Please see below updates of important directives and guidance in this fast moving Crisis. Bishop David, Bishop Anne and colleagues are immersed in the tensions and uncertainties facing us all and trust that these new arrangements will be part of the support for all those serving Jesus Christ in church and society.
Your three key sources of up-to-date advice, guides and instructions:
Please Note: to ensure a ‘one-stop’ place of information, the below comprises updated recommendations and directives from the Church of England in bold text, with additional context from Church of England Birmingham in italic.
If you have a new, persistent cough or a high temperature, visit 111.nhs.uk. You should stay away from all NHS buildings, unless you are seriously unwell.
This means not visiting your local GP, hospital, walk-in centre or pharmacy and staying at home for seven days if you live alone, or fourteen days if you live with other people.
If you’re feeling ill and aren’t sure what to do, search Ask A&E online. Sign up in seconds, tell us what’s wrong and get helpful advice on the best way to access care…without leaving home.
Save yourself the hassle of being turned away from your local hospital’s A&E. Search Ask A&E, the online symptom checker by University Hospitals Birmingham, and get the answers you need.
The local NHS is working hard to support you at this difficult time – please help us to do this.
- Public worship
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York are now advising, in line with Government advice, that all public worship in person be paused until further notice.
Churches should be open where possible but with no public worship services taking place. Prayers can be said by clergy and ministers on behalf of everyone and churches should consider ways of sharing this with the wider community.
As the national Church of England guidance and Government recommendations make clear, our normal pattern of public worship cannot continue for the time being, and parishes are encouraged to find ways of praying, and supporting one another, through phone calls, social media and links to wider resources. Easily accessible resources will be provided shortly through the Church of England Birmingham channels – a selection are available on the Church of England website.
- Weddings and banns of marriage
Clergy due to publish banns but who cannot do so on the basis that there will not be a “principal service” on the Sundays when banns would need to be published should contact their diocesan registry for advice on how to proceed.
Government recommendations, which suspend all gatherings and ask us to strictly observe social distancing, mean that any weddings need to be on a very small scale. Legally, only five people (the couple, two witnesses and the officiating priest) need to be present. Parishes may like to think about how to remain in touch with those couples who intended to be married during this period. The legal advice from the Diocese, the Archbishops’ Council and General Synod is that banns can’t be read whilst services are suspended. Unless the marriage is postponed, a common or special licence will be needed if the publication of banns has not been completed by the date of the marriage. Normally a common licence will suffice. But there could be cases where a special licence needs to be sought (the registry will advise if a special licence is needed). Common licences can be obtained from the registry. Please ask the couple to contact the team on firstname.lastname@example.org. The couple will be required to both attend at the registry with original proof of photographic ID, address and qualifying connection. There is an administration fee for the licence of £200 which will be payable by the couple.
Can I still get married in church?
For couples getting married, weddings services can take place but subject to the rules and guidance on social distancing. Any wedding in a church would need to be on a very small scale.
Only five people need to be present at a marriage service: the couple and the clergyperson, plus two witnesses.
In this exceptional time, the Government’s guidance on social distancing and self-isolation will have a major impact on all aspects of everyday life, including the way funerals will be conducted for the immediate future. Christian funerals will continue in the Church of England but inevitably there will be some adaptations to protect everyone.
This means funerals can go ahead, but they may be different from what might normally be expected.
Sadly, there is very likely to be an increase in the number of requests for funeral services. The principles of avoiding gatherings and ensuring social distancing mean that funeral services need to be on a very small scale, with fewer than ten people present. On-line messages and memorials, and where possible, live-streaming the service will offer some support to other mourners, and in due course, ministers will wish to devise appropriate services or other occasions to which those who have been bereaved can be invited.
Before the Funeral
It is advised that meetings between the bereaved and the person taking the funeral (officiant) are held by telephone, skype etc rather than face-to-face. If meetings can only be held in person, social distancing guidance will be followed.
Planning the funeral
Although this will be very difficult for everyone, numbers of those attending the funeral will have to be kept to a minimum – we advise immediate family only. This should also be communicated to anyone in the wider circle of friends, family or colleagues in advance. Sadly, those over the age of 70 and those with an underlying health condition are strongly discouraged from attending in the present circumstances.
Any changes to the normal service will be explained by the officiant to the family.
Where family relatives or friends are unable to attend a funeral service, clergy can still take a funeral at the graveside or crematorium, even if those present are limited to clergy and funeral directors.
Consider whether a memorial service could be held at some point in the future, which is an opportunity for more people to come together once Government guidance permits.
Those who are self-isolating may be offered the opportunity to join the service via a system such as Skype or another audio link. Failing this, a recording could be made which can be sent to anyone unable to attend after the service.
Where no audio link can be achieved, officiants may be able to provide an order of service, either by email or post.
No additional people should be expected to attend the service, such as an organist, verger, sound system operator etc.
During the Funeral
Everyone attending the service must adhere to Government guidance on social distancing. Please follow the directions of the officiant and funeral director if you are attending a service.
While naturally those present may wish to shake hands or hug, all present should refrain from doing so in light of guidance on physical distancing.
After the Funeral
In keeping with the recommendations to limit social gatherings, there should not be a wake or other gathering after the funeral, although it may be possible to hold a gathering at a later date.
If you are organising the funeral of a loved one, we are acutely aware of what a difficult time this will be. We will do our best to explain any changes or delays which may be an inevitable consequence of the current restrictions – for example, to the burial of ashes – but we are here to support you and to ensure a Christian funeral and burial can still be provided.
- Baptism and Confirmation
More detailed guidance will follow on this
We will usually need to delay baptisms – whilst offering words of welcome and the assurance of our prayers to those enquiring. In the event of a particular and urgent situation where baptism has been requested, please contact the Archdeacon in the first instance. The Bishops will issue advice about Confirmation once national guidance has been agreed.
Where the Licensing of a new priest has already been arranged, the Bishops will endeavour to hold a brief service with those legally required to be present.
- Other use of churches and halls
As we are not using our church buildings for our normal gatherings for worship, hire to other groups or denominations must, logically, also be suspended. However, where a church or hall is used as a base for social care such as a food bank, it will be important to arrange continued access, with social distancing measures in place.
- Vulnerable 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.
We have a particular duty of care towards those who are vulnerable because of their health conditions, or who are aged over 70. We don’t want any sense of duty or burden of expectation to prevent them from heeding any Government recommendations about self-isolation. If such a recommendation is made, as anticipated, no funeral, wedding or practical service should be carried out by anyone, lay or ordained, who is aged 70 or above.
Incumbents or, where there is a vacancy, Area Deans are asked to seek cover for such services or other essential tasks, and to contact the Archdeacon in case of difficulty.
It would be wise for churches to consider now what assistance they may need to comply with this, and to channel their requests through the Area Dean.
In the light of the Government’s guidance, churches will be encouraged not to hold meetings unless they are absolutely necessary. The national Legal Office has written to every Diocesan Registrar and Diocesan Secretary with advice on how to suspend the legal requirements to hold these meetings.
PCC business can be conducted by correspondence under the 2020 Church Representation Rules, which also permit APCMs to be held up to 31st May. Detailed guidance about Annual Meetings, including deanery synod elections is expected nationally, but in the meantime, these meetings should be postponed. Other meetings should take place online or over the phone.
- Pastoral Care
Longer term provision for the pastoral care of those self-isolating for a considerable length of time will be discussed; at present, phone calls, delivery of letters, cards and essential items and social media contact where possible are all encouraged.
Remaining compliant with safeguarding and GDPR requirements is, of course, a key aspect of good pastoral care in these very unusual times.
We are encouraging church people to do everything they can to support food banks, so they do not need to close.
WHAT IF THERE IS NO RUNNING WATER, OR WE CAN'T GET HOLD OF HAND-SANITISER?
If neither is available, use thermos flasks, individual bowls, and paper towels which should be thrown away immediately after use.
Please note that wet wipes are not a suitable alternative, as they are not effective in killing or removing viruses.
Church of England Schools
All schools, including Church of England schools, will continue to follow the latest Government advice.
In line with the suspension of Ofsted inspections, SIAMS (Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools) has also been suspended until further notice.
Schools Collective Worship
The guidance from the Archbishops applies to churches, not schools. Schools should follow guidance from the Government on how they should operate, including any guidance on assemblies or collective worship within school.
Visits to churches for worship services in church should not take place, as these would count as public worship, which C of E churches will not now be providing.