Notes from an FIEC Leadership in Lockdown webinar on The Journey out of Lockdown with John Stevens and a panel discussion with Spencer Shaw, Mark Lawrence, and Paul Gamston.
1. On the issue of churches reopening after lockdown different church leaders will come to different conclusions. We need to adopt a Christlike attitude in how we relate to one another.
2. Coming out of lockdown will be more difficult than going into lockdown.
3. A Christlike mindset is an others-centred mindset. Some churches will return to meeting quickly because members are feeling the loss of community. Other may delay because the members are afraid. A Christlike attitude in how we relate to one another will mean forgoing our rights for the sake of serving others like Philippians 2 tells us Christ Jesus did.
4. A big concern should be our witness to the watching world and the community we are in.
5. Government guidance update:
– Need to undertake a formal risk assessment to ensure the building is COVID-secure.
– No limits on numbers at services but for weddings the maximum attendance is 30.
– Strict adherence to social distancing is required (2m unless impossible).
– No congregational singing. A soloist is allowed if essential to the act of worship, but that is not generally the case in FIEC churches.
– Services should be as short as possible with the assumption that everyone leaves immediately the service is finished.
– Avoid baptism by immersion because of the quantity of water involved.
– For creche and Sunday School, guidance for schools and childcare settings needs to be adhered to.
– For Lord’s Supper – no common cup; no speaking directly over bread and wine.
– Advice is for congregation to bring their own books or if not to quarantine books for 48 hours.
– Avoid cash collections or single receptacle and quarantine.
– The Baptist Union has advice and risk assessment template that is helpful for FIEC churches.
6. Behind the guidance given by the government for places of worship is a) public health concern – rules applied are not intrinsically different to other sectors of the community and other service providers; b) places of worship are ‘particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19’ based on evidence from UK and around the world; c) particular concern for over 70s and those shielding; d) track and trace to prevent localised spikes.
7. In the guidance given there is little in terms of mandatory legal requirements. There are mandatory legal requirements of risk assessment and for handling food (Lord’s Supper). Everything else is ‘advice’ or ‘strongly advised’ and put in language of ‘should do’ not ‘must do’. Government is trusting that churches act in a way that is wise and safe. But government does expect churches to fully implement all of the guidance meaning that advised or strongly advised is not optional or voluntary.
8. How will government guidance be enforced? I) Criminal or civil liability of trustees if they ignore the mandatory or strong advice; ii) It is a criminal offence to fail to manage health and safety ‘so far as is reasonably practical’; iii) Is it COVID-secure to defy government advice or strong advice? Iv) Risk of being uninsured if advice is ignored; v) Local authority enforcement action for breaches of health and safety and there will be spot checks.
9. FIEC’s position is that all churches ought to implement government advice.
10. The ban on singing might change in due course in light of subsequent evidence.
11. There is the possibility of restrictions being further loosened or tightened depending on what happens with the infection rate.
12. Just because churches are allowed to meet together from July 4 doesn’t mean they should.
13. Publish the risk assessment on the church website.
14. There will be a diversity of approaches to holding services. One church is running multiple services with those for adults and children over 11 only and those for families with children under 14 (children must remain with their parents). For another church, the first step might be to have the church as a ‘Zoom’ screen for their online service.
15. Adhering to 2m social distancing is crucial. Rows of chair 2m apart. One way system into building. If handwashing not easily possible, have antibacterial gel at entrance. After service, stagger leaving and encourage people to leave building and premises. Churches will need to decide how heavily this will need to be policed – by a steward, signage, or announcements to congregation.
16. Keep list of everyone who attends services for 21 days.
17. Varied picture on how soon those who rent premises will be able to meet. Demands made by owners of the building might be narrower and tighter than government requires.
18. General consensus is that running creche or Sunday School at the moment is too much. Have pods available for parents to take children to might be an option if space.
19. Over 70s are discouraged from coming to church at the moment by the government. We need to respect that. Yet we also want to treat them as adults by making this clear to them and then letting them take responsibility for the decision they make. Another reason why it is important to have in place proper social distancing rules.
20. People need to be told if they are on camera if live-streaming the service from the church.
21. Have members of the church who are ready to go home if guests turn up for the service so that you don’t need to turn them away.
22. Ensure the front row of the church is not too close to the lectern to reduce the danger cause by voice projection. Congregational corporate prayer poses a risk.
23. Likelihood is that guidance will be in place for as long as guidance is in place for pubs and restaurants.