In light of the various guidance issued by the governments in England, Scotland and Wales, the United Reformed Church (URC) Synod Moderators strongly encourage the use of face coverings for all people attending worship and other URC events that involve face-to-face meetings.
We recommend that these do not need to be surgical-type masks but should have at least three layers of material, in line with World Health Organisation guidance.
However, we note that there may be issues of inclusion if the mouth and facial expressions are hidden from view – for example, if you are leading worship, and someone is lip-reading what you say. Where you expect this might be an issue, we would commend careful consideration to using the types of mask with a transparent “window” or a face shield/visor.
As with all situations where face covering is recommended this is primarily to protect others should you unknowingly be carrying coronavirus. The scientific evidence suggests that there is some degree of protection from infection for the wearer, but they tend to be more effective at preventing transmission from the person wearing the mask.
We understand that many will find wearing masks uncomfortable. However, there is unquestionably a higher risk for people meeting together for an extended period, such as during worship, than for those we casually pass whilst shopping. It is surely a sign of loving one another that we put up with a little personal inconvenience rather than jeopardising the health and wellbeing of others whom we meet in the name of Christ.
At this time there is no penalty for those who choose not to wear a face covering in church, and we are not asking you to prevent people from entering if they do not wear a mask. Neither should we be quick to condemn those who won’t – some will have a genuine medical reason for this. Churches may wish to provide a small stock of disposable face coverings to give to those who attend church unprepared and encourage them to follow this good practice. Some churches may also wish to organise a few people who will take the opportunity, in fellowship and in service, to make cloth masks that can be given away, using patterns widely available.
Worshippers should also be reminded that it can be a source of contamination to touch the face coverings whilst thinking or praying, and that care should be taken to prevent contamination when face coverings are put on or removed. Use the ear loops or tabs, and wash or sanitise hands before and after. This could be a particular issue if a safe way is found of serving communion, and people remove their face coverings for this. There is some straightforward advice from the American government about safe use of face coverings which can be found here.
Image: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash
Published: 16 July 2020