Update 13 December 2021 – Update of Government Guidance for Places of Worship
Please note that the document COVID-19: guidance for the safe use of places of worship - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) has been updated to incorporate the changes announced as part of the implementation of Plan B restrictions.
This does not supercede the Methodist Church’s guidance published previously, and therefore both sets of guidance can and should be read together.
Update 20 July 2021
Please can I remind you that, as you reopen for worship or any other activities in your church premises, making arrangements to ventilate the church sanctuary properly and limiting worship to about 45 minutes, are both important aspects of reducing the spread of the virus, which has not gone away.
There are many churches where windows do not open, and property stewards need to address this issue as a priority, not just for reducing the spread of Covid, but for the welfare of all users of our premises in none Covid times too.
Please do take care and keep safe. and please heed the Methodist Web site Coronavirus recommendations. Covid cases are still increasing significantly, and quite frankly the Government advice to relax the social distancing and other measures is very premature. You are strongly advised by the Circuit to continue with the almost the same safety precautions as you have used in recent times. I have heard of more positive tests in the last three weeks than in the last year!
Keep safe and take care,
Richard G Burr
Birmingham Methodist Circuit Steward, (Property) for Circuit Covid Team
Update 13 July 2021
Changes to Government Guidance
- One of the aims of the latest government communiqué is to enable the public to make informed decisions. We are keen ministers and leadership teams do likewise. We offer these guidelines to help you, and your leadership teams, make decisions linked to your local context.
- The Property Team will be reviewing more detailed Connexional guidance following the Prime Minister’s update on the 12 July, and posting this from 19 July, when the Government will lift most restrictions.
- Although there are no specific updates to the government guidance document concerning places of worship yet, the Health Secretary announced to the House of Commons that from the 19 July there will be ‘…no restrictions on communal worship and singing'. This includes singing at weddings, funerals and baptisms.
What will the lifting of restrictions mean for churches and communal worship?
When government restrictions are removed, the emphasis will be on ‘personal responsibility.' Currently, the Government is indicating that this will mean:
- No maximum numbers for meeting in any indoor or outdoor environments, including removing restrictions on group sizes attending communal worship.
- Communal singing can resume.
- All venues currently closed will be allowed to open.
- No restrictions on weddings, funerals or baptisms.
- No requirement for Covid-19 vaccination status certification to enter a venue.
- No legal requirement to wear a face covering, although it will be ‘advised’ for enclosed and crowded spaces.
- No social distancing rules, although the risks to those deemed vulnerable need to be considered.
- No need for ‘Covid-secure’ environments.
- Encouragement to continue good cleaning and hygiene procedures.
- Good fresh air supplies into a property will still be encouraged, and steps should be taken to improve it if ventilation is poor.
- There may be temporary local restrictions or additional advice offered by health officials in areas of high infection rates, so this will need monitoring locally.
- No further work-from-home directive.
- An encouragement to continue to use the NHS Test and Trace system.
What does the Methodist Church advise?
The Methodist Church, whilst always adhering to government advice, is urging some caution for the sake of others in the church, community and for self-care.
- Firstly, from a missional perspective, reflect on and continue with the positive changes that have been made during the pandemic. Perhaps this has been live-streaming services or more outward-looking mission into the community through outdoor services, prayer or house groups or other events. Look to improve on these as a means of giving people within and outside the church continued access to worship, teaching and support during this period of transition and change.
- This will help in considering whether it is appropriate to return to a building or whether the mission of God and the work of the church is better done in another way. In some places, the decision might even be not to resume physical worship in the building. This should not be seen as a failure, but as a response to the movement of the Spirit of God as we seek to create new places for new people.
What should we consider before reopening our church buildings?
- If you have not yet reopened the building, we would recommend a cautious, phased return. We encourage dialogue with congregations to ensure they feel safe to return to in-person worship. The aim is to build up the community of believers who feel safe, rather than see them staying away for fear of the virus.
- Likewise, we encourage early discussions with individuals or groups from the wider community who will be returning to use your building to ensure that any concerns and expectations are shared through a transparent process. Work together to risk assess all those using the building and any new bookings with Covid-19 safety measures in mind.
How can we make our buildings as safe as possible?
In returning to buildings, consideration should be given to:
- Appropriate use of face coverings. Would it be sensible as a congregation to wear them for a little longer?
- Good ventilation to properties or considering meeting outdoors.
- Encouraging frequent hand washing and keeping sanitiser out for people to use.
- Encouraging people to stay at home if they are unwell.
- Considering individual risks: such as clinical vulnerabilities, illness and vaccination status.
- Retaining retiring offering or online giving rather than ‘passing the offering plate’.
- Deter handshaking and hugging and find other ways to share ‘the Peace’.
- Encourage the continued use of personal, not shared items, such as books.
Further guidance for ministers and leaders of worship
- Those who lead worship should bear in mind that the virus is still highly prevalent. Care should be taken to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, including reviewing the length of service and the number of hymns sung (when permitted), avoiding various people handling the same piece of equipment etc.
- For the time being, we suggest ministers should refrain from using the common cup for Holy Communion.
- We recommend keeping the elements to be distributed covered during the thanksgiving prayer if it is deemed inappropriate for the presiding minister to wear a mask. It may be wise for those distributing to wear face coverings.
- Similarly, for the time being, consider retaining the reasonable safe practices for cafes when providing or distributing food and drink, such as after a service or other events.
- Although not required by law, it is probably wise to retain the NHS Test and Trace system for the time being in case of an outbreak in the church community. We would want to be able to inform our neighbours to proceed with caution if someone they had come into contact with had tested positive.
- We do not recommend requesting proof of vaccination before a person is admitted to church.
Update June 2021
The government has updated the Safe Use of Places of Worship to include details of how restrictions will be lifted for churches in England. As more information is released, we will update the information below. The key changes involved in each of the remaining Steps include:
Step 3 - 17 May 2021 (link to poster)
- Most other significant life events can resume, limited to no more than 30 people. This will include events such as private baptisms, and naming ceremonies. Limits at weddings, wedding receptions, wakes and other commemorative events will be increased to 30 people.
- Funerals will have no legal cap on the number of people who can attend. The number of attendees will be determined by how many people the venue can safely accommodate with social distancing measures in place.
- Outdoors most legal restrictions on meeting others will be lifted - although gatherings of over 30 people will remain illegal unless otherwise exempt.
- Support groups and parent and child group gathering limits will increase to 30 people (not including under 5s).
COVID Secure rules, including social distancing requirements, continue to apply in the workplace, and in businesses and public venues.
New guidance on meeting friends and family emphasises personal responsibility rather than government rules. Social distancing (staying at least 2m away from others) helps to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. The further away you can keep from other people, and the less time you spend in close contact with them, the less likely you are to catch COVID-19 and pass it on to others. Close contact, including hugging, increases the risk of spreading COVID-19.
You should consider the guidance on risks associated with COVID-19 and actions you can take to help keep you and your loved ones safe. Please refer to the guidance on meeting friends and family for further information and the actions to take to reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19.
APRIL 14th Update
As the roadmap out of lockdown begins to unfold we have seen this week the changes from 12th April when non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality venues are able to re-open. Hopefully on 17th May hospitality venues will be able to re-open and 21st June the Government hopes to remove all legal limits on social contact, depending on the results of the scientific data. There are some significant changes that we wish to draw your attention to.
Church Councils - The Methodist Church information given out on 9th April was that we could hold Church Councils in the building from 12th April. Unfortunately that has been changed on 13th April and we have to continue to hold Church Councils by Zoom, which we know is difficult for some of our churches. Please see the link below:
Rapid Lateral Flow Testing - We would like to encourage all individuals to begin using Lateral Flow Tests as part of our civic duty to reduce the spread of Covid 19. Over the next few months as we begin to return to either voluntary or paid work, meet for worship or begin socialising again, within the government guidelines, we can use these tests to reassure ourselves that we are not spreading the virus.
These can be ordered online or obtained from your nearest Covid pick up point and are free for everyone. We have been advised by Public Health to use these twice a week as we begin to socialise again and if you are attending worship, to ensure you do a test 2 days before. Please see the link below to order your free rapid lateral flow testing kits online or to find out where your nearest pharmacy or pick up point is.
We do not need to see evidence that you have tested yourself, instead this is a recommendation and encouragement for individuals to take responsibility themselves to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. If you have a positive result or if you have any Covid symptoms, you are asked to take a PCR test instead – see this link for further information and then self-isolate as instructed and inform your employer
Training - We will be providing an update on Covid 19 at the Ministers Meeting on 4th May at the Lay Employees Meeting on 10th May and will organise a meeting for those leading Worship very soon.
Worship - We will be putting together a simple Plan for the month of May and ask that you let us have details of your worship plans by 16th April to Sue Saunderson. We would be very grateful if you could provide leaders of worship from your local church, however if that is not possible, we will do our best to provide a Preacher.
It is important that the Government and Methodist Church Guidance on meeting for communal worship is followed carefully.
- Please visit this link regularly for the latest updated guidance, https://www.methodist.org.uk/for-churches/property/coronavirus-guidance-for-property/
- Please check your previous Covid 19 Risk Assessments and procedures that you have already prepared and ensure they still remain appropriate, updating them as necessary.
- We continue to use face coverings, maintain 2m social distancing, wash hands, complete track and trace records etc and wait for further Government Guidance for after 21st June.
- Numbers attending for worship remain limited to the capacity of the worship space, as already determined. For funerals, where the space for worship maybe greater, the limit remains at 30. For weddings it is now limited to 15 people.
We continue to remember that Coronavirus is still present in our communities and indeed worldwide so we remain vigilant and encourage everyone to keep up to date with the latest Government guidance. At present Coronavirus restrictions remain in place across the country and in England we are asked to work from home and minimise travel where we can.
MARCH 3rd Update
"At the beginning of January 2021 when the latest lockdown was announced, the Circuit and District strongly advised churches not to meet for communal worship in their buildings. Last week, the Government announced a roadmap out of lockdown with the hope that restrictions can be eased over the coming months. The key dates are the 8th March when schools will open fully, the 29th March when the “stay at home” rule changes to “minimize travel” but many restrictions will remain in place, the 12th April when non-essential retail is able to re-open, the 17th May when hospitality venues are able to re-open, and 21st June when the Government hopes to remove all legal limits on social contact. These dates are also dependent on what the data on cases is indicating.
The Circuit Superintendents and Circuit Stewards have met to consider the Government's dates of easing restrictions and recommend to Church Councils that they do not re-open for communal worship in their buildings before 29th March when the “stay at home” rule comes to an end.
The decision to re-open for communal Worship lies with the Managing Trustees which is usually the Church Council. Please let us know the decision your Church Council makes.
We will be putting together a simple Plan for the month of April and ask that you let us have details of your worship plans by Monday 22nd March."
Below is a collation of links and helpful information for everyone involved in church leadership who is trying to navigate through these difficult times.
[PAGE LAST UPDATED - 03.03.21]
Superintendents Letters and Reflections
Superintendent Ministers are the lead Ministers for each circuit (collection of churches) within the Methodist Church as a denomination. We have three, Reverend Alison Richards, Reverend Neil Johnson and Reverend Nick Jones, whom you can contact here.
Alison, Neil and Nick have been writing regular letters and reflections which you can find by clicking here to see our recent news stories.
Methodist News and Advice
The Methodist Church is constantly working on and updating its advice and guidance in these ever changing times. Please use the links below to navigate to a number of helpful pages.
- Main Methodist home page with news;
- Official Guidance
- Serving Neighbours and Speaking with Friends
- Church Community
- Talking to Young People
- Safeguarding Considerations
Live Services and Events
The main live service that we are promoting is that of our own Birmingham District which is going out each Sunday at 10:30am. You can click here to find that service on Facebook directly or click on the watch now link below to watch the most recent service. You can also now watch this service on YouTube by clicking here.
In addition to this service there are many other live services which are happening in our circuit and around the country, find our updated list here.
Children and Youth
We are working with our churches and with Birmingham District to support children and young people in our circuit at this time and we're working on signposting to more resources all the time.
The Methodist Church has offered guidance on how we talk to and support young people at this time. Click here to read more.
They have also offered resources on how to create safe online spaces for young people - click here.
There are many other good resources out there to support your church at the current time. We will compile a list of those that we find below.
- Yorkshire and North East District have compiled a list of some helpful ideas and resources – find it here.
- Reverend Mike Claridge from The Cotteridge Church has a blog where he is collating resources - find it here.
During this time we are also encouraging people to think about safeguarding in all that they do. There are updated guidelines on visiting people from the Methodist church which you can find here and you can read more about our general safeguarding policy here.
We also encourage everybody to watch the below video from Waltham Forest Burough Council and encourage you to consider how you are paying attention to the safety of those around you, particularly if you are using digital means to pastorally visit people in your community. Contact your church safegarding officer if you have any concerns.
We continue to follow Methodist guidance about the opening of church buildings. You can read the latest guidance from the Methodist Church here (most recent on 25th November 2020 as of time of writing). Risk Assessment is now a legal requirement before the re-opening of a Methodist building.
The newly formed Circuit COVID Team, made up of our three Superintendents, Richard Burr our Property Officer and Jayne Snape our Property and Facilities Officer, continue to work hard to support churches with their property and have recently written directly to churches with advice and guidance. If you need urgent advice then please contact Richard Burr, you can find his details in the Circuit Directory.
Get in Touch
If you would like to get in touch with the circuit team then please do so, click here for our contact us page. If anybody from the office team is temporarily unavailable due to being unwell then we will do our best to ensure that an out of office/voicemail is setup to make people aware, so unless you hear differently you can assume that the team will be operating as normal, albeit from home.
For churches with pastoral or worship based questions, your Minister is your first port of call, but the Superintendents are both available if you cannot contact them.