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Playing in a Place of Worship, Including Organists

Guidance for Organists and other musicians who are restricted from performance and practice in places of worship during the coronavirus outbreak.

At this time, we are aware that all places of worship have closed, and the associated ceremonies have been highly restricted.

We know that this impacts, for example, Organists whose only possible means of practice is by having access to the church in which the organ sits.

Why access to a place of worship is not permitted

The MU contacted the Church of England (C of E) to ascertain why it would not be possible to allow a musician into the church to practice.  This guidance, although it comes from the C of E, would most likely also apply to other places of worship.

  • All Churches have been instructed to close. Limiting the amount of people within a space is their priority and mass gatherings obviously cannot take place in the current climate.
  • Were the building to be accessed by a musician wishing to simply practice, it would then require a deep clean following that practice.
  • As for funerals by the grave side these are restricted to immediate family only and the same applies to crematoria.
  • Crematoriums only open their doors ten minutes before a service and again the requirement for a deep clean would probably exist.

The C of E has also sent us the following.

On the issue of access, the C of E has stated:

“It may be reasonable for one designated person to enter the church to check that it remains safe and secure, provided they follow all government guidelines and have access to appropriate materials to sanitise surfaces such as doorknobs.

“This must not happen on a rota, as numerous people entering the building would represent a transmission risk and must be limited to essential maintenance checks.”

On the issue of Organists, they have issued the following:

“What about access for organ practice – Organ practice cannot be considered as essential activity under the government guidance and does not justify a separate journey.”

The matter of cleaning is also dealt with:

“Can I access my closed church to do the cleaning? I can do this alone, so I will be distancing myself from everybody –  It is crucial to limit unnecessary journeys. Cleaning cannot be considered an essential activity that would justify a separate journey.

“Please be aware that a building in which someone who may have the coronavirus has been is considered ‘dirty’ (i.e. may contain infection) for 72 hours afterwards. This means multiple keyholders must not access the space, even if this is done one at a time. In any event surfaces and door fixtures need to be sanitised in line with Public Health England guidelines.”

However, in some instances regular maintenance of an organ may be permissible:

"Can I perform weekly maintenance of the organ when the church is closed? For a Cathedral or Church with a larger or mechanically complex organ prolonged lack of use will result in long-term problems with its performance.

"If an organist is available in the neighbourhood to keep all the action parts moving it is appropriate for them to do so. The purpose of this is to run through all the stops on all keyboards, and the pedalboard to keep leatherwork from sticking and keep electrical contacts clean.

"Please be aware that a building in which someone who may have the coronavirus has been is considered ‘dirty’ (i.e. may contain infection) for 72 hours afterwards. This means multiple keyholders must not access the space, even if this is done one at a time. In any event surfaces and door fixtures need to be sanitised in line with Public Health England guidelines."

Employment rights for musicians in places of worship

We are aware that some churches and places of worship are offering remote services to congregations or organising online worship sessions to keep their congregations in touch with each other.

If you are employed by a church or place of worship as a musician and paid via PAYE, then you may qualify for the government furlough scheme but then you would not be able to keep working during the period of furlough. 

If you are a self-employed musician and you undertake paid work for a church or place of worship, you might want to explore the option of delivering your performances online.  If you are undertaking your usual role, performing as part of a religious service for which you would normally be paid, then we would expect you to be paid at your usual rate.

Let us know how you’ve been impacted

If any member has queries or experiences they can share with the Union in this area, we would be happy to hear from you.  If you have taken part successfully in paid musical performance for a church or other place of worship during the Covid-19 crisis, please let us know by getting in contact with your regional office.

We also encourage all musicians who have lost work and income due to the coronavirus outbreak to complete our short survey – help us represent your needs by letting us know how you’ve been impacted.

Advice from the Church of England is updated regularly on their website.