done as safely as possible.
In most places, the virus is still present at some level in the population and only a minority of people have antibodies to the virus (see here) – and it is still not known whether these antibodies confer immunity. This means that most people are still susceptible to COVID-19. This fact must be taken into account when decisions about reopening churches are being made and measures taken to reduce risk.
It is not possible to provide guidance on reopening churches as safely as possible that is universally applicable, and churches must comply with local regulations. Instead, we offer here some general guidance from the World Health Organisation and some specific examples of guidance from across the Anglican Communion and other Christian bodies. We hope these will be useful to others in other parts of the Communion as church leaders pray, think and work towards reopening their churches.
In this section:
- General advice from the World Health Organization for religious leaders and faith-based organisations.
- Specific examples of guidance from across the Anglican Communion and other Christian bodies.
Advice from the World Health Organization
The WHO issued initial guidance specifically for faith-based organisations and faith leaders and have since produced a detailed document on ‘Practical considerations and recommendations for religious leaders and faith-based communities in the context of COVID-19‘.
Both resources offer practical guidance on gatherings, where permitted. However, they urge caution and say:
“Those organizing a gathering should comply with guidance issued by national and local authorities and if a medium or large gathering is planned, the organizers should establish and maintain contact with the authorities in the build-up to and for the duration of the gathering. If gatherings are permitted, religious leaders and faith-based communities should take the following steps to reduce the threat of COVID-19 in their community. If they are not able to perform these steps to keep their community safe, then the planned physical gatherings should be cancelled.
“Once decisions have been made, it may be helpful to describe any adjusted practices and measures and visibly present them at the entry of the place of gathering (in writing or drawing). If remote/virtual gatherings are not feasible, keep the duration of the gathering to a minimum to limit contact among participants”.
The WHO’s headline recommendations are as follows. There is more detailed guidance in the second document.
- Maintain at least 1 m (3 feet) of distance between people at all times (including seating or standing of participants in faith services and those entering, attending and departing from worship spaces)
- Prevent touching between people attending faith services
- Prevent touching or kissing of devotional and other objects that the community is accustomed to handling communally
- Encourage healthy hand and respiratory hygiene among participants in faith services and other activities when gatherings are permitted
- Frequently clean worship spaces, sites, and buildings with disinfectant
Specific examples of guidance from across the Anglican Communion and other Christian bodies
- Advice for the Church of England, which includes risk assessment links: here
- Guidelines from the South African Council of Churches, which includes reflection on biblical values and theological principles as well as detailed practical measures for different aspects of worship.
- This guidance on reopening churches for services from the Humanitarian Disaster Institute provides a step-by-step, biblically-based and research-based approach to resuming in-person ministries. See also the website reopeningthechurch.com, which provides additional resources, including check lists, tip sheets and webinar recordings.