Coronavirus related Legislation:
Briefing for churches in Wales

Every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this information, but it should not be relied upon for the purposes of legal advice.
As you read the information that follows, Welsh Government would remind you that the health situation in Wales is currently very serious, and all risk assessments should begin by asking the question
Given the inherent risks involved do I need to engage in this activity at all?
Are there safer alternatives such as broadcast?

Regulations for places of worship in Wales from December 20 (Level 4 restrictions)

Level 4 restrictions were introduced in Wales on December 20. The guidance for places of worship was updated on December 23, and those responsible for places of worship are urged to read them carefully.

It remains lawful to arrange to arrange worship in places of worship. The Public Health (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 5) (Wales) Regulations permit a place of worship to remain open and people to leave their homes or travel to it from elsewhere in Wales (but not from other parts of the UK). According to clause 16 of the regulations, in the context of COVID-19 the principal additional legal duty of the ‘person’ (which can be a body such as a PCC) responsible for the building is to:

1(a) take all reasonable measures to ensure—
(i) that a distance of 2 metres is maintained between any persons on the premises (except between members of the same household or a carer and the person assisted by the carer);
(ii) where persons are required to wait to enter the premises, that a distance of 2 metres is maintained between them (except between members of the same household or a carer and the person assisted by the carer),
(b) take any other reasonable measures for that purpose, for example measures which limit close face–to-face interaction and maintain hygiene such as—
(i) changing the layout of premises including the location of furniture and workstations;
(ii) controlling use of entrances, passageways, stairs and lifts;
(iii) controlling use of shared facilities such as toilets and kitchens;
(iv) otherwise controlling the use of, or access to, any other part of the premises;
(v) installing barriers or screens;

(vi) providing or requiring use of personal protective equipment, and
(c) provide information to those entering or working at the premises about how to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus.
(2) Measures that may be taken under paragraph (1) also include—
(a) not carrying out certain activities;
(b) closing a part of the premises;
(c) allowing and enabling a person who ordinarily works at the premises to isolate for a specified period due to testing positive for coronavirus or having had close contact with somebody who has tested positive, where that person—
(i) has been asked to do so by the Welsh Ministers;
(ii) has been required to do so by a notification given by a contact tracer;
(d) collecting contact information from each person at the premises and retaining it for 21 days for the purpose of providing it to any of the following, upon their request—
(i) the Welsh Ministers;
(ii) a contact tracer
(e) taking reasonable measures to ensure that such contact information is correct.

There are, of course, other legal requirements – such as general health and safety, safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, data protection, and so on – which remain in force also, and they should not be forgotten when making arrangements to re-open.

Welsh Government has drawn up detailed guidance regarding implementing these legal requirements. Clause 18 of the regulations places a duty on the ‘person’ responsible for the premises to have regard to this guidance (and other relevant Government guidance – see below). It is important, therefore, that the ‘person’ responsible reads this guidance carefully.

There is no upper limit on the numbers who may attend an act of worshipeach place of worship should calculate a safe maximum within the Regulations above and enact it.
Worship outdoors beyond the curtilage of the place of worship is no longer permitted. While it would be possible in principle to worship in the open air on land within the curtilage of a place of worship, careful consideration should be given not only to Covid safety but also to the possible effect on community relations of being seen to meet visibly outdoors for worship when other sections of the community cannot meet at all.

It should be noted that the re-opening of places of worship (and other public places) is subject to the principle which is expressed as follows in the guidance:
Some places of worship may choose not to reopen until a later date, open at a slower pace and/or continue to use online technology to carry out faith and pastoral activities. In managing risk the first question should always be can I avoid the risky activity. Wherever practical and reasonable, alternatives to face to face meeting should be employed to reduce the risk of transmission. [Cytun’s emphasis]
Churches should, therefore, consider this principle carefully before proceeding to re-open any activity.

It is a requirement under Clause 20 of the Regulations for all those aged over 11 to wear a face covering in indoor public spaces, including places of worship, unless they have an illness or disability which prevents that. There is no legal exemption for worship leaders, but Welsh Government guidance says:
Those leading worship need not wear a face covering if it impractical to do so. However they should consider a range of other mitigations to ensure they can provide a barrier to transmission such as distancing, screens, visors and additional hygiene measures. 

Funerals and weddings

In the case of funeral services held indoors, there is a legal restriction on who may attend. Under Schedule 4, clause 1(4)(d), an individual may leave home to attend a funeral:  
(i) as a person responsible for arranging the funeral,
(ii) if invited by a person responsible for arranging the funeral, or
(iii) as the carer of a person attending.

Welsh Government guidance regarding funeral services can be seen here. Most of this guidance still applies, but it has not been updated to indicate that it is not permissible to hold a “wake” or funeral tea or similar, including on faith premises.

In the case of weddings and civil partnership ceremonies, there is a similar restriction on who may attend, under Schedule 4, Clause 1(4)(c), which provides that an individual may:
attend a solemnisation of a marriage, formation of a civil partnership or alternative wedding ceremony—
(i) as a party to the marriage or civil partnership,
(ii) if invited to attend, or
(iii) as the carer of a person attending;

The guidance to which one must have regard when arranging a wedding or civil partnership ceremony is available here.
Wedding receptions are not permissible at present.

The guidance requires all those aged over 11 to wear face coverings during the ceremony, with the following exceptions:
Those leading the ceremony need not wear a face covering if it impractical to do so. However they should consider a range of other mitigations to ensure they can provide a barrier to transmission such as distancing, screens, visors and additional hygiene measures. …
The couple do not need to wear a face covering during; the walk down the aisle, the vows, the first kiss, and photos taken indoors.
 

The regulations also permit holding an “alternative wedding ceremony”, defined as meaning a ceremony:

  1. based on a person’s faith or belief or lack of belief, to mark the union of two people, other than a ceremony for the purposes of solemnising a marriage or forming a civil partnership,
  2. held in regulated premises, and
  3. organised by a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution;

This would include a service such as a blessing of a civil marriage, or a religious (or non-religious) ceremony not including the legal registration of the marriage.

Attending a funeral, wedding or civil partnership ceremony under the above circumstances is also a “reasonable excuse” for travelling between Wales and other parts of the UK [Schedule 4, clause 6(4)(b) and (c)].

Pastoral visiting

Pastoral care of the kind offered by faith communities (as opposed to the kinds of formal and informal care covered by the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act) is not mentioned in the regulations. However, the Welsh Government’s guidance for places of worship includes the following:
Faith leaders should avoid entering another household to provide pastoral care unless reasonably necessary and should consider alternative ways of providing support such as over the telephone or virtual meetings, meeting someone outdoors or in a COVID-19 secure setting.
However if an individual is in need of pastoral support it is reasonable for a faith leader to meet with that individual indoors for compassionate reason. This maybe because a person is struggling with restrictions on meeting others generally or they may be suffering from a physical or mental illness, have suffered a bereavement or you may be concerned about their general wellbeing or welfare.

Welsh Government guidance regarding leaving home during the Level 4 alert does not include any guidance about “compassionate reasons”, but does includes the following:
It is not possible to identify in advance every possible reason someone might have to leave home. In order to act reasonably you must ask yourself what other careful people would do if they were in your shoes. Whether or not it would be reasonable to undertake a particular activity would depend on the surrounding circumstances, including how long you would be away from home for, how far you had to travel, the likelihood of interaction with others and the risk of transmission of the disease as well as why the activity is necessary and cannot reasonably be deferred until Alert level 4 restrictions have been lifted or carried out in a way that does not involve you leaving home.
In each case it would be for you to form your own judgement about whether the particular circumstances justified making the journey, despite the need to avoid transmission of Coronavirus, and it would be for the police to decide if those circumstances provided a reasonable excuse.

Under current circumstances, therefore, extreme caution is advised. No pastoral visit which is not urgently necessary should be undertaken, and the risk of spreading the virus inadvertently should be considered prior to undertaking any visit. If the weather is fine, an outdoor visit should be considered in preference to an indoor one. It would be wise to keep a written record of the decision to visit and the reasons for it.

Welsh Government has published detailed guidance on visiting care homes and visiting hospitals.

Community use of places of worship and community centres

Under the Level 4 restrictions [Schedule 4, clause 9(2)], a place of worship or faith community centre can be opened – apart from worship, funerals and weddings – only:
(a) to provide essential voluntary services, or
(b) to provide public services upon the request of the Welsh Ministers or a local authority.

Clause 9(5) explains “public services” includes the provision of food banks or other support for homeless or vulnerable people, childcare, blood donation sessions or support in an emergency.
In previous lockdown periods, Welsh Government has said that charitable food banks and other support for homeless and vulnerable people may also count as “essential voluntary services” (even if paid staff are involved in delivering the service), and these can therefore be arranged without specific Welsh Government or local authority permission.
Welsh Government has published FAQs regarding the delivery of childcare, including on church or faith premises. In general, only childcare services registered with the local authority (as opposed to entirely informal children’s clubs) may operate.

Welsh Government guidance regarding closure of businesses says the following regarding community centres:
These may be opened to provide essential voluntary services. They are also allowed to open to provide public services at the request of a local authority or the Welsh Ministers. Examples of services for which they might open include:

  • blood donations,
  • polling stations
  • food banks
  • the conduct of mass coronavirus testing or vaccinations
  • childcare
  • mental health services
  • organisations who support those suffering from substance misuse or addiction

Individual businesses cannot apply for an exception to continue trading.

Schedule 4 Clause 4(1) provides that the maximum number of people who can be present in any event other than worship is 15 indoors or 30 outdoors. However, children under 11 years of age and persons working, or providing voluntary services, at the event are not included in these totals.

Other guidance

There is further guidance that will be useful for some places of worship:

Churches which are part of a denomination, especially where the denomination is the trustee of the local building, should seek the advice of their denomination regarding any specific denominational requirements. It should be noted that the guidance issued by a number of cross-border churches is based on the Regulations applicable in England rather than those applicable in Wales. This is a matter for the individual denomination, and where there is any conflict between denominational advice and the Welsh Regulations, this should be raised within the relevant denomination.

Many of those who are responsible for places of worship are concerned about their liability for conforming to the regulations, especially when they are changing regularly. It may be helpful, therefore, to read Welsh Government’s guidance for enforcement officers, to see what they will be looking for and how they will proceed in order to ensure compliance.

Some FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions. We will add to this section on a regular basis.

Musical instruments and singing

Welsh Government guidance includes a detailed section on instrumental music and choral/group singing, and it should be studied carefully. Congregational singing is not permitted.

Where an organised professional or amateur choir or instrumental group wishes to sing, play or practise, there is detailed guidance to follow and this should be read carefully. In essence, groups of 6 may rehearse together indoors and then lead music in worship either indoors or outdoors, and this permits groups of 6 to come together for the worship itself. Those joining such a group of 6 (and their families) need to be aware that if any one of the group is required to self-isolate all 6 must do so.

Wind instruments may not be played.
Where it is desired to consider using a pipe organ, consideration should be given to using the Church in Wales’s bespoke risk assessment template.

Outdoor worship

Outdoor worship (including drive-in services) beyond the curtilage of a place of worship is not currently permitted.

Serving refreshments before or after worship

The Welsh Government guidance for the permitted use of places of worship says: Once [an act of worship is] completed, participants should be encouraged to leave the premises promptly and to maintain 2 metres distance from members of other households, to minimise the risk of contact and spread of infection.  The rules on gathering allow attendance at a place of worship as a reasonable excuse, however that should not be for a social purpose.

Refreshments may not be served before or after a service, even in a church cafe.

Cleaning the building

Welsh Government’s guidance for places of worship includes useful general guidance. Public Health England has published more detailed guidance about general cleaning and about cleaning a building when it is found that someone with Covid-19 has been present.

Test, Trace, Protect

Regulation 21(3) notes that one “reasonable measure” to safeguard people against coronavirus is:
collecting contact information from each person at the premises and retaining it for 21 days for the purpose of providing it to any of the following, upon their request—
(i) the Welsh Ministers;
(ii) a contact tracer;
and taking reasonable measures to ensure that such contact information is correct.

Welsh Government guidance for places of worship says Whether this measure is one that is “reasonable” and is, therefore, one that must be taken depends on the extent to which people who don’t know each other may interact on the premises and whether there is a risk of close interaction.  Churches therefore should consider carefully keeping an attendance list for wedding or baptism services. However, some denominations recommend that such a list should be kept at all activities. If it is decided to keep a list, it is important to adhere to data protection regulations (GDPR).

Welsh Government guidance for community centres interprets the regulations to require keeping a list of attendees at community activities, so it is recommended that this continue for all community activities in places of worship.

Detailed guidance on keeping Test, Trace, Protect records can be found here.

It is not mandatory in Wales to display a QR code in places of worship to enable use of the Covid-19 app, but churches may choose to do so.

Individuals who are anxious about attending

On December 22, Welsh Government issued new advice to those who are clinically extremely vulnerable (those who were ‘shielded’ in March-July 2020). This guidance includes advice that they should no longer attend work or school outside their home. As a result, churches are strongly advised to discourage these individuals from attending worship in person. These people may still be part of a ‘support bubble’ with one other household in order to ameliorate their loneliness and isolation, and churches may well have a role in facilitating this.
There is no requirement on anyone to attend a place of worship for any purpose, and it is important to ensure pastoral care of anyone who is anxious regarding this.

  1. It may be of help to some to use the risk assessment tool for individuals which has been devised by Welsh Government. Although drawn up principally for workplaces, it can be used by anyone up to 79 years of age and gives an indication of the individuals’ risk level with regard to Covid-19. The United Reformed Church has drawn up a similar risk assessment for members of congregations including those aged over 80. It uses a slightly different metric.
  2. Welsh Government has produced a suite of easily read materials for the public offering general advice on keeping safe.
  3. Welsh Government has created badges and lanyards for individuals to wear in order to remind others to keep their distance.

Baptism by immersion

Baptism by immersion is not currently permitted, except where a member of a household baptises another member of the same household. There is a brief section in Welsh Government guidance which explains what is permitted.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain has published brief guidance regarding some ways of arranging believers’ baptism in the current circumstances. Not all the suggestions in this guidance will be acceptable to all member churches of Cytun. It is important to conduct a risk assessment prior to arranging a service of this kind.

Communion services

Welsh Government guidance about using food and drink (including the Holy Communion) in worship is designed to cover a wide range of faith practices, and can be difficult to interpret. The practices of different churches regarding communion vary considerably, and churches which are part of a denomination should seek the advice of their denomination in the first instance.
We offer the following general guidance, to be adapted to the theological understandings of individual churches:
1. It is not permitted to break a loaf or to share bread during the service. Wafers may be used, or bread may be prepared and packaged in advance. Some churches ask communicants to bring their own bread, but careful consideration should be given to how to deal with those who forget or those who are visiting and were unaware of this (see 4 below).
2. A common cup may not be used to share wine. Traditions which use individual glasses may do so, but it is better to arrange for the glasses to be filled ready in the pews or to be picked up on arrival at the service, rather than distributing them during the service. They should be carefully washed following the service, or disposable glasses should be used.
3. Traditions which require the blessing of the bread and wine prior to distribution should pay particular attention to the following section of the guidance:
Speaking, singing and chanting should not happen across uncovered consumables (other than consumables to be used by the individual alone). Instead consumables should be securely covered, and prior to the receptacle being opened, surfaces should be cleaned, hands must be washed or gloves worn.
4. A number of commercial suppliers provide individual packs containing a wafer and a plastic cup of wine and these can be blessed subject to the guidance above. Alternatively, they may be distributed to the pews prior to the service or be left for collection by worshippers as they arrive. If worshippers are asked to bring their own bread, a supply of these packs may be kept in reserve for worshippers who forget or are visiting. Some churches will be reluctant to use these packs due to the volume of unreusable plastic which they contain.

Children and young people

Places of worship are able to provide registered childcare, and worship for children. Children may also attend services of worship, subject to the safeguarding arrangements of the place of worship. Supervised children’s activities such as Sunday schools may not be provided.

Note that children under 11 do not need to wear a face covering. The regulations do not exempt children from keeping a social distance or other legal requirements, but Welsh Government guidance for community activities states:
In circumstances where young children mix with others, it may not be practical to attempt to maintain continual 2 metre distancing (between children, or even between children and adults). This is in part because it is harder for younger children to understand the concept of physical distancing, and in part because appropriate support from carers will often require closer contact.
For young children (those of primary school age or younger), it is in any case less essential to attempt to rigidly maintain continual 2 metre distance between them, or between the children and any adults outside their household or extended household. Studies have found that young children are less likely to transmit the virus, whether to other children or to adults, and the virus appears to take a milder course in children than in adults for most cases. 
However as young children can still transmit the virus, parents of young children should still exercise their good judgement and take care especially to encourage their children to follow hand hygiene measures and keep close contact to a minimum wherever possible.

The Protective measures in childcare settings: keep childcare safe guidance should be a used as a guide for keeping children and adults safe during organised activities for children aged 0-12.

Church governance meetings

Schedule 4, clause 1(2)(a) makes it a legal requirement to work or volunteer from home unless doing otherwise is reasonably necessary and there is no reasonably practicable alternative. There may be circumstances where urgency, and the lack of alternatives, require holding church a governance meeting (e.g. PCC, Deacons, Elders, etc) within a church building or community centre. If this is essential, and postponement is not possible, adherence to the above regulations should be ensured and the local risk assessment must permit. Where some members of the meeting are elderly and/or in poor health, this should be taken into account in the risk assessment.

Worshipping in premises not owned by the faith community

It is the ‘person’ responsible for the premises who is required to ensure conformity with the regulations and arranging a risk assessment. It is, therefore, necessary to discuss with that ‘person’ how and when worship may resume.

Support schemes provided by UK and Welsh Governments

The UK Government has announced the extension of the Job Retention (furlough) scheme until the end of April 2021. The scheme is available to businesses whether they are open or closed, but the full regulations should be studied carefully. Taxation law is a specialised field, and you are advised to seek professional advice if you are unsure how to proceed in this regard.

The following Welsh Government funding will support community activities carried out by faith groups. It will not provide support for religious activity.

  • The Voluntary Services Recovery Fund is available to all third sector groups, including faith groups. It aims to prevent inequalities which have arisen as a result of Covid-19 from becoming entrenched. It can fund recovery focused community activity which is volunteer led.
  • The Third Sector Resilience Fund provides a mix of grant and loan funding for third sector organisations under three strands; survive, adapt and improve. It does accept applications from faith groups, however due to the loan element it may only be suitable for some groups. Applicants need to be incorporated organisations or prepared to incorporate before funding is finalised.
  • The Community Facilities Programme provides capital grants at two levels, up to £25,000 for small projects and up to £250,000 for larger schemes. The grant must be used for the improvement of well used community buildings .This can include facilities operated by faith groups as long as they are open to the wider community.

There are a large number of other grant programmes offered by organisations outside of the Welsh Government which will provide funding for projects led by faith groups. This includes Welsh Churches Act funds operated by local authorities (refer to your local authority website)  and programmes run by the National Lottery Community Fund, the Community Foundation Wales and a variety of trusts and foundations. Information on these sources of funding and many more can be found on the Funding Wales website.

The Business Wales website includes comprehensive information about other support schemes which are available and about an expanded apprenticeship scheme to assist those who are out of work due to the pandemic.

WCVA has collated a detailed list of sources of funding available to third sector organisations, many of which are open to applications from churches and faith groups.

It is also worth any faith group making contact with their local county voluntary council for support in identifying local and national funding sources. You can find information on your local county voluntary council at Third Sector Support Wales.

Gethin Rhys
23.12.2020