These are FAQs for church leaders and those who would like clarity about the current coronavirus guidance regarding churches and worship. For resources such as posters and advice on staying connected with your congregation, visit our resources page.
How can we plan for Lent and Easter services?
The Church of England have produced guidance to help churches plan for services in Lent and Easter, including Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and others. Read the guidance here
What does the January 2021 national lockdown mean for churches?
Under the latest guidance, churches are permitted to remain open for communal worship and private prayer and people are allowed to leave home to attend church.
Funerals and weddings can also take place in church buildings, although weddings can only happen in exceptional circumstances.
Annual Parochial Church Meetings should be held by 31st May using Zoom or some alternative virtual method.
It will be up to individual clergy and their PCC (parochial church council) to decide whether to keep their church building open or not during this current lockdown. If you decide not to hold public worship in any church in your benefice or mission community you will need to contact Bishop Robert for a temporary legal dispensation.
The Bishop of Exeter and his senior staff will support whatever decision is made locally.
Churches which remain open should carry out a new risk assessment to ensure the building is as Covid-safe as possible. All churches should make sure their website, noticeboards and social media pages are up-to-date with clear information about how people can access online church services, pastoral and practical support.
Clergy and Coronavirus Testing
Members of the Clergy are designated by the Government as essential workers. That means they can be referred by the Diocese of Exeter for testing if they are self-isolating because either they or member(s) of their household have coronavirus symptoms.
Please contact your Archdeacon’s office (details below) if you need to be referred for a test. You will then receive a text message with a unique code to book a test for you (if symptomatic) or a household member (if symptomatic) at a regional testing site.
You can read more about it here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-getting-tested
Pastoral Care for Clergy and Readers
The pastoral care of the clergy and Readers is vital at this time of national crisis. Please make sure you look after yourselves and your family. If you have any symptoms please make sure you self-isolate as per the Government Advice. If you do need to self-isolate or have underlying health conditions, please inform your Rural Dean and Archdeacon.
Please make sure you keep in touch with your Chapter colleagues, perhaps having regular phone contact, or virtual meetings using platforms such as https://zoom.us/
We are in the middle of unprecedented times for our country and our churches and the communities in which they serve. The most important thing to remember is that we are a people of prayer, and that we need to remember to love our neighbour and to do everything that we can to avoid the spread of the virus.
Advice for Clergy and Readers about taking services
Clergy and Readers who are fit and well can take services. Any pastoral visits in person must be in line with the Church of England’s current guidance.
Clergy and Readers of any age who are either “clinically vulnerable” or “clinically extremely vulnerable” (as defined by the government) should follow the advice here about whether they should take services or not.
All Clergy and Readers who do take services must follow current government social distancing and hygiene advice and guidance on the Church of England website.
If any Clergy and Readers (or anyone in their household) shows coronavirus symptoms, they should stop taking services and follow the government guidance on self-isolation.
Clergy and Readers with Permission to Officiate are under no obligation to officiate at any service and must not be put under any pressure to do so. We strongly urge those over 70 to take extra care, but it is now up to each individual to decide whether to take services or not, always at the invitation of the incumbent.
Legal advice from the Registrar regarding re-opening or closing church buildings can be downloaded here. There is also information on matters of law and applying for a dispensation here.
Building Insurance whilst churches are empty
Read guidance from Ecclesiastical Insurance in regards to temporarily closed or unoccupied churches.
Securing and caring for church buildings during the coronavirus pandemic
Read guidance from the Church of England for incumbents, churchwardens and PCC members.
Notice for clergy living in diocesan housing
Please read the latest guidance regarding what to do if any repairs are needed in diocesan housing.
Churches are allowed to hold services in their church buildings, with restrictions in place.
Track and Trace
Information about the NHS Track and Trace app and how churches can get a QR code poster to display can be found here. Churches who open for services are strongly encouraged to use the Track and Trace system. This could simply be a signing in form which asks for individual’s name, email address and telephone number. It is worth considering taking a postcode where individuals have travelled a distance to the location (particularly for weddings, baptisms and funerals) as a local lockdown in the future may result in the need to identify where previous visitors have come from. Read the CofE guidance.
What about Track and Trace and data protection?
Track and Trace involves processing personal data relating to individuals, and only the following information should be collected:
Staff and Volunteers
• the names of the people who work at the premises
• contact details for each of the people who work there
• the dates and times that people are at work
Worshippers and Visitors
• the name of the worshipper or visitor. If there is more than one person, then you can record the name of the ‘lead member’ of the group and the number of people in the group
• contact details for each customer or visitor, or for the lead member of a group of people
• date of visit, arrival time and, where possible, departure time
In collecting individuals’ data, you must let them know what you are intending to do with their details, when these might be accessed by NHS Test and Trace and clearly get their consent for this purpose. You will need consent from them to collect the data. You will need to display a copy of your COVID-19 Privacy Notice. If someone does not wish to give information they may choose to opt out. They should not be barred from worship.
Data must be stored securely, should not be used for any other purpose than to comply with the Track and Trace system. If you have any questions relating to Data Protection, please email us or call 01392 294901.
If you decide not to open your church building
If you decide that now is not the right time to open your church building, please think of creative ways you can encourage people to pray and worship at home. For example:
- Video recording reflective services and circulating an online link.
- Running a prayer meeting or service using phone or video conferencing technology like Zoom.
- Live-streaming an act of worship via social media or on your church website using a smart phone, tablet or computer led by an ordained or lay minister on their own or with others in their household. There is clear guidance about how to do this and information about music copyright on our resources page.
- Please consider joining our diocese Comms and Digital Facebook group where you can get technical advice and share ideas for creative worship.
Remember that communion may only be celebrated by a priest at home provided another member of their family is present.
The government have announced that weddings can only take place in exceptional circumstances. Read the latest guidance here
What about weddings planned for Spring and Summer 2021, particularly where a qualifying connection is needed? Read the latest guidance here
The government have announced that funerals can take place with certain restrictions. Read the latest guidance here
For the most up to date information, it is vital you read the funerals section on the Church of England website here
It is really important to continue to support the work of your local Funeral Directors by regularly checking in with them during this Crisis.
Baptisms and Confirmations
The rules around baptism and confirmations have recently changed. Read the latest guidance here
One of the challenges during this pandemic has been the periodic closure of church buildings and negotiating the public health restrictions surrounding any celebration of the Eucharist. For Christians of all traditions, the absence of the sacrament of Holy Communion has been a painful deprivation. Since March our normal practice in the Church of England of receiving from a common cup has had to be suspended. Receiving communion under one kind is perfectly acceptable, if not ideal, and for many it will make sense that this practice is continued. Mindful that it is not possible to sanction the use of individual communion cups, the Archbishops have issued interim guidance for those clergy and PCCs who would wish to explore the option of administering communion under both kinds by a form of intinction, termed ‘simultaneous administration’. This is far from straightforward, but if you would like to explore this option, then please consult their guidance. Please be assured that there is no obligation for anyone to do consider adopting this practice. It remains the clear teaching of the Church of England that those who receive Holy Communion in one kind participate fully in the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, no less than those who receive both bread and wine.
Annual Parochial Church Meetings and Meetings of Parishioners for Election of Churchwardens
All Annual Meetings of Parishioners to elect churchwardens and Annual Parochial Church Council Meetings should take place by 31 May 2021.
The Bishop of Exeter has issued directions so that such meetings can take place physically, virtually, or by a mixture of both methods. However, during lockdown all meetings should be held virtually. The Registrar has issued updated FAQs to assist parishes and Mission Communities prepare for such meetings:
Please note the requirements in respect of Electoral Rolls.
Arrangements for Archdeacons’ Visitations will be announced in due course.
PCC meetings and Standing Committees
During lockdown all meetings should be held virtually. After lockdown has concluded, PCC Meetings may be held in person, online or a mixture of both (for example using zoom). Any physical meeting should be held in the church building or church hall following a risk assessment, and should carefully follow the latest Covid-19 guidance including requirements around cleaning and social distancing. People should bring their own refreshments. Particular consideration should be given to the risks to PCC members over 70 and others who might be vulnerable, which is why an online meeting or hybrid meeting may be preferable for the time being.
Click here for guidance on holding remote online PCC meetings. If you have concerns or questions about how PCCs should operate during this period please contact your archdeacon. On 9 July 2020 the Bishop of Exeter made legal provision for PCCs to meet remotely for a period of 1 year. Read the document here
End of Year Accounts
The deadline for holding the APCM is 31st May 2021. Accounts should be submitted within 28 days of the APCM, so the deadline will vary for each PCC depending upon their APCM date. Read more
Use of church halls
Please refer to the Church of England advice.
- Please make sure your website home pages are up to date with current information & contact details. Download an online checklist
- Check your entry on A Church Near You
- Please make sure there is a notice on the Church door with contact details and information about whether you are open for private prayer, if you will be opening your building for services or if you are offering online services (a downloadable poster can be found here )
Maintaining contact with vulnerable and isolated people
We are encouraging churches to find creative ways of staying in touch with those who are isolated and vulnerable and to give them spiritual support and also practical support as far as possible. We have published a list of digital and print resources and we are also developing new content. Read more on the digital resources section of the coronavirus page on the CofE website or on our own Diocese of Exeter website.
Should we still hand deliver our Parish Magazine?
Some Studies suggest that Coronavirus COVID-19 can live on paper and cardboard surfaces for up to 24 hours, and so any paper delivery represents a transmission risk. Local hand-deliveries also mean a volunteer will touch gates and postboxes and may come into close proximity with those who may be shielding. For these reasons, parishes are encouraged to look to digital communication, and telephone calls to keep in touch. The Government has designated postal workers and delivery professionals as key-workers, so any vital printed communication should be sent through the post.
Preparing to ring again
Our church bells have not been rung for many months so it is very important that ringers arrange to undertake appropriate maintenance checks and any necessary remedial work. Read the guidance.
Please encourage people to continue giving during the crisis perhaps making the most of digital opportunities.
Public Health England – for advice about contact with those with coronavirus: 030036 916473
Please contact your local archdeacon if you have any more questions
The Ven. Andrew Beane, Archdeacon of Exeter email Andrew
The Ven. Douglas Dettmer, Archdeacon of Totnes email Douglas
01626 832064 / 07898932654
The Ven. Nick Shutt, Archdeacon of Plymouth email Nick
01752 858382 / 07736 916473
Rev Preb Giles King-Smith, Acting Archdeacon of Barnstaple email Giles