Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Phase 3: guidance for the safe use of places of worship

Guidance to help places of worship safely re-open for permitted purposes.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Phase 3: guidance for the safe use of places of worship
Individual and congregational worship

Individual and congregational worship

In addition to activity permitted within places of worship during phases 1 and 2 of the route map, from 15 July individuals or household/extended household groups are allowed to enter a place of worship to take part in the following individual or congregational activities:

  • pre-arranged or scheduled acts of worship, such as regular congregational services led by a minister of religion or lay person;
  • communal prayers, devotions or contemplation led by a minister of religion or lay person

Individuals must continue to be physically distanced from others not in their household/extended household group when carrying out these activities.

Large public gatherings are still restricted. Places of worship should not admit more than 50 people in total, regardless of their size and usual capacity.

A place of worship may be able to organise an outdoor worship event, with a maximum total of 200 people, in line with outdoor live event guidance.

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

Faith-specific practices

Physical distancing of 2 metres to limit close face-to-face interaction and strict hygiene safeguards must be maintained at places of worship. Where absolutely necessary for a faith-specific requirement interactions within a 2 metre distance may take place provided they are brief, kept to a minimum and face-to-face interaction is avoided. These interactions should only take place when it is absolutely essential and it would be unreasonable to maintain physical distancing in the circumstances (for example, the laying on of hands in the ordination of new ministers). For any such interactions, face coverings must be worn, including by the individual leading the act of worship. Faith leaders and those responsible for places of worship must take measures to adapt faith-specific rites and rituals in accordance with this guidance to ensure the safety of those present.

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

  • services or ceremonies that would traditionally take part over a period of hours or days are adapted to reduce the time spent gathered together and therefore reduce the risk of transmission 
  • individuals are prevented from touching or kissing devotional and other objects that are handled communally, or from placing their face or head in the same location as other worshippers. 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
  • the projection of voices, including shouting, is avoided. The use of a microphone and sound system can mitigate the need for this. Any microphone used should not be handled communally
  • the consumption of food and drink is avoided where it is not essential to the act of worship. Where it is essential to the act of worship, the use of communal vessels is avoided 
  • other mitigations for the preparation and handling of food which is essential to the act of worship are taken, including strict hand hygiene, pre-wrapping food items and avoiding the sharing of cutlery, crockery or utensils. Face coverings must be worn. 
  • speaking across food or drink is avoided. Where this is essential to the act of worship, everyone, including the person leading the worship, should wear a face covering and the food should be securely covered  
  • pre-requisite washing and ablution rituals are carried out at home prior to arrival at the place of worship. Where it is absolutely essential to use such facilities physical distancing and hygiene measures should be observed at all times and areas should be cleaned between each individual use. Individuals should not wash the body parts of others
  • where rituals or ceremonies require water to be applied to the body, full immersion is avoided and only small volumes are splashed onto the body. Where an infant is involved a parent/guardian should hold the infant. Strict hand hygiene should be maintained throughout
  • cash giving is discouraged, with online giving used instead. Where cash offerings continue, any receptacle should be set in one place and not handled communally. Any person who has handled money should wash their hands thoroughly afterwards and avoid touching their face
  • once services are complete, worshippers are encouraged to move on promptly. Places of worship should put in place procedures to manage this 

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

Singing, chanting and the playing of instruments 

Congregational singing, both indoors and outdoors, should continue to be avoided at this time.

Scientific studies indicate that it is the cumulative aerosol transmission from both those performing in and attending events that involve singing and the playing of wind and brass instruments, that is likely to create risk. 

In certain circumstances, some singing and wind and brass playing may resume, provided additional mitigations and safeguards are in place. This activity should only be carried out in line with the performing arts guidance. Different rules apply for professional and non-professional performers and what is and is not permitted depends on whether the activity is taking place indoors or outdoors.

Where it is essential to an act of worship for an individual to sing or chant indoors, one individual may sing or chant behind a plexi-glass screen without the need for a face covering to be worn. Any screen used should be cleaned regularly and extended physical distancing should be considered.

Other instruments that do not require breath to operate may be played (for example, church organs). Communal instruments should be cleaned regularly.

First published: 18 Sep 2020 Last updated: 18 Sep 2020 -