reopening church

There are many parish priests and parochial church councils (PCCs) who are worried about the re-opening of churches post 4th July 2020. There are numerous Guidance documents from both the Government and the Church of England which need to be followed and decisions will have to be made about how to follow that guidance in the circumstance of each individual church.

What do you need to be aware of when re-opening your church?

There are various questions that you may be asking, such as:

  1. Who is going to be responsible for training the volunteers who usually clean the church?
  2. How are we going to purchase the correct cleaning fluids (which are strong enough to disinfect against the virus but won’t damage our historical church interior)?
  3. Where do we source hand sanitiser?
  4. What are the legal requirements when it comes to Track and Trace and data compliance? (Read more here.)
  5. What about the often elderly members of the congregation, many of whom will have been shielding during the lockdown period and who are extremely vulnerable to infection? How do we make sure that they can come back to church in a safe way?
  6. Many clergy may be vulnerable to potential illness and so won’t be able to assist with services, particularly during a vacancy.

These are just some of the considerations a PCC and their priest will need to take into account in deciding whether or not to open their doors for services.

How can we re-open in a safe and controlled way?

Many benefices and Mission Communities have decided to take small steps forward rather than trying to embark on wholesale re-opening. This is perfectly acceptable and understandable and this approach is endorsed by the national Church and by Diocesan Bishops. But what does the law say?

Canon B11 requires morning and evening prayer to be said in at least one church in each benefice on all Sundays and principal Feast Days and Canon B14 requires that Holy Communion be celebrated in at least one church in each benefice on all Sundays and principal Feast Days. So how can you do this if the Church is closed? The failure to observe the Canons is a disciplinary matter and could place the priest at risk of action being taken against them under the Clergy Discipline Measure.

Given the known difficulties of re-opening churches and the fact that in the short term it may not be possible for a church in a particular benefice to open, the Bishop has confirmed to all clergy that they have the right under Canon B14A to dispense with the requirements of Canons B11 and B14 should a PCC request that they authorise this.

This will then enable the benefice to continue to work towards opening their churches in a controlled way without the ‘Sword of Damocles’ hovering over their clergy.

How can a benefice obtain a Dispensation?

Should a benefice wish to obtain a Dispensation from the Bishop then they should speak with their Archdeacon, who will then discuss with them the reasons why they cannot open one church in the benefice as required by the Canons. Also, if it is appropriate to do so, the Archdeacon will ask the Diocesan Registrar to draft a Dispensation for the benefice for a time period and with such conditions as may be appropriate for that benefice. The Bishop will then decide whether or not to grant the Dispensation and it is anticipated that at least in the short term, such authority will be given.

It is hoped that churches will in due course be able to fully re-open but whilst pandemic conditions remain difficult and the virus is still active it may be necessary for short term Dispensations to be given. If you are in doubt then speak to the Archdeacon or the Registrar.