Covid 19 - Church buildings guidance
This note is intended to give simple, clear guidance for the care and use of church buildings at this time when restrictions apply. The guidance applies to churches, church halls and other similar buildings and their grounds. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list of every possible scenario but a set of guiding principles to aid decision making. The provincial property team will continue to offer advice about specific situations to archdeacons and diocesan teams at this time.
The Starting Point
The Bench of Bishops published the following pastoral guidance on the 31 March 2020:
All church buildings remain closed until further notice. This means churches must not be open for public worship or solitary prayer.
Worship has been recorded and broadcast both commendably and effectively from parsonages over recent days. Whilst the Welsh Government Regulations now permit a cleric to record or broadcast a service (without a congregation) from church buildings, the desirability and advisability of doing so will vary between different contexts. Individual Bishops will advise further on this matter within their respective dioceses and any such events should be held only in strict accordance with those diocesan guidelines, or with the explicit permission of the diocesan Bishop.
The Welsh Government Regulations also permit clergy to visit their churches, and for other church officers and volunteers to visit churches only to undertake a voluntary or charitable duty, where it is not reasonably practicable to undertake that duty from home. It is therefore possible for essential and urgent site inspections to be undertaken by clerics, or by another person nominated by the Incumbent, Ministry/Mission Area Leader, Area Dean or Archdeacon. We ask that such visits are kept to an absolute minimum.
The use of church buildings for essential voluntary services (such as existing foodbanks, soup kitchens and homeless shelters) is permitted by the Welsh Government Regulations. Church buildings may also, upon the request of the Welsh Ministers or a local authority, be used to provide urgent public services. All reasonable measures should be taken to ensure that social distancing practices and other hygiene precautions are followed while those services are provided. Any new use of a church building for essential voluntary / public services should be expressly supported by the incumbent or Area Dean and the diocesan bishop.
Further guidance on the care and use of church buildings is being issued by the officers of the Representative Body.
This further guidance from the Representative Body follows the latest statement from the
Bench of Bishops and takes account of the regulations on the use of church buildings included in The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020.
How should church buildings be managed in the meantime?
Ecclesiastical Insurance have issued the following guidance:
In the context of a temporary closure, here are the top priorities to help you keep your church property safe:
Protect against electrical fires - turn off and unplug electrical equipment
Electrical equipment should be turned off and unplugged, and electrical systems isolated at the main fuse board, with the exception of any: intruder alarms, fire alarms, security or other risk protection systems or devices. These should be maintained to ensure they continue to fully and effectively protect the property at all times.
Guard against escape of water losses
Where there will be no need to re-enter church property during the period of temporary closure turn off any water supplies at the mains (and where reasonable to do so drain down water systems).
We recognise it may not always be appropriate to turn off or drain down water systems.
Where this is the case a minimum temperature of 7⁰C (45⁰F) should be maintained within the property if possible.
Protect your property
Securing the property against unauthorised access. Remove any internal waste and position external bins as far from church property as possible.
Ask any neighbours in the vicinity of church property to report any suspicious activity.
Try to periodically check the property
If possible, arrange for someone to visit the church property on a weekly basis to check it remains secure, whilst following the latest government guidelines on travel/movement of people.
Could people taking their permitted daily exercise or shopping for essentials pass by the church?
Review your health and safety arrangements
Review your health and safety arrangements, focusing on any additional precautions that might be necessary to secure the premises and protect people from danger.
You may like to consider posting a notice outside your church with key contact details and any on-line or other services you are providing.
Who can visit the church building during this period?
A site inspection is possible in emergencies or for another essential and urgent purpose, such as to ensure the security of a property. The legal regulations currently in force permit a cleric or worship leader to visit their place of worship. Furthermore, a volunteer may also travel to provide voluntary or charitable services where these services cannot be provided from home. It is therefore possible for essential and urgent site inspections to be undertaken by clerics or another person nominated by the Incumbent, Ministry/Mission Area Leader, Area Dean or Archdeacon. We believe it is not illegal for a person, nominated by the incumbent, to travel to a church or church building, but travel should only be for essential and urgent purposes. Thus, a site inspection is possible in emergencies or to ensure the security of a property.
Visits should be done in such a way as to minimise contact with other people and keeping a clear 2 metres distance from others. Careful consideration should be given in each case as to whether the issue can be dealt with without the need for somebody to leave their home.
Careful consideration should also be given to whether a site visit can be conducted safely by a single individual and risk of harm should be assessed in each case. Any person authorised to visit a church building should:
- Inform someone on leaving the house, on arrival on site, on leaving site and on returning home
- Take care to wash hands on leaving home and on returning home (and, if possible, during the visit)
- Stay on site for the minimum time possible to complete the agreed purpose.
It might be helpful for the person travelling to carry a letter or email of authorisation from the Incumbent, Ministry/Mission Area Leader, Area Dean or Archdeacon so that this can be shown to the police if requested.
Can work still be undertaken to the church or church grounds?
The assumption must be that no work should take place at a church building or within its grounds at this time unless it is urgent and essential work. Examples of urgent and essential work include works to prevent accidents, works to address critical structural defects and works to address critical damage to significant fabric. Distancing rules must be observed at all times. If in doubt, please discuss this with your Archdeacon and Diocesan Office to consider the most appropriate action.
We would discourage any physical work being undertaken by volunteers in church buildings or grounds (e.g cleaning, clock winding, grass cutting etc) at this time to avoid travel and contact with others.
Churchyards and burial ground remain open but those who visit are subject to regulations regarding social gathering. If a churchyard is likely to be heavily visited, a discussion could be held with the police over how to manage the situation.
The faculty process remains in operation at this time. Applications can be made on the Online Faculty System. List A and B applications should be able to be processed without difficulty. Full faculty applications will be harder to process because of the current restrictions and chancellors and registrars will decide, in each case, whether any proposal has been adequately considered and consulted upon and meets the spirit of the constitutional rules before deciding whether to grant or refuse a faculty.
Representative Body of the Church in Wales
1st April 2020