Guidance for Reopening of Churches for the Public

Guidance for Reopening of Churches to the Public

No 2046

30 June 2020

We welcome the Government announcement that church buildings will be allowed to reopen for public worship from 4th July 2020, provided that physical distancing remains in place.

This is not a return to normality, but at least we will now be able to meet and worship
together in our church buildings.   In addition to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, we can now have baptism, wedding funeral and other services, with some restrictions for sure.

There are still a number of challenges ahead of us. But we are encouraged by the words of hope of St. Paul: “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rome 5:3-4). Indeed, we should never lose hope.  We will overcome this situation, become stronger and will appreciate the value of faith more.

It is important to underline that all activities undertaken must be in compliance with Government Guidelines and Directives, as well as the instructions of His Holiness the Catholicos of All Armenians regarding church services.  The safety and security of our parishioners and church servers have always been a top priority, but especially during this time of the Corona pandemic they have been more important than ever.

The faithful are reminded that perfect solutions do not exist for this unprecedented
challenge that the pandemic presents to our Diocese and parishes. Therefore, each individual faithful member of our church and/or household must decide for themselves as to when and how to gradually return to take part in services in the Church. They need to make a decision against the risks inherent in any public activity, whilst we remain in our current situation.

Individuals who are shielding should continue to follow the government’s advice on shielding.

The clinically vulnerable and extremely clinically vulnerable individuals are advised not to attend worship places, however, this is advisory and they can choose how to manage their own risks.

Persons belonging to a high-risk group or feeling unwell in any way
should not participate in any church activities and should not attend Church.

Certain groups of people may be at increased risk of severe disease,
including people who are aged 70 or older, regardless of medical
conditions.

Individuals who fall within this group are advised to stay at home as much as possible and, if they do go out, to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside of their household.

Each Parish must take the necessary compliance measures. Live-streaming of services should continue wherever possible.

 

GENERAL PROVISIONS

Housekeeping

  1. To help decide with actions to be taken, a COVID-19 risk assessment should be completed by each Parish. This will be in addition to any risk assessment already in place.
  2. Social distancing should be strictly adhered to. Where possible, adhere to social distancing of at least 2 metres or 1 metre with risk mitigation (where 2 metres is not viable).
  3. Seating Plan and or useable seats marked. Chairs and seats must be arranged or allocated with a minimum of 2 meters separation in every direction to meet social distancing guidelines. Each seat must be marked with signage to indicate that it is usable. Other seats should be roped off (or similar) to ensure that they are not used.
  4. Limits for the number of people attending Divine Liturgy should be decided on the basis of the capacity of the church following a risk assessment.
  5. Limit for the number of people attending Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals is no more than 30 (including guests, witnesses, officials, and photographer).
  6. Cleaning Plan and a checklist (part of COVID-19 Risk Assessment) Provisions
    should be made for additional thorough cleaning of the church on a regular basis.
  7. Signage to be displayed reminding people of social distancing and avoiding physical contact and other safety practices.
  8. Hand sanitizer will be provided at the entrance to the Church, to be used by all
    entering and departing the Church. (Additionally, sanitising wipes, masks, gloves, eye protectors will be made available for use by stewards, volunteers & clergy).
  9. Avoid touching or kissing objects that are handled communally.
  10. Encourage participants to wear face coverings and ladies to bring their own head scarfs.
  11. Liturgy books and Sunday bulletins must not be distributed. They are available online and the faithful are asked to use their digital versions.
  12. Keep an accurate temporary record of visitors for 21 days, in a way that is manageable for your parish, and assist NHS Test and Trace with requests for that data if needed for contact tracing and the investigation of local outbreaks.
  13. The Parish should also consider operating advance booking system such that
    seats can be allocated to individuals in advance.
  14. Parents must exercise particular caution and must supervise their children, ensuring that they do not come into contact with other people.
  15. Encourage contactless and online giving. Where this is not an option, cash should be collected in a receptacle that is set in one place and handled by one individual, as opposed to being passed around. Regular cleaning and hygiene should be maintained, and gloves are worn to handle cash offerings where giving continues.
  16. Weather and other conditions permitting, the doors to the church should remain open to prevent individuals from touching the doorknobs. In addition, where possible, church windows should be opened to maximize ventilation, which may reduce the risk of infection.
  1. Traditional coffee hour/fellowship must be postponed until further notice.
  2. Clergy to remind the congregation on the importance of social distancing and hygiene.
  3. Note that the Parish Council has the legal responsibility to ensure compliance with the relevant directives; therefore a formal record must be kept of all cleaning undertaken actions are taken to comply with regulations, and all incidents.

 

Spiritual Counselling and individual prayers

All the relevant provisions detailed above shall apply.

  1. Individuals wishing to attend Church for individual prayer or to meet the pastor for pastoral care or spiritual counselling may visit the Church by prior arrangement with the Pastor/Parish Council.
  2. Visitors may light candles without touching any other objects.
  3. Visitors must say their prayers without touching any items.
  4. Regarding the receiving of blessings from the pastor, visitors should abide by social distancing rules and receive blessings verbally.

In case confessions and counselling:

  1. Seating is to be arranged for the Pastor and Visitors to provide ample social distancing.
  2. The Pastor and visitor are encouraged to wear a face covering.
  3. No physical contact is permitted.
    Following and preceding all visits, the chairs and general area must be sanitized.

Divine Liturgy

All the relevant provisions detailed above shall apply.

  1. Sunday Divine Liturgy (Badarak) will continue to be live-streamed online, where possible.
  2. Sunday service will be conducted by the clergy and deacons, choir members and an organist (where applicable) and while maintaining social distancing.
  3. Where essential to an act of worship, one individual only should be permitted to sing or chant.
  4. Participants must refrain from all contact with one another.
  5. When passing to each other liturgical items, the hands should be sanitised before the handling of the vessels.
  6. The Kiss of Peace is to be conducted by bowing the head toward others, without approaching or touching them.
  7. During the Holy Communion, we take the Body and the Blood of our Lord and
    Saviour Jesus Christ. Bearing in mind the healing power of Holy Communion, we stress that it cannot transmit any disease. However, the celebrant is susceptible to infection. Therefore, we would like to state the following:
  8. The Holy Communion is distributed in accordance with the directive of His Holiness the Catholicos of All Armenians (12.06.2020/ No 513) until
    further notice.
  9. Those preparing the Holy Communion and giving it must wash their hands thoroughly before and after distribution.
  10. Taking the Holy Communion is also a private matter for the faithful. Those who feel that they are ready to take Holy Communion should, nevertheless, appreciate the risk involved.
  11. The Communion will be offered to the faithful at the end of the Divine Liturgy.
  12. Worshipers should be advised to sing along only in a whisper to minimise any
    possible transmission of disease.
  13. Speaking, singing and chanting should not happen across uncovered consumables (other than consumables to be used by the celebrant alone). Instead, consumables must be securely covered, and prior to the receptacle being opened, should be cleaned, hands must be washed or gloves are worn.

 

Weddings
All the relevant provisions detailed above shall apply.

The following adjustments to the wedding ritual are intended to minimize the risk of
infection for all participating in the Sacrament.

  1. During virtual pre-marital counselling, the Priest must explain to the couple that in a pandemic environment, the risk remains in participating in the Sacrament. The couple must acknowledge this and proceed only if they understand and accept these risks. Otherwise, the sacrament should be postponed.
  2. The number of participants (clergy, wedding party and faithful) must be kept to a minimum and must not be more than 30, or the capacity of the Church to allow adequate social distancing.
  3. All participants must sanitize their hands before and after the ceremony. Social distancing will be strictly maintained by the clergy, wedding party and faithful.
  4. The Priest will conduct all portions of the ceremony, maintaining a minimum
    separation from anyone (including the couple) always, with the exception of the
    following stipulations.
  5. Joining of Hands: The priest will recite the prayer for the joining of hands as
    usual. The bride and groom will then join their right hands. The Priest will not
    approach the couple or touch the hands of the bride and groom.
  6. Blessing of Rings: Before the ceremony, the rings will be placed on a tray, covered with a cloth, and held by a deacon. When the time comes for the Blessing of the Rings, he will offer the blessing over both rings. The deacon will hand the
    tray to the priest to bless. In a brief movement (i.e., one minimizing the time that
    the Priest is in proximity to the couple), the priest will approach the bride and groom and extend to them the tray. The groom will take the bride’s ring and place it on her finger, and vice-versa. The priest will not touch the rings, returning immediately to his place.
  7. Rite of Crowning: The Priest will bless both crowns. In a brief movement,
    priest/deacon will go to the edge of the bema and crown both the groom and
    the bride and return to his place in front of the altar to offer the Prayer of Crowning.
  8. At the required time, the Priest will again approach the couple, and in a brief
    movement, will remove the crowns and return them to the altar.
  9. The Ritual of the Common Cup: the pastors will consult with the couple during
    the preparatory online discussions. The couple will be asked to bring their
    own wine and wine glasses and they pour their glasses holding it while Priest
    blesses it.
  10. The sanctuary is to be sanitized thoroughly after the ceremony.
  11. The wedding rehearsal will take place observing all of the above instructions.
  12. Where required for the marriage or civil partnership, only one individual should be permitted to sing or chant.
  13. It is advisable only to play musical instruments that are not blown into. Organs can be played for a ceremony.

 Baptism
All the relevant provisions detailed above shall apply.

  1. The Priest must explain to the candidate (or parents of the candidate) for baptism that in a pandemic environment, some risk remains in their participation in a baptism. The candidate must understand and accept these risks or postpone the baptism to a later date.
  2. The number of participants (clergy and faithful) should be kept to a minimum and not be more than 30, or the capacity of the Church to allow adequate social distancing.
  1. Social distancing will be strictly maintained by the clergy and the faithful. All of the points mentioned in this document are to be adhered to during baptisms.
  2. Baptism/Immersion: The Priest will sanitize his hands, and will splash a small
    volume of water on the candidate. Full immersion should be avoided. All individuals involved should thoroughly wash their hands before and after and ensure good hygiene.
  3. Anointing: From a safe distance and in advance of approaching the candidate,
    the Priest will recite all nine formulas for the anointing in sequence. Then as
    briefly and carefully as possible, he will approach the candidate and anoint the
    nine parts of the candidate’s body.
  4. The sanctuary and especially the area of the baptismal font are to be sanitized
    thoroughly before and after the ceremony.

 

Funerals

All the relevant provisions detailed above shall apply.

  1. Restrict the number of mourners who attend so that a safe distance of at least 2
    metres can be maintained between individuals.
  2. Only the following should attend, alongside the Funeral Director, Chapel Attendant, and funeral staff: members of the person’s household close family members, or if the above are unable to attend, close friends, attendance of a celebrant of choice, should the bereaved request this.
  3. Mourners who are in an extremely clinically vulnerable group should be facilitated to attend, should they wish to do so.
  4. Mourners are advised not to take part in rituals or practices that bring them into close contact with the deceased.