Church bells will peal again for the first time in three months from this Sunday after the Church of England agreed new social distancing rules when services resume this weekend.
Bellringers will wear masks, stand at least one metre apart and perform for no longer than 15 minutes at a time – but they will not have to wear gloves because the ropes may become too slippery.
England’s 5,000 churches have only been open for a few weeks for private prayer and were shut completely after Boris Johnson imposed lockdown in March. Some have criticised church leaders for failing to push to open earlier to better support the communities they serve during Britain’s worst health crisis for a generation.
From Sunday communion will be limited to the bread, the sharing of the Peace will not be allowed while hymns ‘are not advised’ and communal bibles must be put away.
But in happier news, according to the Central Council of Bell Ringers, ringing will be included in the resumption of church services to remind people Sunday is the ‘Lord’s Day’.
Bellringers will be back this weekend as church services begin again on Sunday in some good news for Christians
A meeting with the Church of England’s Recovery Group confirmed that senior clergy are 100 per cent committed to making ringing part of the return of church activities but ringers have been told that initially they must not ‘practice or self-indulge.’
What can in church from July 4?
Places of worship can open for services and group prayer from July 4 as long as precautions are in place.
However, singing hymns is not permitted due to the potential for infection.
Weddings can resume with up to 30 people – but receptions will be much lower-key affairs, as just two households can attend.
Funerals are subject to the same guidance as before, with only close family advised to attend.
Spokesman for the Central Council Vicki Chapman said ‘ The CoE has stated that it would be really good to get ringing going again, letting the bells proclaim that the church is open and wanted.
‘We are particularly cautious of any misinterpretation of the drop in the UK Government’s social distancing rule from 2 metre to 1 metre `which represents a ten-fold increase in risk.
‘Our return to ringing will be cautious, socially distanced ringing, for a very limited period of 15 minutes, and only for services.
‘Ringing three or four bells for 15 minutes for a service is not what keeps most of us ringing and the novelty is going to wear off quite soon. It could also be a long time before peals are possible and we won’t be able to do any teaching.
‘But it is essential for us getting ringing going again. The church values our contribution and we have managed to get them to include us in their plans. But if we do not get bells ringing for Sunday service in this early phase of resumption, it will slow down the full opening up.
‘Dates are still to be finalised but some Dioceses have already said they expect to have church services running after July 4.’
Churches like this one in Braintree, Essex, will be able to hold smaller services for the first time from Sunday
Wedding ceremonies will be allowed again with a maximum of 30 guests, Boris Johnson announced last week.
The Prime Minister said places of worship were permitted to reopen for prayer and service – although singing hymns will be banned because of the risk of spreading coronavirus.
So-called ‘life cycle events’ such as baptisms, mitzvahs and wedding ceremonies can take place ‘subject to social distancing’ from July 4 as part of an easing of lockdown restrictions.
Civil ceremonies for 30 people can also go ahead but as it stands wedding receptions at hospitality venues will remain limited to two households only. This refers to the household of the bride and groom and one other household.
The rule will make wedding receptions almost impossible. The number of those allowed at wedding receptions will continue to be looked at by officials.
Guidance will be issued by the government about rules such as singing in church and how to ensure social distancing is maintained, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.
Announcing the change, Mr Johnson told MPs in the Commons: ‘I know that many have mourned the closure of places of worship and this year Easter Passover and Eid all occurred during the lockdown.
‘So I’m delighted that places of worship will be able to reopen for prayer and services, including weddings with a maximum of 30 people, all subject to social distancing.’ The Church of England welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement and said updated advice for couples getting married will be published on its website this week.
The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who leads the Church of England’s Recovery Group, said churches would not be ‘returning to normality overnight’ and some churches would not be ready.
She said: ‘The last three months have been an extraordinary time – the first period without public worship and the sacraments in England in more than 800 years. There will be real joy as we begin to come together again – if even at a physical distance – but I also know that many will be understandably cautious at this news.
‘We will not be returning to normality overnight – this is the next step on a journey. We’ve been planning carefully, making detailed advice available for parishes to enable them to prepare to hold services when it is safe and practical to do so. It is important to say that the change in Government guidance is permissive, not prescriptive.’
She said that not all church buildings will be ready to hold regular services from July 4, adding that ‘we are providing whatever support we can to enable them.’ She added: ‘There will still be restrictions and we must all still do everything we can to limit the spread of the virus to protect each other, especially the most vulnerable. The online services and dial-in worship offerings we have become used to will continue.’
The change in the rules means the PM and his fiancee Carrie Symonds could now get married.