Despite the announcement that face coverings must be worn in places of worship from 8th August, there has still been no guidance as to how this should be handled. For the moment, therefore, the guidance I am giving below is based on the advice for shops. I will let you know before Sunday if things need to be significantly different.
Firstly, though, I want to stress that
- The risk of infection in this area of Wiltshire has not changed and remains amongst the lowest in England. Less than one in twenty thousand people would be expected to test positive in this area – i.e. two people in Chippenham. The requirement to wear a face mask is not in response to any increased threat in this area and is a government decision based on the spikes that have occurred in the north of England.
- The scientific advice remains that face coverings can be of benefit in confined spaces, or where social distancing is not possible for whatever reason. St Andrew’s remains the least confined indoor space in the town and social distancing is perfectly possible.
- We will all need to remove masks to receive communion, so any effectiveness they might have is immediately reduced.
- Pubs and restaurants represent a far greater risk of infection, yet face coverings are not required – presumably because economic factors are considered more urgent.
You will gather that I am not in favour of this move. I assure you, if there were any suggestion of an increase in the rate or risk of infection in this area, or if it could be shown that we have increased that risk in the five Sundays we have been open without face masks, I would be advising caution. As it is, I must tell you that face coverings will be mandatory inside the church building from Saturday, but that we will not be enforcing it. So the choice is entirely your own whether or not to comply. Indeed, it is not our place to police this, any more than it is a shopkeeper’s place. I will not be wearing a face covering, as there is an exemption in situations where anyone needs to lip read or see facial expression in order to assist with communication. On this basis, I would ask those reading or leading prayers to not wear a face covering either. There is also an exemption for anyone who would feel claustrophobic or for whom wearing a covering would cause them anxiety.
If however, anyone feels that they would not be able to attend worship if there were people present not wearing masks, I would ask them to let me know n confidence. If there is a need, I would be willing to consider a separate service where masks are worn by everyone present. It is important that those who are not wearing masks for any reason do not feel that they are preventing anyone else from attending by doing so.