Guidance for weddings, funerals and baptisms
24 March 2020 - 9am
Updated 27 March 11.05am
Following the Prime Minister’s address to the nation on Monday 23 March, we have revised our guidelines on weddings, funerals and baptism still further. Please excuse the rapidly changing nature of the guidance as we respond to this new government advice.
We appreciate that following this stricter guidance will cause significant inconvenience and upset to those affected. However, we should abide by it not only because the government will enforce it, but also because we wish to protect the vulnerable. Any social interaction in person risks spreading the coronavirus disease. We have already heard that those who are vulnerable to the disease feel their lives being are cast as less important than the personal convenience of those who ignore the advice. We therefore follow the advice, as individual Christians and as churches, as a witness to Jesus’ concern for the vulnerable
Weddings should be postponed in line with the clear advice from the government.
Baptisms should be postponed in line with the clear advice from the government.
We appreciate this feels to be a restriction of individual religious liberty, especially given our emphasis on believer’s baptism. Nevertheless, baptism is not only a sign of the faith of the individual but of their belonging to the body of Christ as expressed by the wider church. So we refrain from baptisms until such a time that the church can gather once more.
In the case of anyone who seeks baptism who is themselves seriously unwell or in danger of dying, please speak to the hospital or hospice chaplaincy team and they will advise what may be done and how they can help.
For the foreseeable future, funerals are likely to focus on the committal alone. Please be aware that if the death rate increases in the coming days, crematoria and funeral directors may limit the time available for each funeral.
An order of service for a committal can be found on p240 of Gathering for Worship, or p135 of Patterns and Prayers for Christian Worship. Another resource that is useful for a variety of acute and unusual situations is Alternative Pastoral Prayers: Liturgies and Blessings for Health and Healing, Beginnings and Endings by Tess Ward.
Funerals should take place in crematoria chapels or at the graveside only. Do not hold a funeral in a church building, given the associated risk of a larger gathering of people. Please recall our theology that a church building is not a sacred space and that God’s grace is made tangible wherever people may gather in his name.
Mourners should be restricted to the immediate family in line with clear advice from the government. Sadly, those who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus should not attend. This includes those over 70 and those who have an underlying health condition. More detail on these categories can be found in the government guidelines.
No bereaved person may attend a funeral if they themselves are unwell. Likewise, if the cause of death is Covid-19, any of the bereaved who were in contact with the deceased, either before or after death, in the seven days prior to their funeral, should not attend.
Ministers should conduct funeral visits by phone or video link wherever possible.
General guidelines about hygiene and social distancing also apply at funerals. Please do all you can to protect not only each other but also the funeral directors, cemetery and crematoria employees. They will need to stay healthy as they seek to support bereaved families at this critical time.
The following possibilities are worth bearing in mind:
Phone key family members who cannot attend, both before and after the ceremony. You can offer prayer over the phone.
Keep track of all funerals and family contact details so that you can visit as soon as it is permitted.
Encourage families facing these restrictions to consider holding a service of thanksgiving for the person who has died once social distancing restrictions are lifted.
Alternatively, record a reading, prayers, eulogy and message beforehand and make this available to those not present, so they ‘share’ in the service as it takes place. It can also be offered to anyone wishing to later listen in. You can also produce a leaflet that contains all of the above written within it. A service sheet to commemorate the person who has died may still be printed. You can then print the text of the service inside or add it later and send the leaflets round to all those not present.
Some crematorium chapels have the facility to live stream the service, even if it is short. If you want to do this, you should speak to the funeral director to see if it is possible.
Above all, please pray for all involved. It is appreciated that these guidelines will cause much distress for families who are mourning. They will be hard for ministers and churches to keep when everything within us wishes to offer God’s comfort to those who are suffering. Nevertheless, we commit to protecting the vulnerable and so we lean on God’s grace in these circumstances and pray that he will bring the comfort of his Spirit where we may be unable physically to do so.
24 March 2020