The following message was sent to clergy and ministers across the diocese by the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave, today:
I am writing to advise you of a change in my guidance on the use of churches in our current situation. The House of Bishops of the Church of England yesterday agreed in principle to a phased approach to lifting restrictions on access to church buildings. Following this, I consulted Bishop Clive, Bishop Sarah and other members of my senior staff team by Zoom this morning. While church buildings must remain closed to the public in accordance with current Government regulations, this guidance now applies with immediate effect:
- Incumbents, or rural deans where there is no incumbent, can in consultation with their churchwardens and bearing in mind their specific location, appoint one person for each church in their benefice to enter that church building for the period of these current restrictions.
- The appointed person should be the incumbent or a licensed or authorised minister (ordained or lay), minister with permission to officiate, churchwarden, or, where there is no churchwarden, one member of the PCC.
- The appointed person should be entering the church building only for the following purposes: (i) pray the Daily Office and/or, in the case of priests, celebrate the Eucharist on behalf of the community they serve, (ii) live stream or pre-record worship, (iii) ring one bell to mark prayers being said or mark events (e.g. Clap for Carers, VE day anniversary), (iv) check the fabric of the building.
- The only people who may enter the building with the appointed person are members of their household with whom they are living.
- The church should be near to where the appointed person lives.
- The appointed person should have regard to safeguarding and good practice in lone working. Useful guidance is here.
- This is permission not requirement: clergy and lay people should not feel under any obligation to enter church buildings, nor should anyone be asked who is in one of the government’s risk categories.
- You may consider allowing any contractors into the church building. If so, they can go on site subject to HSE guidelines, such government advice as may be in force and their own risk assessment. Obviously, the church building will need to remain locked while they are inside, care should be taken over hygiene of door handles etc.
- The guidance given by me on 1 April regarding the Eucharist remains.
- Current guidance on funerals, weddings and baptisms remains unchanged at this time.
- Any questions about the interpretation of these guidelines should in the first place be referred to your archdeacon.
I am grateful to you all for your attention to the guidance of the archbishops and bishops over recent weeks. We are today taking the first step in a staged response to the lifting of restrictions, and further changes can be expected in due course. In all of this, the safety of our communities and our priests and ministers remains our priority. I assure you of my prayers for all that you are doing to sustain and grow the mission and ministry of our churches in these challenging times.
Further practical advice on re-entering church buildings is available on the national Church of England website here.