This is a very difficult matter as so much planning and so many hopes may have been invested in a wedding day. However…
- Wherever possible it would be advisable to postpone a wedding. Celebrations for the bride and groom that include family and friends would be deemed a mass gathering.
- Where couples do wish to go ahead, it is still possible to conduct a wedding, but with a very small number of people present and following the advice around social distancing. The current advice from the government (25 March) is for no more than 5 people to attend. The celebrant, the two witnesses and the bride and groom. With so few people coming, you can reduce the scope of the service if desired to include just prayers, Bible readings, and the wording of the marriage itself. Couples who do marry in this way might want to consider a more substantial service of blessing at a later date.
- No-one should attend who is running a temperature or has a cough or is self-isolating due to contact with someone with symptoms.
- There are possibilities for sharing the event with those who cannot be present. These are outlined below under guidance for funerals.
Funerals must take into account all of the guidelines for minimising the risk of transmission. Current advice (25 March) is that no more than 10 people can attend and that it would be preferable if there were less. Good hygiene practices, social distancing and the avoidance of large gatherings protects the bereaved and enables funeral directors, cemetery and crematoria employees to remain healthy. This is important as they seek to support bereaved families at this critical time.
Each funeral should be assessed on its own merits in consultation with funeral directors. However, the following guidelines may prove helpful.
The opening of churches for funerals
There is now a restriction on a church opening for a funeral service. No more than 10 people can attend and less is to be preferred. This means limiting the attendance to only a few of the closest family members or friends. There are several possibilities:
- Live stream the funeral if technology permits. You can advertise the link to all those the family wish to invite.
- Record any service, by audio or video, and make it available to all afterwards. You can do this simply with a mobile phone if no other equipment is available.
- 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.
- Produce a leaflet that contains the entire service within it – hymns and songs, prayers, eulogy, reading, sermon and all. Even if those attending are few, it is worth having service sheets 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.
- Hold a more basic funeral service that is especially aimed at marking the death and entrusting the person who has died into God’s care, and then hold a service of thanksgiving for all to attend when restrictions are lifted. This may be some months into the future.
- Hold a service via zoom (see under technology for more detail. It is easy!) and have people contribute through readings, sharing of stories, or even show a preprepared ppt through the ‘share screen’ feature.
- In all cases, please avoid physical contact such as shaking the hands of those present or embracing mourners. It may be necessary to explain in the service why you are refraining from doing so.
Funerals at crematoria or cemetery chapels
All of the above might also apply to a funeral at a crematorium or cemetery chapel.
Some crematoria and cemetery chapels have the facility to live stream services. You should speak to the funeral director to check.
When the bereaved cannot attend a funeral
General government guidance means that no bereaved person (or officiant, obviously) 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 the funeral, should not attend. In these two incredibly painful instances, in addition to the above options, ministers and churches will have to think carefully about how to offer pastoral support.
Ensure the service is as complete as possible, even if there are no family members present whatsoever. This honours the deceased. Funeral directors will usually act as the congregation in this instance or if asked. They will be used to funerals with very few mourners.
While we’re in lockdown, please conduct funeral ‘visits’ by phone or video link.
Phone key family members both before and after the ceremony and 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.
We appreciate that it is easy to write these guidelines, but very hard to follow them when all we wish to do is offer God’s comfort to those who are suffering. 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.