A Christmas with Covid-19

21 December 2020

The Christian Legal Centre’s Rob Smith breaks down what churches are allowed to do this Christmas, in line with the new Covid regulations.

At the risk of being trite, it has been a strange old year and that is no mistake. Who would have imagined twelve months ago that phrases like ‘social distancing’ would have crept into common parlance, or that we would all be travelling with masks on? Yet nevertheless here we are facing our first Covid Christmas. I say first because nobody seems to have the vaguest idea about when we might see a return to normality (whatever that will look like).

In 2020, we have seen the forced closure of so many pastimes that we take for granted. Pubs, restaurants and shops have all been closed and our present tiering system makes it likely that the majority will either remain closed or severely restricted for the foreseeable future.

But let us not forget that the government has also chosen to restrict worship by closing churches for collective worship on at least two occasions (depending upon where you live). During the first lockdown it even became impossible to marry.[1]

We can put up with the inconvenience of certain interferences with our day to day lives, but closing our churches was a bridge too far, so the Christian Legal Centre has helped over 100 prominent church leaders to challenge the closure of churches by way of judicial review. This challenge will not be heard until 25 January 2021, but it is noticeable that in the meantime, the latest lockdowns in various communities have expressly excluded churches.[2] Even the new tier 4 regulations for London and parts of the South East still expressly allow churches to open. We are grateful for this concession and give glory to God for his mercy.

Keeping on top of the regulations relating to places of worship has been an interesting challenge. With powers devolved to each part of the Union we have had to navigate four different sets of rules before advising churches on the dos and don’ts. The question that we get asked most often, probably because it is closest to our hearts, is ‘when can we sing again?’. This is one question the regulations across the UK have been consistent on. They say that; If singing does take place, steps should be taken to reduce the risk of transmission. This includes limiting the number of individuals participating as far as possible’. This seems a far cry from the complete ban that many seem to believe is in force. It is doubtless further perpetuated by the Church of England’s guidance to its churches, which gives a very misleading representation of what the regulations say.

So where does that leave us? There are restrictions still placed upon us by statute; for example, wearing a face covering is mandatory,[3] as is the requirement for organisers to arrange seating in such a way as to ensure social distancing. We should also advise those with underlying health issues that going out is not without its risks and ask those displaying symptoms to stay away, but other than that, we can continue to worship the Lord as ever we did. I do not intend to appear glib, particularly as members of my own family are currently COVID+. Church leaders do have a duty to take reasonable steps to keep people safe, but let us not kid ourselves that the Health and Safety Executive or the Local Authority are interested in prosecuting trustees left right and centre for letting people sing, particularly when it is permissible.

[1] Some weddings were still possible in very restricted circumstances, for example where one of the parties faced imminent death.

[2] Wales returns to lockdown on 28 December and Northern Ireland on 26 December, but churches are free to remain open for collective worship.

[3] Subject to having a medical reason for not wearing one.

  • Share

Related articles

All content has been loaded.

Take action

Join our email list to receive the latest updates for prayer and action.

Find out more about the legal support we're giving Christians.

Help us put the hope of Jesus at the heart of society.