The Baptist Union has advised churches in England to stop holding in-person worship services in light of the Government's latest Covid-19 restrictions.
In a statement, the union said they "strongly encourage churches not to open their buildings for in-person meeting if at all possible," following Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement that England must go into a third national lockdown in order to stem the rate of coronavirus infections.
"We recognise that the Government guidelines allow churches to remain open in England during this period; however, given the significant increase in numbers of Covid-19 infections and pressure on the NHS, we advise churches to stand with the wider community in making every effort to limit the spread of the virus," the union explained.
The governing body, now known as 'Baptists Together', noted that churches are still encouraged to open their buildings for the purposes of serving the local community.
"We still support churches to open their buildings, as you have done throughout the pandemic, to provide vital services to the local community, such as food banks," they added.
The union qualified that the final decision on whether or not to continue running in-person service still lies with each individual church, as the government guidance still permits Covid-secure worship gatherings.
"We know that geographical contexts differ across England and we are aware that the decision lies with the local church," they continued. "Nonetheless we are mindful of the pressure church leaders are under and the greater risk taken by all those involved in hosting open buildings for whom we have a duty of care.
"This is a changing situation and we very much hope this will be our advice for only a short period. Resources and sermons for inclusion in online services will continue to be shared through the national and regional team websites.
"We stand together in the hope we have in Christ and we are praying for all at this difficult time."
Under the official government guidance, churches are free to remain open for individual prayer and communal worship - attendees should only meet their household or support bubble and not mingle with others outside these groups.
Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies are permitted only in exceptional circumstances, such as where one partner is seriously ill, and with strict limits on attendance - up to six people.
A maximum of 30 people can attend a funeral while wakes and other ceremonial events can continue with up to six.