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21.08.2020
Michael Martin

Churches Exempted From Recent Tightening of Covid-19 Restrictions

Michael MartinIn these challenging times it is sometimes difficult to keep up-to-date with the rapidly changing government response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A number of church leaders have been contacting EAI to ask how recent changes in legislation and guidelines affect churches.

PERMITTED NUMBERS

Places of worship were exempted from the recent reduction in numbers allowed in indoor gatherings. This means that the basic limit for churches remains at 50 people.However, a special protocol exists for larger places of worship where increased numbers can be accommodated if the following rules are followed:

  1. Worshippers must be seated in zones of 50, with each zone having its own unique entrance / exit.
  2. A distance of 4 metres must separate each zone.
  3. No movement or interaction is permitted between zones. For example, people cannot cross from one zone to another. Nor can people pass through one zone (even if no-one is seated in it yet) to get to another zone.
  4. 2-metre physical distancing must still be observed within each zone.
  5. Objects (such as offering baskets) cannot be passed from one zone into another.

The design of most evangelical church buildings will not facilitate this special protocol, but some can utilise it. For example, it can be seen that a large cathedral-type building with 3 separate entrances could accommodate 150 people in a service by operating 3 zones.

EAI would stress that it is vital that churches taking advantage of this special protocol strictly observe these conditions, even if we cannot see the point of them. Quite apart from our desire to protect personal and public health, failure to follow them could invalidate a church’s liability insurance in the event of someone contracting Covid-19, or could result in extremely bad publicity for a church, resulting in this special protocol being rescinded. Just think of the video footage of a Dublin bar failing to observe their regulations which has been endlessly replayed on television and social media over the last few days.

You can access more detailed advice and guidelines about operating church services safely and legally at https://www.evangelical.ie/church-reopening-guidelines/

FACE COVERINGS

Nick Park with facemaskRecent legislation mandated face coverings in a wide range of public settings. However, places of worship are not covered by this legislation, so it is not a legal requirement to wear a mask in church. However, the case for wearing face coverings in indoor public settings gets stronger every day. Wearing face coverings, if not legally required in churches, is certainly recommended. Some churches already insist on face coverings, while others recommend the practice but stop short of making masks mandatory.

Since this pandemic looks like it might be with us for a long time, it might be worth getting masks printed with your church’s logo to create a witnessing opportunity.

The leaders of the Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian churches recently issued a strong statement on the wearing of masks. You can read it here: https://www.ireland.anglican.org/news/9941/face-coverings-in-churches

May God continue to sustain and direct each and every church congregation, leader and individual believer as we seek to negotiate this new social and religious landscape.