The government has recognised that “Places of worship play an important rôle in providing spiritual leadership for many individuals, and in bringing communities and generations together” but in the early stages of the pandemic it recognised that their communal nature made them places that were particularly vulnerable to the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
On 13 June 2020 some places of worship were permitted to open merely for private prayer, but the Prime Minister has now announced that the government has agreed that from 4 July churches may re-open for public worship and for weddings with a recommended maximum of thirty people, provided that physical distancing is observed. More of the congregation can attend so long as the clergy and their assistants follow guidance on how to control the virus.
The way in which this will be done is by a thorough cleaning of the church before the resumption of services. Frequently used objects, surfaces or spaces, including for example doorways (with door-handles and door-knobs) between outside and inside spaces should be given particular attention when cleaning. Where possible, while the current weather is warm and summery, doors and windows should be opened during services to improve ventilation in the church.
At the entrance to each church there should be made available hand-sanitiser and/or water and paper towels to enable worshippers to cleanse their hands, as well as face-masks, which although not essential, may be worn during the service but will be removed before receiving Holy Communion.
Adherence to social distancing between individuals and households of 2 metres (3 steps) is recommended, although the newly introduced “one metre plus” rule is now the required minimum and also queue management is important so that when people approach to receive Holy Communion they should keep a safe distance from each other.
Suggestions have been made that hymn-singing may prove unsafe, so additional hymns during the service will be temporarily suspended, although liturgical responses may still be made even whilst wearing a face-mask; whilst singing the O Monogenes (during ‘The Little Entrance’) and The Cherubic Hymn (during ‘The Great Entrance’) as well as the recitation of The Creed should not take the form of an intense and noxious discharge, but of a modest and moderate response.
The “Guidance Notes for British Orthodox Churches on Upholding Health issues during the Current Covid-19 Pandemic” which was issued on 13 March, and dealt with topics such as ‘Touching & Kissing’, ‘Before and after the Divine Liturgy’, ‘Hand Washing’ and ‘Holy Communion’ is still available in the News & Events section of the British Orthodox Church website and are is still applicable.