Easing the lockdown: Places of worship

We are currently updating this advice following announcements from all four nations on new COVID-19 restrictions on 22 September. We will be looking at new measures put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and how they affect performing and teaching music. Check our Twitter and Facebook pages for announcements of new updates.

We are also aware of new information from the Royal School of Church Music and the Scottish Government on music in worship and will be updating this page as soon as possible to incorporate new information.

Below we provide an update on the easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in relation to places of worship. We will be updating this page as and when new guidance becomes available.

Page updated 19 August

England

The government have published guidance on the safe use of places of worship during the pandemic. This was updated on 14 August as it was announced that stage four of the five stage roadmap for performing arts return can begin from 15 August.

The government acknowledges the importance of communal worship to communities, but also notes that their communal nature means they are ‘particularly vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus.’

Specific advice on music and worship


The government guidance on music making as part of worship and religious ceremonies expands slightly on what had previously been announced about weddings:

  • Singing inside and outdoors: Small groups of professional or non-professional singers can sing in front of worshippers both outdoors and indoors from 15 August.
  • Singing in these groups should be limited to a small set group of people and should not include audience participation. Where music plays a big part in worship, and recordings are available, the government suggests you consider using these as an alternative to live singing.
  • Please refer to the associated guidance for the performing arts. The parts of this guidance which are particularly salient include the recommendations for physical distancing and hygiene.
  • Congregations are still at this time not permitted to sing as part of worship.
  • Instruments: Organs can be played for services, practice and general maintenance, but should be appropriately cleaned after use. Any other instrument played during worship should be cleaned thoroughly before and after use.
  • Broadcasting: Professional singers can rehearse and record indoors for broadcast.
  • Congregations should not play music above a volume that makes talking difficult.
  • Sheet music: The guidance also sets out advice on reducing the use of shared items, including printed material. Although sheet music is not mentioned explicitly, under the spirit of this advice, musicians should use their own music where at all possible, or else follow the guidance on quarantining re-used material.
  • Advice if you are employed by a place of worship

    An employer has a statutory duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees. To do so, an employer must carry out a risk assessment, in line with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guidance.

    In brief:

  • All employers with five or more employees must undertake a specific COVID-19 risk assessment.
  • Risk assessments must be shared with all staff and their representatives before any individual can be required to return to work.
  • Risk assessments must be suitably specific for music, and take account of risks arising from particular circumstances eg for choirs and singing, use of the organ, etc. Music staff must be involved in preparing these risk assessments.
  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides protections for individuals raising or acting on health and safety concerns. The ISM will seek to enforce these provisions on behalf of members.

    No individual musician, whatever their relationship with a place of worship, should be penalised or suffer any detriment for raising or acting on health and safety concerns. This means that your employer must identify and assess the risk – specifically deciding how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how serious it could be; put in place measures to control the risk; record the findings and review the control making any changes if necessary.

    Your employer must consult with you, your elected representatives, or trade unions on health and safety matters.

    Specifically, they should consult you on how the risk assessment has been or will be carried out, the outcome, and what measures will be put in place to prevent the risk of infection during your work.

    Ask your employer to tell you what steps have been taken to comply with Health and Safety legislation and the most recent guidance issued by the government on working safely during Coronavirus.

    You should also ask your employer:

  • whether they have carried out a health and safety check on the premises
  • what cleaning and hygiene arrangements have been planned
  • what communications have been made to worshippers and others attending the place of worship
  • when these measures will be put in place

    If your employer has not taken any or insufficient steps, you should notify your concerns and their shortcoming in the employer’s protection arrangements. Employees and, in some cases, workers have the right not to be dismissed or treated detrimentally where they raise health and safety concerns.

    If you or your colleagues are ISM members and have concerns or questions about this guidance, please contact our legal team at [email protected].
  • Capacity guidance


    For certain events, like weddings, funerals and life cycle celebrations (any ceremony that is self-contained rather than general worship) there is a capacity limit of 30 (or smaller if social distancing can’t be adhered to with these numbers).

    For general communal worship, capacity should be decided by the venue management on basis of their risk assessment.

    Large receptions or parties should not take place after life cycle events. Small receptions (up to 30 people at a sit-down dinner) can now take place.

    Social distancing and face covering guidance


    Social distancing guidelines should be adhered to. This means keeping a distance of 2 metres between households, or 1 metre with other actions taken to reduce the risk of transmission.

    Be aware the place of worship should consider how they may alter services to reduce the risk of transmission, with measures like changing seating, staggering arrival times and directing the flow of people in the venue.

    Face coverings (including masks) should be worn in places of worship. Other measures such as social distancing, minimising time spent in contact, and increasing hand and surface washing should be maintained.

    Test and trace

    Places of worship have been asked to help facilitate the test and trace process by collecting contact details of all those in attendance at a place of worship. Data protection law means this is a voluntary process and consents should be asked for. If data is collected, it should be destroyed after 21 days.

    Clinically vulnerable and those over 70 years of age


    Despite some recent changes to advice for those clinically vulnerable people who were asked to shield by the government, they are still advised not to attend places of worship. Those over 70 are urged to take particular care to minimise contact with those outside their household.

    Northern Ireland

    Religious services in places of worship, indoor marriage and civil partnerships have all now resumed.

    Numbers attending indoor ceremonies and post-ceremony celebrations will be determined by the venue on a risk assessed basis, taking account of the individual circumstances of each venue and adhering to all relevant public health advice and industry guidance. Singing is currently allowed in Northern Ireland, although the higher risk of transmission is acknowledged, and it is suggested this may be with socially distanced choirs at low volumes.

    Advice from the executive as written to faith leaders in the country is available in this letter.

    Scotland

    Places of worship in Scotland have been allowed to reopen for communal prayer and services since 15 July.

    However, there will be restrictions placed on singing and chanting, two-metre social distancing will need to be in place, and attendees will be required to provide their contact details.

    Restrictions on attendance at weddings, civil partnerships and funerals will be eased, although these numbers will be more limited than those allowed to return to places of worship more generally.

    Wales

    The Welsh government have published guidance on reopening places of worship. Wedding ceremonies have been allowed from 22 June. It will be down to individual places of worship and register offices to decide the number of guests allowed to attend a wedding.

    They will need to base the decision around the ability to accommodate the 2m social distancing rule between households. Communal singing and playing instruments that are blown into should be avoided.

    On 31 July First Minister Mark Drakeford announced relaxations to the current restrictions which will come into effect on 3 August. Wedding ceremonies at licenced venues can resume although indoor receptions will not be permitted until mid-August at the earliest.

    If you are an ISM member, you can contact our legal team on [email protected] with any concerns or questions. Please include any relevant documents pertaining to your enquiry.