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Guidelines for Re-Opening St James’ Church for Private Prayer

These ‘guidelines’ have been put together from national Church of England and Diocesan Covid-19 advice documents as well as Government guidelines with input on how to apply them in our local setting from St James’ Standing Committee, our Buildings Officer and Safeguarding Officer.

Churchwardens and the Incumbent have full responsibility for our church building and its use.

Background

Following the outbreak of Coronavirus, all places of worship were forced to close their buildings. These guidelines were recently relaxed to allow the incumbent (and members of their household for worship) and one other if necessary (for essential maintenance) to enter the building. From the 15th June, places of worship may be opened for any member of the public wishing to come into and use this space for private prayer only.

Separate guidelines will be issued with regard to public worship, including baptisms, weddings and funerals, so these will not be included in this document apart from some general observations at the end.

There is no ‘official’ requirement for the church to open or that it be opened on the 15th June. However, it is felt to do so will be valued by church members and the wider community, providing all safety measures to protect the public, the church members and its officers are in place.

Access to the building

Initially this will be for a maximum of two days during the week; Sunday afternoon for 2 hours (between 2pm and 4pm) and Wednesdays with two sessions, one in the morning between 10am and 12 noon and one later in the day, between 4.30pm and 6.30pm. This will allow for those who are working and not working to have an opportunity to come. This arrangement will be reviewed once we are confident that it is working and sufficient.

The Church of England Covid-19 Advice states that there is ‘no public health need’ for someone to be present to monitor the church. However, we will have three people present. Two persons to greet and welcome visitors, to encourage sanitisation procedures are followed and assist with practical questions, and a third person to be on hand for pastoral issues, but who will be predominately outside of the church (weather permitting) to enable conversations to take place without disturbance inside.

Safe access that minimises the risk of spreading the virus

Clear signage and notices will be placed in prominent positions reminding everyone of the need for good hygiene procedures and flow of movement both outside and within the church building.

  • There will be one point of entry to the church building, namely the West Door.
  • The point of exit will be through the South Porch. However, if there are visitors who would find it difficult to access this, i.e. wheelchair users, then one of the ‘welcomers’ would be able to monitor safe passage out of the main West Door, whilst maintaining social distancing.
  • If there are several people arriving and wanting to access the building, we will operate a 2-metre queuing system outside of the church. This will run down the West Path, which will have clear 2 metre markings on the paving Notices will be placed along this ‘path’ to advise what is required once in the building. Notices will also be placed on the windows of the West Door.
  • Once in the building there will be clear signage to indicate the flow of movement required, both at eye level and on the floor. Half of the North side of the church will be roped off. People should be guided either down the middle or South Aisle and allowed to enter the pews from this direction. Alternate pews will be roped or taped off. They can then exit the pews either down the middle aisle, moving toward the front of the church and then turning right to exit out of the South porch, or they exit back into the South aisle, turning left to the front of the church then exiting through the South porch. All these directions will be clearly marked with laminated notices.
  • Access to the Lady Chapel will be possible for those wishing to use this area for devotion, with one person entering at a time. However, this space will be cleared apart from the votive candle stand (see below for details of how this space will be used).
  • The area including the chancel, high altar, choir stalls and organ will be roped off and the steps up to the vestry closed off. No visitor access to this area will be permitted, but these areas will still be able to be seen by those in the body of the church.

Sanitisation and steps to minimise contact with surfaces and objects within the church

The West Door should be left propped open at all times. If this is not possible because of adverse weather conditions, then the door handle should be cleaned as frequently as possible when people have entered or exited the church.

Pump action hand sanitisers will be available at the entrance and exit of the building.  Welcomers will wear protective gloves and mask and oversee use of the hand sanitiser for visitors arriving and leaving the building.

If it becomes a requirement to wear a mask in a public place we will have a small supply of disposable or home-made washable masks available for people to use/take home.  However, to minimise risk and cost, visitors will be encouraged beforehand to bring their own hand sanitiser and mask.

As many surface objects as possible will be either safely stored away or covered over. This will include items in the children’s area (which should be roped off), books and leaflets. The kneelers will be moved from the South side of the church and stored on the far North side pews. ‘Do Not Touch’ notices will be placed on objects that are not easily moved.  

The contactless payment machine will be available for donations, which a welcomer will operate.  It is contactless and should not require repeated cleaning each time. Paper or coin donations will also be accepted but the notes and coins should be placed directly into in a collection box without handling and not counted until after 72 hours have passed.

Visitors will be offered the opportunity to light a candle and place it in the Lady Chapel. Candles will be available for people to pick up on entering the Lady Chapel and these will be lit by the South Porch ‘welcomer’. This is to prevent cross contamination with multi-use of lighters or matches. If it is felt necessary for safety reasons or if requested, the ‘welcomer’ may carry the candle on behalf of the visitor to the votive stand, whilst maintaining social distancing.

No bibles will be available for general use, but people will be encouraged to bring and use their own if they wish.

Safe and sufficient space for social distancing whilst in the building

Everyone in the building and outside should be reminded of the necessity of maintaining safe social distancing. The flow of movement as outlined above should help with this.  Laminated signs with a red cross will be taped in the pew seats where people can sit to indicate the safe 2 metre distancing.

Any cleaning of the pews during the time that visitors are in the building should be done discretely and using the appropriate cleaning products

Procedures to ‘clean the space’ during open church and afterwards

It has already be stated when it might be necessary to clean objects, such as door handles and pews during the time that the church is open and being used.

Once the space has been closed then more detailed cleaning will take place. The Church of England has produced detailed advice about Keeping Church Buildings Clean and the products and process that needs to take place. These guidelines will be followed as closely as possible bearing in mind the historic fabric of the building. However, as we are initially leaving the building closed for at least 72 hours between openings general cleaning can be reduced as this will not be required.

Any ‘waste’ found to have been left in the pews should be carefully removed with gloves and placed into a bin with disposable bin liner. These may need to be double bagged for disposal depending on the material in them, i.e. tissues.

If it has been necessary to use the toilets then these will need to be cleaned immediately after use, including sinks and door handles. ‘Soap’ and paper towels should be provided and disposed of in a lined bin. The toilets will be available for those on duty in the building, and it is suggested that each uses their own designated toilet and is responsible for its cleaning after use.

‘Cleaners’ will be provided with gloves and possibly aprons as well as suitable cleaning cloths, etc. which will need to be disposable after each ‘clean’. None of this group of people should be in the ‘vulnerable’ category group

Procedures to be followed if someone is suspected of being unwell with Coronavirus or has been exposed to someone with Coronavirus symptoms

Although it is not mandatory for visitors and may be difficult to produce, where possible a contact list should be made of all people entering the building and the time spent there, so that should a person develop Coronavirus at a later date all of those in ‘contact’ with them can be identified.

If someone becomes unwell during the time they are in the building they should be offered assistance. Those assisting them should wear protective clothing such as gloves and mask. The emergency services should be called if necessary. If it is felt that their symptoms are that of Coronavirus the building should be immediately evacuated and closed and guidance sort from the relevant Health Authorities about the need for self-isolation and using the Track and Trace system. 

General Observations:

As the space is to be predominately a place for prayer, people wishing to engage in prolonged conversations (unless for pastoral reasons) should be encouraged to do so outside of the church building so as not to disturb others.

The majority of these procedures will be appropriate when the time comes to look at how we can offer worship services and occasional offices, with some adjustments for each individual types of service. They are also subject to any new recommendations being issued by the Diocese and Government.