Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for the safe use of places of worship

Published: 19 Jun 2020

Guidance to help places of worship safely open for limited permitted activities, including individual prayer or contemplation.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for the safe use of places of worship
Individual prayer

Individual prayer within a place of worship

Permitted use

In addition to the existing limited purposes, individuals or household groups are now permitted to enter a place of worship to pray or take part in religious or spiritual contemplation on their own and not as part of a wider group. They must be physically distanced from other individuals not in their household group.

Public gatherings are still restricted. Attending pre-arranged acts of worship, including gathering for collective or communal prayer or worship or for regular scheduled services, within a place of worship is not yet permitted. This includes a minister of religion or lay person leading devotions or prayer of any sort.

It is encouraged that services continue to take place online wherever possible.

Those responsible for running a place of worship should engage and communicate with worshippers and the wider community to explain what activity is permitted and what is still prohibited.

Faith-specific practices

Faith leaders and those responsible for places of worship should consider whether it is safe to carry out certain faith-specific rites and rituals at this time in accordance with this guidance.

In addition to the key principles, it is strongly advised that:

  • individuals are prevented from touching or kissing devotional and other objects that are handled communally. Use barriers and signs where necessary
  • individuals avoid touching property belonging to others such as shoes which, if taken off, should be handled only by their owner
  • communal resources such as books, prayer mats and services sheets are removed from use. If single use alternatives are used these should be removed by the worshipper
  • any personal items brought in to aid worship are removed by the user
  • kitchens are closed and no food or drink is made available with the exception of water, if this is necessary for health reasons. Worshippers should be encouraged to bring their own bottled water, but where water is provided it should be in single-use cups or bottles that are disposed of immediately after use. Water taps should be wiped down after use;
  • use of shared spaces such as washing/ablution areas is limited, with physical distancing observed at all times. Areas should be cleaned between each use. Wherever possible, washing/ablution rituals should be carried out at home
  • cash giving is discouraged, with online giving used instead. Where cash offerings continue, gloves should be worn when handling money
  • scientific and medical advice around how activities such as singing and chanting can be managed safely is still being developed. This activity should be avoided at this stage

A local policy reflecting how any such rites and rituals can be safely carried out should be developed and implemented before reopening.

Restrictions on capacity

There is no legal limit on the maximum number of people that may attend a place of worship for individual prayer or contemplation at any one time.

However, places of worship should ensure that they offer individual prayer or contemplation to their communities in as safe a manner as possible, and as appropriate to their facilities.

It is the responsibility of those responsible for a place of worship to put in place measures that will allow them to safely reopen for individual prayer or contemplation.

Restrictions must be set by individual places of worship to limit the number of people permitted to enter for individual prayer or contemplation at any one time, so that a safe distance of at least 2 metres can be maintained between individuals from different household groups.

Those responsible for a place of worship should determine the maximum number of worshippers that can be accommodated based on the available space (taking into account total floor space and likely ‘pinch points’ and busy areas), the building design and layout, and the availability of staff/volunteers to help manage attendance.

A risk assessment should be carried out to identify points of high risk in the building and identify any mitigating action.

It is strongly recommended that places of worship close to individual prayer or contemplation during the time normal services would be taking place to avoid the potential for over-crowding.