Coronavirus (COVID-19): places of worship
Places of worship play an important role in providing spiritual leadership for many individuals, and in bringing communities together. However, their communal nature makes them places that are particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. Guidance is available to help places of worship minimise the risk of COVID-19.
The number of people permitted to attend a place of worship must be determined by a risk assessment.
It is a legal requirement to wear a face covering when entering and exiting the building. Face covering exemptions apply.
The legal requirement to wear a face covering in a place of worship, during an act of worship, has been removed, however it is still strongly advised.
If singing is part of the act of worship it is strongly advised that face coverings are worn.
Face coverings must still be worn at any other activity taking place in a church building, unless the primary purpose of the activity is an act of worship.
The regulations are available on the Department of Health website:
Many places of worship are also workplaces and should therefore be aware of their responsibilities as employers under health and safety law.
Places of worship also have a duty of care to volunteers, to make sure that, as far as reasonably practicable, they are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
You should take steps to minimise the risk of COVID-19 spreading.
You should consider the specific circumstances of the place of worship including its size, how it is organised, operated and managed.
Guidance for voluntary and community groups that operate in church buildings is also available:
Anyone showing any of symptoms of COVID-19 (a new continuous cough, a fever/ high temperature, or a loss, or change in, their normal sense of taste and smell) must not attend their place of worship under any circumstances due to the risk that they pose to others.
They must self-isolate at home immediately with other members of their household and get tested.
Anyone who has been advised to self-isolate by the contact tracing service or the StopCOVID NI app, and anyone who is self-isolating in line with travel regulations, must stay at home and must not attend their place of worship for the full recommended period of self-isolation (regardless of whether or not they have symptoms).
For funerals, it is strongly recommend that anyone who is self-isolating attends remotely, to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread to other mourners.
However, if after careful consideration of the risk, they choose to attend in person, they may do so as long as they do not have any symptoms of COVID-19, even if mild.
If they are self-isolating and choose to attend a funeral, they must:
- inform the funeral director that you are self-isolating
- keep a strict two metre social distance at all times
- wear a face covering
- use they own transport to the funeral
- return immediately to the place they are self-isolating
They are not permitted to leave self-isolation to attend any other act of worship.
On entering and leaving a place of worship, everyone, including staff, should wash or sanitise their hands.
There should be signs and posters to encourage hand hygiene as well as hand sanitiser in multiple locations.
Social distancing is one of a number of measures that can help to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Other mitigations include good ventilation, the use of protective screens and face coverings, as well as increased cleaning and handwashing.
The closer you are to others, the higher the risk. The risk of transmission is therefore higher at one metre compared to two metres. The level of risk also increases if there are no mitigations in place.
Worshippers should stay at least one metre apart and should not have close contact with anyone outside of their household.
In circumstances where worshippers are less than two metres apart, other mitigations, such as good ventilation and the wearing of face coverings, are strongly recommended.
Time spent in close contact should be kept to an absolute minimum.
Suggested actions for venue managers to take to support social distancing:
- mark frequently used areas with floor tape or paint to help people maintain social distancing
- consider how you will manage queues so that the flow of groups in and out of the premises can be carefully controlled in a socially distanced way, reducing the risk of congestion or contact
- introduce a one-way system with appropriate floor markings and signage
- stagger arrivals and departures
- introduce a booking system to help with managing numbers, particularly for services where demand will be high
Organisations do not have to keep detailed records of attendance for contact tracing purposes.
However, these details would help contact tracing if there was an outbreak within a place of worship.
Places of worship should consider keeping a temporary record of visitors for 21 days but should seek consent from the visitor beforehand and ensure compliance with UK General Data Protection Regulations.
As COVID-19 spreads less easily in a well ventilated environment, it is advisable to keep windows and doors open to improve air flow where possible.
Opening windows and doors at opposite sides of a room will provide a good flow of fresh air (this is known as cross ventilation).
If possible, windows should be kept open to allow a constant flow of fresh air. The weather can affect the amount of air that flows through openings and so these should be adjusted to balance warmth with the amount of ventilation, where possible.
In colder weather, where it is not comfortable to leave windows open fully, opening the windows slightly can also provide ventilation and reduce cold drafts.
Further guidance on ventilation can be found at:
Contact with shared surfaces that are frequently touched can increase the risk of infection.
Rooms used for worship and shared spaces and surfaces, such as doorways, should therefore be cleaned regularly and following every service.
Surfaces such as door handles, tables, seats, handrails and toilets should be cleaned regularly.
In indoor spaces, the amount of virus in the air can build up, increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19. The virus can remain in the air after an infected person has left. It is therefore important that rooms are well ventilated after people leave, by fully opening windows and doors to increase fresh air.
Activities and rituals
Singing, playing musical instruments and chanted prayer are an important part of many religious services but can increase dispersal of the virus through aerosols and droplets. This is especially the case at loud volumes.
Where singing or chanting is deemed to be essential to an act of worship you should make sure it is done as safely as possible. You should:
- wear a face covering
- only sing in larger well-ventilated spaces, or outdoors if possible
- sing at a reduced level of loudness, using microphones for amplification if available
- make sure social distancing measures are in place
The communion sacrament should not be shared from a common cup or chalice.
There are no special measures or precautions recommended for the cleaning or disposal of individual cups beyond standard cleaning and disposal practices.
The person distributing the consumable should release it into the worshipper’s hand only, in such a way to avoid any contact between them and those receiving it.
Speaking, singing and chanting should not happen across uncovered consumables.
To minimise risk, there should be no sharing of the Peace through physical contact, and no shaking of hands.
Any washing/ ablution rituals should not be done at the place of worship but carried out before arrival.
In rare circumstances where it is necessary, washing facilities within the place of worship should be used in line with social distancing guidelines and hygiene measures applied.
People should not wash the body parts of others. Where an infant is involved, a member of the infant’s household should hold the infant.
Where full immersion in water is necessary as part of a ritual, this should be very carefully planned.
Those being immersed should be at least two metres away from the congregation and officiant at all times, except while they are being immersed.
Only one person should be immersed at any time and they should only be attended by a single officiant.
During the immersion, the officiant can place their hands on the head of the person being immersed, but they should not ‘cradle’ the person. The officiant should wash their hands after each person is immersed.
Faith leaders should consider adapting and reducing the length of religious services if they would otherwise have taken place over a number of hours or days, to ensure the safety of those present and minimise the spread of infection.
Individuals should be prevented from touching or kissing objects that are handled communally.
Individuals should also avoid touching property belonging to others.
Worshippers should be encouraged to bring their own bibles, hymn sheets, prayer books or prayer mats, and remove these at the end of the service.
Venues should refrain from providing reusable resources and single use alternative can be offered instead if the worshipper has not brought their own.
The worshipper must remove and dispose of this at the end of the service.
In circumstances where worshippers cannot bring their own resources, places of worship should keep a selection of clean items for individuals to use.
These should then be quarantined for 72 hours and cleaned.
Other church-based activities
There are many different types of activities organised by volunteers that take place in church buildings.
To determine the maximum number of people permitted to attend an activity in a place of worship/ church building, the organiser or operator must carry out a risk assessment.
Indoor gatherings of 15 people or fewer do not need a risk assessment.
It is not possible to provide guidance for all types of activity, however information is available to help inform decision-making:
Face coverings must still be worn at any other activity taking place in a church building, unless the primary purpose of the activity is an act of worship. Exemptions apply.