Preparing to open for private prayer

This page is an at a glance guide to the Church of England advice on preparing to open for private prayer and related documents.

Further Church of England advice, updating previous guidance on worship, weddings, funerals, baptisms and Holy Communion was issued on 1 July and is available on the main Preparing to Open our Buildings page here, alongside new guidance on confirmations.

The current version of all Church of England documents will always be available to download from the Church of England website’s Coronavirus FAQs page.

Church of England guidance

This advice seeks to help clergy and church councils to reopen churches when circumstances allow. It recognises that for all kinds of specific reasons to do with both people and buildings a particular local church may or may not be able to open at the same time as others and collaborative working between local churches is encouraged. Please read this together with Opening cathedral and church buildings to the public.

Q. What should we do in terms of reminding people about hygiene and social distancing?

A. Please put notices on the door reminding people about hygiene and physical distancing measures, including stressing the critical importance of using the hand sanitizer both going in and going out of the church building. Supplies of hand sanitizer should be available in the porch/inside the main door (or water, soap and paper towels). Some helpful examples of posters can be found on the CPO website and on Coronavirus section page, Communications support: digital and traditional.

You should consider whether there is anything you can do in terms of seating to enable physical distancing. For instance by marking places where people can sit or removing some chairs for churches with movable seating.

Q. What about cleaning the church?

  • The church should be cleaned regularly in line with the guidance note on keeping your church building clean.
  • Each PCC should assess how regularly this is done, given the likely numbers of people using the church.
  • You may want to rope off parts of the church to limit the area to clean.
  • It is best to shut away items such as toys, books, etc. which may be difficult to clean or to know if they have been used.

Advice about cleaning including sensitive historic interiors is available on the national website and from Historic England.

Q. Should someone be present all the time to monitor the church?

A. There is no public health need to do this, though the decision will need to be based on your own local situation and risk assessment.

Q. What about rough sleepers and other vulnerable people?

A. Some churches have rough sleepers and those who are vulnerable who use the church as a ‘base’ during the day when it is open. In the end, managing this has to be a local decision based on pastoral responses. For some, explaining clear ‘rules’ as to where in the church and when a person may come in might be enough. Others will not respond to this and it may be that for that reason the church cannot be open unless it is possible to have someone on duty. Discussing these issues with your Archdeacon or Area Dean might help to think through how to approach them.

Q. Does the church have to be open all the time and do all churches have to open?

A. No, this will be a local decision based on the local situation. There is no requirement to open all churches, or to open any church all the time. Such decisions should be taken in consultation between the incumbent and the PCC. A Risk Assessment document has been produced for churches to use prior allowing access. Disagreements or concerns should be carefully discussed and you might seek the advice of the Archdeacon or Area Dean.

Whatever you decide to do, think about how best to communicate this to your local community.

Remember to agree arrangements to open and close the church.

Q. Can we leave out prayer leaflets and books?

A. It is best not to leave out things that can be touched repeatedly by different individuals, and which may be difficult to clean. This includes pen and paper for prayer requests. Instead you may want to invite people to email or phone in prayer requests.

Q. What about lighting candles?

A. The lighting of candles with reusable lighters or similar should not be encouraged, but if they can be lit safely in another way this can be an aid to prayer. Issues of safety must be considered and leaving candles available is only recommended if the church is being supervised.

Q. Should be we leave our toilets open?

A. Toilets should be kept open if at all possible and carefully managed to reduce the risk of transmission. Steps that will usually be needed to make the use of toilets as safe as possible:

  • signs and posters about safe hygiene which can be downloaded for example from the HSC Public Health Agency website.
  • social distancing marking in areas where queues normally form, and the adoption of a limited entry approach, with one in, one out (whilst avoiding the creation of additional bottlenecks)
  • If possible, make hand sanitisers available on entry to toilets where safe and practical, and ensure suitable handwashing facilities including running water and liquid soap and suitable options for drying (either paper towels or hand dryers) are available. Communal towels should be removed and replaced with single use paper towels.
  • Agree clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets, with increased frequency of cleaning in line with usage. Use normal cleaning products, paying attention to frequently hand touched surfaces, and consider the use of disposable cloths or paper roll to clean all hard surfaces.
  • Special care should be taken for cleaning of portable toilets and larger toilet blocks.
  • Keep the facilities well ventilated, for example by fixing doors open where appropriate and safe to do so.
  • Putting up a cleaning schedule that is kept up to date and visible.
  • Providing more waste facilities and more frequent refuse collection
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