Easing the lockdown: Places of worship

Below we provide guidance on COVID-19 restrictions in relation to places of worship. We will be updating this page as and when new guidance becomes available.

Advice if you are employed by a place of worship

An employer has a statutory duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees. To do so, an employer must carry out a risk assessment, in line with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guidance. Note that HSE guidance applies in Great Britain, but Northern Ireland has a separate health and safety body.

In brief:

  • All employers with five or more employees must undertake a specific COVID-19 risk assessment.
  • Risk assessments must be shared with all staff and their representatives before any individual can be required to return to work.
  • Risk assessments must be suitably specific for music, and take account of risks arising from particular circumstances eg for choirs and singing, use of the organ, etc. Music staff must be involved in preparing these risk assessments.
  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides protections for individuals raising or acting on health and safety concerns. The ISM will seek to enforce these provisions on behalf of members.

    No individual musician, whatever their relationship with a place of worship, should be penalised or suffer any detriment for raising or acting on health and safety concerns. This means that your employer must identify and assess the risk – specifically deciding how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how serious it could be; put in place measures to control the risk; record the findings and review the control making any changes if necessary.

    Your employer must consult with you, your elected representatives, or trade unions on health and safety matters.

    Specifically, they should consult you on how the risk assessment has been or will be carried out, the outcome, and what measures will be put in place to prevent the risk of infection during your work.

    Ask your employer to tell you what steps have been taken to comply with Health and Safety legislation and the most recent guidance issued by the government on working safely during Coronavirus.

    You should also ask your employer:

  • whether they have carried out a health and safety check on the premises
  • what cleaning and hygiene arrangements have been planned
  • what communications have been made to worshippers and others attending the place of worship
  • when these measures will be put in place

    If your employer has not taken any or insufficient steps, you should notify your concerns and their shortcoming in the employer’s protection arrangements. Employees and, in some cases, workers have the right not to be dismissed or treated detrimentally where they raise health and safety concerns.

    If you or your colleagues are ISM members and have concerns or questions about this guidance, please contact our legal team at [email protected].
  • England

    Updated 12 November 2020

    During the lockdown, places of worship are closed for general services, and wedding and civil partnerships should not go ahead. Funerals are allowed up to 30 people in attendance and 15 people at related ceremonies (eg the scattering of ashes) Anyone working at the ceremony is not counted in these numbers. They may also open to broadcast services.

    Northern Ireland

    Updated 23 November 2020

    Following announcement of new restrictions in Northern Ireland, places of worship will now be closed from Friday 27 November until Friday 11 December, except for weddings and funeral (limited to 25 people including children and celebrants.)

    Scotland

    Updated 18 November 2020

    From 2 November, the Scottish Government implemented a new strategic approach based on five levels of protection. The protection levels can be applied either locally or nationally.

    Accordingly, the Scottish Government has updated its guidance relating to places of worship.

    Places of worship in Scotland remain open for a number of permitted purposes (subject to physical distancing and appropriate safety measures), including individual prayer or contemplation, congregational services, including pre-arranged or scheduled acts of worship and communal prayer, broadcasting acts of worship, funeral services, marriage ceremonies and, where celebrants in a faith community undertake them, civil partnerships registrations and religious life event ceremonies, such as baptisms, christenings and coming-of-age ceremonies

    There are rules at all 5 levels of the strategic framework about how many people may attend certain activities.

    Marriage ceremony or civil partnership
    :

    Level 0: no more than 50 people should attend
    Level 1, 2, 3 or 4: no more than 20 people should attend.

    Funerals:


    Level 0: maximum of 50 people.
    Level 1, 2, 3 or 4: no more than 20 people should attend.

    This is not including the funeral director, venue staff or celebrant but does include children under 12. Numbers of attendees will also be based on the size of the venue and its ability to maintain strict physical distancing measures, so the number able to attend may be less than the maximum number for the area.

    Face coverings

    Face coverings must be worn within places of worship. For these purposes, a face shield is not considered to be a face covering.

    Congregational singing and wind and brass instruments

    The guidance states: ‘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.’

    However there are some exceptions to this rule under the performing arts guidelines with different rules applying for professionals and non-professionals.

    Where singing or chanting is essential to a specific act of worship, plexi-glass may be used. Other instruments, such as organs, may be played.

    Travel

    There may be restrictions on travel within Scotland depending on which of the levels you live in and are intending to travel to. Please check which level applies to you here.

    Wales

    Updated 18 November 2020

    The Welsh government has published new guidance on reopening places of worship following the end of the ‘firebreak’ lockdown in 9 November.

    Broadly places of worship can reopen and operate in a similar way as previously. Please note the following changes:

    Maximum attendance

    Places of worship

  • The number of people attending a service, wedding or funeral inside a church/place of worship is determined by the capacity of the building to ensure people maintain the two-metre physical distancing requirement between separate households.
  • Community centres: maximum 15 people attending any organised activity within a community centre (which includes a church hall or church used as a community centre). The limit of 30 people, physically distanced, remains for organised outdoor services.

    Singing, chanting and the use of musical instruments

  • Congregational singing is not permitted.
  • Music and singing by organised groups may be permitted subject to appropriate distancing and risk assessments.
  • Wind instruments may not be played indoors.

    Funerals and weddings

  • Services can continue as previously but these remain by invitation only.
  • Singing is not encouraged.
  • Wind instruments may not be played indoors. Please see updated guidance for more information about weddings and civil partnerships.
  • Singing and playing music outdoors is permissible, although outdoor gatherings are limited to 30 people. Such gatherings should maintain social distancing between households and volumes kept low wherever possible.
  • If you are an ISM member, you can contact our legal team on [email protected] with any concerns or questions. Please include any relevant documents pertaining to your enquiry.