Church weddings will continue during coronavirus pandemic but with only five people present

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People with a church wedding booked in the coming months are facing the prospect of having to drastically scale back their plans after the Church of England introduced guidance recommending no more than five people in attendance. 

The changes announced on Thursday mean that only the priest, bride, groom and two witnesses - the legal minimum - can participate in the wedding service for the timebeing. 

The guidance has been introduced in light of new social distancing advice from the Government earlier this week. 

The Church of England guidance also clarifies that it is not necessary for the priest to touch the rings or the couple's hands as part of a prayer or blessing. 

This is in line with earlier guidance from the Church of England advising priests to refrain from the laying on of hands while imparting a blessing. 

The guidance suggests that weddings can be streamed in order to include more people in the occasion but it makes clear that local churches will work with couples if their wish is to rearrange their ceremony for a later date.

Similar advice has been issued for baptisms in the coming months, limiting those present to the candidate, their parents or guardians, godparents and the minister. 

During the baptism, the priest is not to hold the child, and only the parents or guardians should join the minister at the font, while the godparents are to stand at a distance. The guidance on hygiene measures during the ceremony suggests that the priest administer the water with an implement such as a shell. 

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said: "Couples and parents, friends and families will have been planning for months, even years for their special moment, whether a wedding or a christening.

"Now it can go ahead – but with only the minimum required in attendance. You may need to cancel or postpone.

"Whatever decision is made, God's love and blessing will still surround all those who would have been there that day.

"Prayers will still be offered, and there will be a special day to look forward to in the future.

"We encourage those who would have been there to hold couples and families in their prayers, and pray that everyone will know God's love is holding them at this time."