Updated Friday morning
The. government restrictions relating to church buildings have now been published in a Statutory Instrument: The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020. (PDF version here.)
The relevant paragraphs are copied below. This wording supersedes earlier government notices.
Further restrictions and closures during the emergency period
…(5) A person who is responsible for a place of worship must ensure that, during the emergency period, the place of worship is closed, except for uses permitted in paragraph (6).
(6) A place of worship may be used–
Restrictions on movement
6.–(1) During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.
(2) For the purposes of paragraph (1), a reasonable excuse includes the need…
….(k) in the case of a minister of religion or worship leader, to go to their place of worship;…
The position of most but not all of the Church of England diocesan bishops remains more restrictive (example here), in particular no funerals are allowed in church buildings, and broadcasting is forbidden from inside church buildings. But there are exceptions:
The Church Times reports the London diocese position:
…On Tuesday evening, the College of Bishops for the London diocese wrote to clergy stating that they understood “the need for a consistent approach to all worship and occasional offices”.
They write, none the less, that “where the church is accessible by an internal door from the clergy home, or can be accessed from the clergy home without leaving the curtilage of the church, we will encourage those — and only those — clergy to pray in their churches privately and to consider whether they could live stream their services from within the church building.”
The Bishop of Chichester yesterday issued this Ad Clerum which says:
…Many clergy have asked about whether they are forbidden to enter their churches. It is vital that we model best practice in terms of public safety, protecting the limited resources of the NHS, and attention to the care of the most vulnerable to infection. Nothing we do should compromise these concerns or the regulation of them by Government instruction.
If you can ensure that these requirements are met, and you still decide to go into church to pray and celebrate the Eucharist, I would respect your decision on the basis that it is made in conscience and informed by legitimate pastoral, spiritual, missional and legal considerations. Thank you to all who streamed services and messages last Sunday. Any service must clearly be solo-streamed or you should explain that it is being done with the aid of a person who lives in your home…
The Church Times editorial view supports a change:
…Thus the Archbishops’ letter on Tuesday, enforcing the shutting of all churches, must be broadly welcomed. When parks and outdoor areas are being closed or carefully policed, it is clearly wise to shut buildings to which many vulnerable people repair. We say “broadly”. Many priests can reach their churches without the risk of encountering other people. Some, indeed, are as close to their churches as are the Archbishops to their chapels at Lambeth and Bishopthorpe. The Archbishops give no reason for deviating from the advice of the London bishops on Sunday — that clergy who live “adjacent to their churches” may continue to enter, pray, and celebrate — other than that clergy must “take a lead in showing our communities how we must behave”.
Theologically, of course, the eucharist can be offered anywhere; but it is more than a symbolic act to offer the sacrament on behalf of the parish in the place where their prayers have been gathered. If commercial managers are being trusted to keep their key staff safe in the workplace, priests can decide whether they can enter a church safely. It would signal that the eucharist, and the church, fall into the category of key activities, alongside the shopping and the exercise that the Archbishops mention. We urge them to reconsider this aspect of their advice…