Reshaping Church Life

Updated 16 June 2021

A guidance for the safe operation of church buildings, worship, events and support services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Published: 8 Jan 2021

Last Updated: 16 June 2021

See all updates

There can be no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged churches and communities to work in new ways. Churches have risen to the challenge of developing online presence and worship, as well as supporting communities practically and prayerfully over the period. With the hope of a better day as different vaccines begin to rollout, it is important that congregations begin thinking about how they might reshape their life together during and beyond this pandemic.

The Scottish Government have developed a system of levels of protection to aid communities supress the COVID-19 virus and slow down transmission rates. These are categorised as Levels 0 – 4. We have provided a summary of each of these levels and what it means for churches and these can be downloaded below:

Guidance

Worship

It is vital that all congregations take note of the process for reopening of church buildings as outlined in the buildings guidance. This includes an amended process for those buildings that reopened after the first lockdown and have been undertaking the weekly inspections of their buildings.

Individuals must continue to physically distance themselves from others not in their household/extended household group when in church building(s) or grounds and follow all other precautions put in place by the congregation.

Congregations are able to admit the number of individuals they can safely accommodate in the building with physical distancing to a service of worship (Note: limits still exist for funerals and weddings). Congregations must ensure they understand the maximum safe number for the building, and for the worship service taking place. Congregations are legally required to determine and publicly display the Physically Distanced Based Capacity (PDBC) limit of each space in their building as outlined in our guidance. It is an offence for congregations to permit anyone into your church buildings in excess of the PDBC. Balconies and Galleries can now be used by congregations. For more detailed information on this process, please see our Reopening and Looking after your church buildings guidance.

If the expected attendance at worship exceeds the maximum number for the sanctuary, congregations can use a church hall or other similar space to accommodate additional attendees for worship. In areas covered by protection levels 0-3, a church hall can also be used to support additional or supplementary activities for children who are attending church for worship with their parent or guardian (see Children and Worship section below). However, you can only do this if:

  • Each space should be fully self-contained. Any interconnecting doors must be kept permanently closed. Nobody, including worship leaders, may move between halls.
  • Each space should have its own entrance and exit to the outside. Those worshipping in different spaces should not use common corridors or lobbies.
  • Members of one household should all worship in the same space, as should any groups who have shared transport to the place of worship
  • A separate register should be kept for each space for Test and Protect
  • Spaces should be well ventilated, with windows and external doors kept open. If the building has mechanical ventilation this should be carefully assessed, in line with the ventilation guidance, to ensure it does not transfer air between separate spaces.
  • The arrival and dispersal of worshipping groups should be managed separately, with entry and exit times staggered, so that the two groups do not mix together. This can also help to avoid pressure on local transport.
  • All reasonable steps should be taken to prevent worshippers from congregating outside the place of worship
  • Worshippers should be advised to disperse quickly and avoid meeting outside
  • All infection control precautions outlined in the Reopening and Looking after your church buildings guidance are followed and implemented
  • The congregation has suitable and sufficient resources to effectively clean and disinfect both areas at the end of worship.

It may be helpful to have stewards in place to remind people to maintain social distance at all times, particularly when entering and exiting buildings.

Congregations can now serve tea and coffee after worship, using a table service model following the indoor socialising rules. Please see informal hospitality section for more details.

Resourcing online worship

The following is intended to help those seeking assistance with finding good music resources for their on-line worship.

  • There are a number of audio files from CH4 hymns if you register for an account on the Church of Scotland Music Website
  • For copyright reasons it is not possible to provide downloads of videos with words on them. However, a list of churches willing to share recordings of hymns is available on IT's for Ministry's Music webpage. The website is run by a Church of Scotland minister and is curating a list of hymns that churches have recorded and would be able to be used by other congregations with the appropriate licenses. These recordings would not be stored on the site; instead users can access a list of 'who to contact' to receive a copy. Churches willing to share files should visit the site and follow the instructions to participate. The more churches that participate the greater the library of resources will be for people.

General Guidance for Worship

  • Ministers and worship leaders should not shake hands or offer any other form of a physical welcome or farewell to members of the congregation
  • Unless essential to the act of worship taking place, Bibles and other shared items should be removed from the sanctuary and other areas where worship takes place.
  • Pew Cushions can now resume being used, after the congregational risk assessment is updated and approved by the Kirk Session, following the guidance contained in the Cleaning and Disinfection section of the Reopening and looking after your church buildings guidance
  • The use of computer/television screens or boards as an alternative to bibles and other worship materials should be encouraged. Alternatively, church websites can be used to share information and members of the congregation or visitors could be asked to print out limited materials for their own use and bring them along with them to support worship.
  • Churches may print words of hymns and responses for use. Sheets should be copied more than 72 hours in advance of the service, placed on each seat in the worship space with the worshipper removing the sheet and disposing of it at home after the service. Spare sheets not touched by worshippers should be disposed of by stewards at the end of the service.
  • Where it is necessary to make use of hymn books these should not be placed within the worship space but should be given to individuals upon request at the door. At the end of the service used hymn books should be placed in a safe space (e.g. plastic crate with lid), labelled with ‘Date last used’ and ‘Date available for use’ clearly marked. There should be at least 72 hours (3 days) between both dates detailed. After the ‘date available for use’ has passed, books should be removed from the box, sanitised with an appropriate spray sanitiser and placed ready for redistribution. The box should then be cleaned and sanitised. Hymn Books should not be used until the congregational risk assessment is updated and approved by the Kirk Session.
  • People should not share any materials that they have printed off at home under any circumstance.

Congregations should continue to consider how they will support members of the congregation who cannot attend church in person.

Congregational Responses

Where congregations wish to participate in responses such as the Lord’s prayer or prayer responses, care should be taken to ensure that these are offered at a low volume to avoid the spreading of aerosol particulates. Where responses are to be used, congregations should remind all who wish to participate to wear a face covering.

Music and Singing

In areas covered by COVID protection levels 0-2, it is now permissible for more than one person to sing during worship. In areas covered by protection levels 0-2 a small choir or worship band may assist to lead worship, whereas in levels 0 and 1 from 31 May 2021, congregational singing, in all acts of worship, both indoors and outdoors is permitted.

Congregational Singing

Where congregational singing is permitted, a risk assessment should be carried out to consider any mitigating measures that may be put in place. Those who participate in congregational singing are not permitted to remove their face covering and they must continue to observe the 2 metre physical distancing between worshippers. It is important to ensure that the congregational risk assessment is updated and approved by the Kirk Session before congregational singing resumes.

If a person has an exemption from wearing a face covering then the exemption still stands during congregational singing. However, congregations may wish to enter a dialogue with individuals about how they might also consider their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around them. It may be the Kirk Session consider suggesting that individuals might wear a face shield, or sit in a particular location, or even to consider whether they participate in singing without a face covering. Care must be taken not to discriminate against an individual because of a medical condition or disability, however congregations must seek to balance risk and act proportionately for the wellbeing of all worshippers during the pandemic.

Ministers, Deacons and Worship leaders may wish to consider wearing a face covering for congregational singing in an expression of unity with the congregation, even although there is an exemption from wearing a face covering when leading worship. This may also be considered by a choir when participating in congregational singing.

Small Group Singing

There is no definition of ‘small group’ and it will be down to individual places of worship to determine how many people would constitute an appropriately small group given the size and layout of their building (e.g. how many could fit, physically distanced at the front of the congregation). Those who sing as part of a small group or choir may remove their face coverings when singing to assist in leading worship when they stand apart from the congregation, for example on the chancel or in a choir loft. Congregations should at all times ensure that physical distancing is observed, there is good ventilation, the number of singers are appropriate to the size of space available and their risk assessment is updated to reflect the change.

For areas in COVID protection levels 3-4, a single individual may sing behind a plexiglass screen without the need for a face covering to be worn, only where it is essential to an act of worship. Any screen used should be cleaned regularly and extended physical distancing should be considered.

With regards to instruments, all types can be played in areas within levels 0-2. For areas in level 3-4, only instruments that do not require breath to operate may be played (for example, church organs, tambourines and other percussion instruments). In all cases, instruments used by more than one person should be cleaned between users.

Church organists are allowed to play during church services in all levels; however, in churches in areas under levels 2-4 the congregation must ensure that this does not encourage congregational singing. Church organists who wish to access their church building to practice or prepare for a service should discuss their needs with the local congregation and ensure that the principles relating to hygiene contained within this guidance document are followed.

Face coverings are not required for the purposes of performing where:

  • There is a partition between the person and other persons, or
  • A distance of at least two metres is maintained between the person and other persons

Where music is being recorded for a streamed service, congregations should follow the principles of the guidance in this section of music and worship.

Communion

In churches that have been approved to open, communion is able to be celebrated. However, the traditional arrangements of passing a plate/tray of elements or by intinction are not permitted.

Congregations will need to think about how the elements will be distributed to prevent cross-contamination and how physical distancing will be maintained when serving the elements. The use of the common cup is not permitted except for the celebrant. Similarly, the passing of plates or trays from individual to individual is not permitted. If congregations are celebrating communion then disposable individual cups should be used as most church building(s) will struggle to safely clean and disinfect large numbers of individual glasses. Congregations will need to think creatively about how communion is celebrated and the elements shared. One solution may be individual disposable glasses with a piece of bread on small disposable plates that could be collected by individuals from a table.

Those preparing the elements should be kept to a minimum, ideally one person, and good hygiene should be practiced. The celebrant should wash and sanitise their hands before distribution. If the elements are being handed to individuals then a face covering should be used by the celebrant and/or person distributing. In addition, those handing out and receiving the element should wash their hands before and after taking part in communion

Where congregations do not feel celebrating Communion under these circumstances is appropriate they may find it helpful to think how they might help people to deal with that emotionally and spiritually.

Baptism

In all levels of restriction, baptisms are able to take place within an act of worship; however, physical distancing, good hygiene practices and the management of the number of those who will be able to attend will remain in place.

Ministers should consider whether the requirement for physical distance and the space available within the building would be able to support baptism. Ministers should not hold the infant, but ask a parent or guardian to do so for the duration of the service. Ministers should also demonstrate good hand hygiene practices by washing their hands before and after the baptism. The water used for baptism should not be used more than once. The Scottish Government have allowed for an exception to the physical distancing rules during a baptism to allow the minister to sprinkle water on the individual. However, this should be for a short a time as possible and other mitigation such as face coverings for the person holding the infant should be considered.

Within the Church of Scotland, a baptism normally takes place within an act of worship in the presence of the congregation with ‘private’ baptisms not being part of our tradition except in extreme circumstances. With reduced numbers congregations need to ensure that guests of the family can attend along with members of the congregation. A wider participation in congregational life may be possible by recording the baptism and showing it ‘as live’ in a broadcast service.

Children and Worship (including Sunday Schools and Bible Classes)

When children are a part of the worshipping community, congregations should ensure that children sit in family groups and that young children remain close to the parent or guardian to ensure that physical distancing is maintained and risk to others is reduced.

If, in areas covered by levels 0-3, Sunday school is provided at the same time as worship and the children and young people are in a separate part of the church building from worshippers throughout (i.e. dropped off and collected before and after worship), then children attending Sunday School are not included in the maximum number of individuals allowed to attend worship set by the Kirk Session, based on the PDBC for that area of the building. The principles relating to the safe access and egress of the church building must be followed. The maximum number of individuals who would be able to participate in Sunday school or other faith-based education is based on the ability to maintain physical distancing (2m) for all users of the space (between adults, between children over 12 years and between adults and these children) and should not exceed a congregations PDBC. Facilitators will also count in relation to the capacity of the building. Under 5’s do not count within the calculations. This number includes the teacher, volunteers and helpers.

However, if the congregation wish to include children and young people in, for example, the first part of worship and take them to another area of the building for activities during the sermon, then they would be required to be counted within the maximum number of individuals allowed to attend worship set by the Kirk Session, based on the PDBC for that area of the building.

In areas under level 4 restrictions Sunday School, Bible Classes and similar are not permitted to meet in person indoors but should meet instead online or using other technology.

Outdoor groups may also meet with capacity being carefully considered for the size of space and the ability of the leaders to safely manage the participants.

Should a congregation wish to operate a creche during worship where either parents stay with their child or drop them off to be looked after, it should be noted that under 5s do not count towards overall numbers; however, the number of adults who can attend is set at a maximum. No creche facilities should be operating in areas covered by protection level 4.

Congregations must ensure that overall numbers in their PDBC are not breached as this now constitutes an offence. This means that if more than one group meet at a time, in addition to worship, each group must be located in its own discreet space with separate entrance and exit, toilet and gathering area to ensure that crossover between groups does not occur. It is not acceptable to have two groups in adjoining internal halls should the overall numbers be greater than the maximum above.

Intergenerational Worship

Intergenerational worship such as Messy Church or Café Church are part of the worship life of the congregation and as such are able to resume in church buildings. However, congregations must ensure that best practice is followed for such activities including:

  • No unaccompanied children should take part
  • The number of households you can welcome to participate in intergenerational worship is dependent on the size of your space and should not exceed the Physical Distance Based Capacity (PDBC) limit set for your building
  • Spaces for household groups should be set out, for example tables and chairs, picnic rugs, taped-off zones with at least 2m between the closest points of these spaces (for example, 2m from a chair at one table to the nearest chair at the next table) and allocate a household to one space, having all the materials and equipment they require in a container within that space
  • Each household group stays in its own allocated spot for the whole service
  • No food should be included in the service, including food prepared and served by the congregation or snacks brought by each household.

Congregations should ensure that any such service is fully risk assessed and follows all the guidance contained in this document.

Further information on running Messy Church and other Intergenerational Worship can be found in our guide to Running Messy Church Sessions.

Ordination and Confirmation

Ordinations and Confirmations can take place at in all levels of restriction. The Scottish Government has allowed for an exception to the physical distancing to allow the laying on of hands during confirmation and ordination. Participants in the service should stay physically distanced, wear face coverings when not leading the worship and minimising the time spent in the laying on of hands.

Those participating should demonstrate good hand hygiene practices by washing their hands before and after the laying on of hands. All contact should be brief and for as short a time as possible. The shorter physical distance should be kept for as short a time as possible and other mitigation such as face coverings for those  involved should be worn. In the case of an ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament or the Diaconate, the Presbytery may wish to appoint a small number of individuals to lay hands on the ordained.

Taking the Offering

The traditional method of taking the offering by passing the plate should not take place. The Stewardship and Finance Department issued guidance on how members and adherents could continue to give while buildings remain closed and can provide advice to congregations who wish to receive offerings and other income by standing order, text message, use of a contactless terminal, or through the donate button on either the congregation or Church of Scotland website or from a Facebook page. Contactless terminals should not be passed from person to person and it may be appropriate to set the terminal to a predetermined amount to eliminate the need for the screen to be touched by donors. An appropriate cleaning solution should be used for cleaning contactless terminals. Where it is necessary to collect cash, consideration should be given to providing envelopes and discreet, secure deposit boxes. Gloves should be worn when handling money and the areas where any money has been handled should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected afterwards.

Funerals and Weddings

The Scottish Government has set different limits for services dependent on the COVID-19 Protection Level in which a congregation or parish sits. The maximum numbers for each type of service may not be able to be met within safe building limits with physical distancing and congregations should ensure that expectations of people making use of the buildings are set at an early stage in discussions (for detailed numbers for each service please see the wedding or funeral sections). Congregations must set their Physical Distance-Based Capacity Limit (PDBC) and display the appropriate signage as outlined in our guidance. It is an offence for congregations to permit anyone into your church buildings in excess of the PDBC. It is particularly important that families organising funerals and weddings have a clear understanding of the number of individuals they may invite.

Where these services take place in a church building the congregation have responsibility for ensuring these numbers are adhered to. When a minister or deacon conducts a service in another location they should ensure they are comfortable with the arrangements for controlling numbers.

Whenever church buildings are used for additional services such as weddings or funerals, care must be taken by the congregation to ensure that appropriate cleaning and disinfection of the church buildings takes place before the church building is reused. Where this is less than 72 hours after the funeral service, extra care must be taken.

Weddings

The maximum number for weddings are as follows:

  • Level 4 – 20
  • Level 3 – 50
  • Level 2 – 50
  • Level 1 – 100
  • Level 0 - 200

In all levels the maximum number includes all those at the ceremony, including the couple, the witnesses, guests (including children of any age), carers accompanying someone attending the ceremony and any staff not employed by the venue such as a photographer or musical group (but not the church musician if the ceremony is taking place inside a church building). The celebrant and those employed or volunteering at the venue to facilitate to marriage do not count towards these limits.

It is important that congregations work with couples to ensure that they understand the maximum numbers are with physical distancing in place and that it is unlikely that they will be able to invite the number outlined in the Scottish Government Framework in many church buildings (or even hotels), especially in level 1 and 0 areas.

Congregations should remember that a building’s capacity depends not only on physical distancing but on whether those attending come singly or together from a household. We would suggest that it is more helpful to indicate the number of “seating positions” a building has where either one person or two (at the most) from the same household can sit. This can often make it easier for couples inviting people to attend to understand the actual number they can have at the service. Congregations and those organising weddings must adhere to the maximum numbers which a particular building can hold rather than simply saying the number for the Level in which they have been placed.

There is a possibility that couples may seek to use an alternative church building to their own, or parish, church due to differences in maximum capacities. Ministers should work with couples to help them understand that within the Church of Scotland it is important that individuals, where there is no church connection, make use of their local parish church for services. It is important that when a minister is approached to conduct a wedding service in their church and it becomes clear that this “private invitation” is really about the seating capacity of their church that they either persuade the family that the wedding should take place in the parish church or work with the parish minister to allow access to their church to conduct the service.

A marriage ceremony should only take place within a private dwelling if it is not possible for it to take place outside or in a public venue such as a hotel or church. This could be because one of the couple is seriously ill or a disability prevents one of the couple from attending a service inside a public venue, church or outside. Where a marriage takes place inside a private dwelling the Scottish Government advise that numbers should be kept to a minimum and in protection levels 2, 3 and 4 this would mean a maximum of 6 people, which includes the couple, two witnesses, the celebrant and, where needed, an interpreter. In protection level 1 up to 6 people may attend and in protection level 0 up to 8 people may attend. Level 1 and 0 numbers include the couple, two witnesses and celebrant but do not include an interpreter where required.

The need for a 28-day notice period for a Marriage Schedule remains in place and couples should consult with their local registration office for more information.

As with worship, it is important that congregations ensure that arrangements are in place to ensure physical distancing and precautions are in place and adhered to, to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19. In addition, the Scottish Government has advised the following:

  • Congregational singing or chanting should not take place in areas covered by levels 2, 3 and 4
  • Where congregational singing or chanting takes place in areas covered by levels 1 and 0, the congregation should continue to wear face coverings in all indoor locations and those leading the service should read and understand the guidance in the ‘Worship’ section of this page.
  • The minister or deacon should remain physically distanced from the couple when leading worship
  • The couple can remove face coverings throughout the ceremony (when the minister or deacon is conducting the act of worship but not before or afterwards, when the couple arrive at the church and are waiting to enter, or having photographs taken whilst waiting to leave); however the minister or deacon should take extra care when standing in front of the couple during this period. There may be points during the ceremony, such as signing the schedule or leaving the church when the couple cannot remain physically distanced from the minister or deacon and, if partitions are not used (or plexi-glass screens or equivalent) face coverings for the minister or deacon and couple may be necessary.
  • Individuals from other households should continue to observe physical distancing rules. When Ministers or deacons are conducting wedding services in other venues they should ensure that the venue understand that the Scottish Government regulations state that whilst 1m distancing is in place in some settings for receptions and meals, all wedding ceremonies whether in hotels, gardens, marquees or churches must adhere to 2m physical distancing.
  • One of the couple getting married may wish to have someone accompany them down the aisle at the start of the service. It is advised that the person is either in the same household as the person getting married or maintains two metres physical distance from the person getting married. In some cases, the person getting married may wish to be accompanied by a guest who is not in their household and without physical distancing. There is an exemption in the regulations to the physical distancing requirements to allow for this. This exemption only applies while the person getting married is being accompanied down the aisle at the start of the service. Once they have done that, the member of the couple and the accompanying guest should continue to maintain physical distancing. There is no exemption for the person accompanying to remove a face covering (unless exempt) and they must wear a face covering when walking down the aisle, whether distanced or not. The person getting married and accompanying guest should consider the potential risk of transmission from close contact with a member of another household and the person getting married should consider wearing a face covering during this part of the ceremony and removing it when they reach the front.
  • The couple's spoken responses or vows should not be in a raised voice
  • Where the couple exchange rings, these should be handled by as few people as possible. Those handling the rings should wash their hands before and after the ceremony.
  • Ministers and Deacons leading the service should consider whether practices that involve breaking the physical distancing rules, or physical contact are necessary. Where it is felt that such practices need to continue for liturgical reasons, a shorter physical distance should be kept for as short a times as possible and other mitigation such as face coverings for those involved may wish to be considered.
  • Consideration should be given to using different pens for signing the schedule. Where the same pen is used by the couple, minister or deacon and witnesses, following the conclusion of the ceremony all should wash their hands and the pen should be cleaned and disinfected.

Wedding receptions in levels 0-3 can be held in regulated premises, for example hospitality venues such as hotels, with maximum numbers mirroring the numbers allowed to attend a wedding ceremony. No receptions can take place in level 4 areas.

Funerals

It is recognised that one of the most challenging aspects of the COVID-19 lockdown has been the inability of families to hold a funeral service in their church or community. Should a congregation agree to reopen their church buildings and have met all the criteria in the COVID-19 risk assessment, buildings checklist and secured the approval of Presbytery to reopen, a minister (or Interim Moderator) may agree to allow funeral to be held in their church buildings.

The maximum number for funerals are as follows:

  • Level 4 –20
  • Level 3 –50
  • Level 2 – 50
  • Level 1 – 100
  • Level 0 – 200

These numbers do not include the minister or person conducting the service, the funeral director and volunteers who will assist with people safely entering and leaving the building.

It is important that congregations work with Funeral Directors and families to ensure that they understand the maximum numbers are with physical distancing in place and that it is unlikely that they will be able to invite the maximum number to many church buildings (or even crematoria), especially in areas below level 4. Congregations should remember that a building’s capacity depends not only on physical distancing but on whether those attending come singly or together from a household. We would suggest that it is more helpful to indicate the number of “seating positions” a building has where either one person or two (at the most) from the same household can sit. This can often make it easier for families inviting people to attend to understand the actual number they can have at the service. Congregations and those organising funerals must adhere to the maximum numbers which a particular building can hold rather than simply saying the number for the Level in which they have been placed.

There is a possibility that families may seek to use an alternative church building to their own, or parish, church, due to differences in maximum capacities. Presbyteries and Congregations should work with Funeral Directors and families to help them understand that within the Church of Scotland it is important that individuals, where there is no church connection, make use of their local parish church for services. It is important that when a minister is approached to conduct a funeral service in their church and it becomes clear that this “private invitation” is really about the seating capacity of their church that they either persuade the family that the funeral should take place in the parish church or work with the parish minister to allow access to their church to conduct the service.

Congregations should refer to the Scottish Government guidance when preparing for funerals.

The Scottish Government guidance on funeral services strongly discourages people who are not counted in the maximum number from going to the funeral service and gathering outside the crematorium, funeral director service room, or in the burial ground. In the event that this is allowed to happen, we advise that following the service, ministers should consider (if they believe it to be appropriate) expressing their concerns to the Funeral Director. Should ministers fail to be satisfied with the response from the Funeral Director, they should inform the Presbytery Clerk and the COVID-19 Group by email: covid19guidance@churchofscotland.org.uk.

When arranging a funeral in a level 4 area, unless the threshold for pastoral visiting is able to be met (providing emotional support to someone whose wellbeing is at risk, including those who are isolated) funeral visits should be carried out online or by phone. If a personal visit is to be made to someone’s home only members of that household should be in attendance. Ministers, deacons and others leading funerals may also meet families in church buildings previously approved to open by presbytery if it proves impossible to meet using technology.

Congregational singing or chanting may only take place in areas covered by levels 1 and 0, and the congregation should continue to wear face coverings in all indoor locations when singing. Those leading worship or organising worship should read and understand the guidance in the ‘Worship’ section of this page.

As with worship and prayer, shared items such as bibles and hymnbooks must not be used and should be removed from the sanctuary.

Whilst it is permissible for coffins to be inside the church building, assuming that the funeral director has followed all professional guidance on managing the deceased, no coffin should be left in the church overnight and should only enter the church building a maximum of 30 minutes prior to the commencement of the service. The minister has the final say over whether or not a coffin can be placed in the church building. Family members may only carry coffins within churches where they form a single or extended household.

With the exception of level 4 areas where no gatherings are permissible, post funeral gatherings can be held in regulated premises, for example hospitality venues such as hotels, with the maximum numbers allowed mirroring the numbers permitted at a funeral service. Those conducting services should bear in mind that although they are not included in the maximum numbers at a service they are included in the maximum numbers at any post-funeral gatherings and if they attend, they should ensure there is sufficient space in the numbers for them to attend. The general principles for social gatherings would apply and further information can be found by visiting the Scottish Government website.

Distributing Materials

A number of congregations are issuing materials such as newsletters, service transcripts and DVDs. However, as with the previous period of lockdown it is important that every care and precaution is made in preparing and distributing materials. This means:

  • One person, or as few people as possible, copies or prepares mailings and adheres to all proper hand hygiene guidelines
  • Congregations can make doorstep deliveries utilising the minimum number of volunteers and ensuring that volunteers follow proper hygiene rules at all times
  • If congregations are producing activity packs the minimum number of individuals possible should physically create the packs and follow all relevant guidance on hygiene and use of premises.

Some congregations have made use of a ‘dead drop’ box, putting a box with leaflets or items outside the church grounds with a notice to ‘sanitise your hands and help yourself’. In certain situations, this may prove a helpful tool to distribute materials.

Live Events (including outdoor worship outwith church grounds)

This section does not apply to worship services held indoors or outdoors in church grounds. Congregations should refer to the worship section for further advice.

Most events that a congregation will offer, including worship beyond church grounds, should be organised in line with the outdoor event guidance. What is allowable is dependent on the level in which the area is place

  • Level 0 – Outdoor events up to a maximum of 2000 seated or 1000 free standing are permitted, along with indoor events with a maximum capacity of 400
  • Level 1 – Outdoor events up to a maximum of 1000 seated or 500 free standing are permitted, along with indoor events with a maximum capacity of 200
  • Level 2 – Outdoor events up to a maximum of 500 seated or 250 free standing are permitted, along with indoor events with a maximum capacity of 100
  • Level 3 - Only drive-in events are permitted
  • Level 4 – No outdoor events are permitted

Any outdoor events will require permission from the landowner and consultation with the local Environmental Health Service. There may also be licensing issues and congregations should check with the licensing section of the local authority.

The Scottish Government has stated that every outdoor event must have a risk assessment and an operational guide and checklist which includes issues such as toileting, parking, entry and exit point etc. This is not an insignificant piece of work for a congregation to undertake and it must be completed prior to any event taking place, or even being given permission to take place by the local authority.

Congregations may wish to consider the challenges associated with the organisation of a larger scale outdoor live event, especially if they have not yet had much experience of dealing with the physical distancing and hygiene regulations inside a church building. As with other areas of this guidance, it may be helpful for a congregation to consider smaller events and scale upwards after a period of time.

For more details see the Scottish Government's operational guide and checklist for events.

Music and Singing

For guidance on music and singing within a service of worship, please read the ‘Music & Singing’ subsection of the Worship guidance above.

Where children are involved in an activity and singing forms part of the programme, it should only take place indoors for younger children (under 8) from Level 3, under 12s from Level 2, with adults participating indoors from Level 1. Outdoors, singing for younger children (under 8) can also begin at Level 3, and for everyone from Level 2, including adults.

Choirs can commence from level 2 outdoors and from level 1 indoors, with appropriate mitigations on physical distancing and increased ventilation.

The Scottish Government has advised that professional singers and musicians can play indoors. However, due to entertainment venues such as theatres being closed in levels 3 and 4 there should be no performances taking place. In levels 2, 1 and 0 areas performances can take place but with restrictions on distancing and hygiene measures.

Non-professionals who are participating in an organised outdoor activity managed by an organisation such as a business, charity or club can meet outdoors in local authorities within levels 0 or 1. Organisers should undertake all distancing and hygiene requirements as well as a risk assessment. Groups can proceed with their activity if they can do so in a way that ensures that there is no interaction between individuals or individual households. If they cannot ensure that physical distancing is not compromised - including when arriving at or leaving an activity or in any breaks or socialising - then such non-professional activity should not take place.

More details can be found in the Scottish Government's guidance for the performing arts and venues sector.

Pastoral Care

We understand that those involved in providing Pastoral Care may wish to consider the reintroduction of ‘in-person’ visits. Pastoral Visits should be for a clear purpose, not simply a ‘social call’.

Where no exemption can be used for such a visit then the indoor socialising numbers as set by the Scottish Government for the area in which the visit occurs should be followed.

The Scottish Government has confirmed that pastoral visits to another person’s home for purposes such as to give communion, or prayer, are permitted. However, if for any reason more individuals or households than are permitted by social gathering rules (and the visitor would count as one household) are present in the home a visit should not take place. No minister, elder or member of staff should feel compelled to visit another home at this time. Prior to an elder or pastoral volunteer undertaking such a visit they should ensure that they discuss the matter fully with the Parish Minister or Interim Moderator.

If you are within a level 3 or 4 area then pastoral care visits should only take place where they are deemed to be essential and, if possible, should be moved online. Extreme care should be taken if a visit is to take place in people’s homes, churches or manses and all relevant health guidance followed.

Those involved with visits should consider the following control measures:

  • No individual should feel a pressure to enter another person’s home and conduct a visit
  • The invitation to enter a home should always come from the person receiving the visit. This should always be arranged in advance and there should be no pressure felt by the person receiving the visit to allow access to their home should they not feel comfortable.
  • Visits may take place indoors or outdoors subject to the rules on maximum number and physical distancing
  • If a funeral is being arranged and the person leading the services wishes to visit the family in their home, they must ensure in advance that the family is aware of the limitations on the maximum number of people allowed to be present. The person leading the funeral may wish to meet the family in the church building if it has been granted permission to open, to ensure that they have more control of the maximum numbers.
  • Should maximum numbers at any visit be exceeded the visit should not begin (if it has not started) or be brought to a swift conclusion and the visitor should then leave
  • Good hand hygiene practices should be observed at all times, and it is recommended that the visitor takes a small supply of alcohol-based hand gel with them. The visitor or the person receiving the minister may wish to wear a face covering.
  • If the visitor is concerned about the hygiene practices within the home they may wish to suggest a visit takes place in the church building if permission has been granted for the building to open.

Congregations must ensure that they follow any advice from the Scottish Government or local health protection teams, relating to the temporary restrictions or prohibition of pastoral visits as a result of a localised outbreak of COVID-19.

It may be possible to visit residents in Care Homes, but it is essential to check with the Care Home manager first. While the Scottish Government has said that faith representatives may visit a Care Home, not all Care Homes are allowing this.

Support Services

Face-to-face advice services, including recovery community and mutual aid groups are permitted to resume in places of worship. Both professionally led and peer led services, one-to-one support or group support can take place. Examples of such services might be support for alcohol and drug services and mental health and wellbeing support groups, including groups for mental ill health, weight loss, bereavement support and victim support. Numbers for these groups can be set at the safe capacity for the venue in which they meet with all physical distancing measures in place.

In places of worship within a level 0, 1 or 2 area such groups can take place. In level 3 areas groups can take place but should be moved online wherever possible. In level 4 areas only essential activities can take place face-to-face where they are essential for people’s wellbeing and remote delivery is not possible. An essential support group is one where participants’ health (including their mental health) and wellbeing would be significantly impacted by non-attendance. If groups must take place in person, relevant guidance must be followed.

In general, congregations must be able to justify the service as being essential and that the number of volunteers is the minimum required. For example, if a congregation hosts a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous for six homeless people who cannot meet online then they may continue with all the usual mitigations of masks, open windows etc. However, it is not acceptable to continue the Wednesday Bible Study, however important that may be to its regular participants.

Meetings and Organised Groups for Adults

Church Meetings

It has been agreed that Church Meetings such as Presbytery, Kirk Session and Congregational Board are permitted to meet ‘in person’ in areas covered by COVID protection levels 0-2.

It is important to remember that permission to meet is not an instruction to meet and congregations and Presbyteries may choose to have a blended approach to meetings with some ‘in person’ and some online. The numbers attending the meeting must not exceed the safe physically distanced based calculation for the space in which the meeting is held. Test and Protect must be undertaken, and the need to wear face coverings remains. Attention should be given to how people are heard when they speak as, with people being distanced from one another there may be a need for amplification.

Where the Kirk Session or Presbytery has a membership greater than the number of people able to meet in the space and an approach is taken where some meet in person and some online then the meeting must follow the principles of Act 2, 2018.

It is unlikely that congregational meetings for such matters as Stated Annual Meetings, Sale of buildings and Vacancy and Adjustment processes will be able to take place ‘in person’ for some time due to the inability to allow every member who may reasonably seek to attend so to do. For this reason, congregational meetings should still make use of the Protocols approved by the General Assembly.

Indoor Adult Groups

Organised adult activities are allowed indoors in areas under COVID protection levels 0-2, provided appropriate safety measures are followed. Each group must have a COVID-19 safety officer in place (which for congregational groups under the jurisdiction the Kirk Session may be the congregational Health and Safety Co-ordinator). The numbers attending the group must not exceed the safe physically distanced-based calculation for the type of activity.

Only groups that have regular and organised activities run by the congregation, recognised charitable, not-for-profit and political organisations, properly constituted clubs, or businesses on behalf of or for the public may take place. Ad hoc or informal social activities should still follow the rules on gatherings appropriate to that setting (indoors or outdoors). One-off social events such as birthday parties, or other activities, are still not permitted to take place.

At Levels 3-4, people may only meet indoors in accordance with the relevant restrictions on indoor socialising for those protection levels. It is therefore unlikely that any organised activities for adults (with the exception of sport and support groups), recreational or social groups would be able to meet in places of worship at levels 3-4.

COVID-19 Officers

In order to assist groups to return to activity safely, the Scottish Government state that every group must appoint a COVID-19 safety officer. For congregational organisations under the jurisdiction of the Kirk Session this may be the congregational Health and Safety Officer. The purpose of this role is to help the group oversee and implement public health and safety measures across its activities, as well as helping the group to operate in a safe manner that adheres to Scottish Government and relevant Church of Scotland guidelines.

The COVID Officer will predominantly work in the background, to coordinate a group's return to hosting activities and will be the main point of contact for the group on all things related to COVID-19. The COVID Officer shall not bear sole responsibility for ensuring all hygiene and public health advice is followed – this responsibility will be shared by all who attend the activity.

The role of the COVID Safety Officer may include:

  • Ensuring that the group has appropriate processes in place to document risk assessments and that all appropriate mitigations are put in place before any activity is undertaken
  • Ensuring that the group has appropriate processes in place to allow the group to take an accurate record of all attendees at each session in line with Scottish Government Test & Protect guidance (for congregational organisations and groups a record should be kept in line with the Church of Scotland Test and Protect procedure similar to that in place for worship)
  • Keeping up to date with ongoing Scottish Government and Church of Scotland advice and guidance relating to COVID-19
  • Ensuring there is awareness of the groups and congregations COVID-19 protocols and encouraging members and participants to take individual responsibility

The Guild

The Guild is an important part in the life of many congregations. The congregation should remember that the Guild are a part of the life of the congregation and that the Kirk Session have responsibility to ensure that the Guild are supported in returning to activities.

Numbers for Guild groups should not exceed the PDBC for the space in which they are meeting. If tea and coffee is being served as part of the meeting this should only be with table service (or served to the person sitting in their seat) and groups must follow the guidance in the hospitality section below.

It has been agreed with the Guild National Office that the COVID Support Officer for local Guild groups should be the Health & Safety Co-ordinator of the congregation or their deputy/ appointee. This ensures that all Guild groups understand the Church of Scotland procedures and guidelines and are supported in their implementation.

The risk assessment for the Guild returning should be part of the congregational risk assessment and should be completed by the Kirk Session in conjunction with the Guild Office Bearers.

When Guild activities resume the group meeting will fall under the responsibility of the Kirk Session for Test and Protect purposes. This means that contact details should be taken in the same manner that details are collected for worship and stored securely by the congregational contact. After the Guild meeting is finished arrangements should be made to pass the attendance list to the appropriate congregational representative.

If there is a positive case of COVID within the Guild NHS Test and Protect should be told to contact the Church of Scotland Law Department who will then liaise with the congregational contact. At no point should the Guild office bearers inform members of a positive case as this is the responsibly of NHS Test and Protect. Should a Guild office bearer be made aware of a positive case within its membership they should immediately contact the congregational Health and Safety Co-ordinator.

Church Offices and Workplaces

Church offices should remain closed at the present time as they are not considered to be an essential service. Church employees such as secretaries and administrators should work from home. It is permissible for an employee to enter a church office in order to check on mail and undertake essential photocopying, but at no time should a church office be open to the public.

The Scottish Government have indicated that areas in Level 0 can begin a limited return to offices; however, working from home will remain the default. Further guidance will be offered on this topic in due course.

Further information can be found in the Scottish Government's guidance on returning to work.

Hospitality

From 26 April 2021, informal hospitality can now resume in places of worship for those congregations in protection levels 0 to 3. This includes refreshments after services, coffee mornings and lunch clubs. However, there are significant restrictions in place on the number of people who can attend such events. Congregations must not exceed their Physically Distanced Based Capacity (PDBC) Limit, and this is particularly important if hospitality is offered in a different area of the building from where worship or life events take place. Congregations should familiarise themselves with the Scottish Government’s guidance for the hospitality sector and only offer hospitality if they believe that it is safe to do so.

At all protection levels, those attending hospitality (including worshippers after a service), must remain seated and be served in their place. There must be 2m physical distancing between each household on both their own table or the neighbouring tables, and the number of people at each table must not exceed the current restrictions. Face coverings must be worn at all times, unless exempt or consuming food or drinks. Particularly when hospitality is offered before or after worship, congregations must ensure that those attending do not mix between tables, and that 2m physical distancing is maintained when moving from the service to where hospitality is provided. It should be noted that places of worship are not permitted to utilise the 1m physical distance as detailed in the hospitality guidance for Cafes and Restaurants. A 2m distance must be kept at all times.

Commercial cafes within church buildings are also able to reopen. Those who are responsible for the cafe must ensure that they have undertaken a COVID-19 risk assessment and share this with the congregation. Commercial cafes can only re-open once the congregation has completed their own COVID-19 risk assessment and buildings checklists. In addition, commercial cafes must comply with the Scottish Government’s guidance for the hospitality sector, including the requirement to comply with Trace and Protect. Full details can be downloaded from the Scottish Government website.

Commercial cafes and informal hospitality can only restart in church buildings when all of the guidance relating to cleaning and disinfection and hand hygiene and general precautions can be fully implemented. In addition, commercial cafes and those members of the congregation providing hospitality should also refer to Food Standards Scotland guidance on reopening food businesses.

Socialising

A number of activities and groups such as lunch clubs or coffee mornings where specific exemptions do not apply must follow the guidelines for indoor gatherings in the relevant area. Care should be taken to ensure that the correct guidance is being followed as the Scottish Government have the ability to vary the numbers able to meet both indoors and outdoors within the different protection levels. It is the responsibility of the congregation and the group to understand what the rules in force at the time of the activity mean for numbers.

Face Coverings

It is a legal requirement that anyone over the age of five years who attends a church building must wear an appropriate face covering at all times unless there is a reasonable excuse for not wearing one. Reasonable excuses are defined under the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 and members of the congregation and visitors to the church building should familiarise themselves with these exemptions.

Ministers and those leading worship may decide that it is not appropriate to wear a face covering during a service. Face coverings can be removed during a service as long as a distance of at least 2 metres is maintained between them and those attending church. However, a face covering must be worn at all other times when attending church. Similarly, the same rule applies to those leading a funeral or marriage ceremony. At a wedding, the couple can remove face coverings throughout the ceremony (when the minister or deacon is conducting the act of worship but not before of afterwards); however, the minister or deacon should take extra care when standing in front of the couple during this period.

Face coverings are only required to be worn indoors. However, congregations should respect an individual’s choice to wear a face covering whilst outside the church building. It is important to remember that whether a face covering is worn or not outside of the church building, physical distancing of 2m between individuals must be followed at all times. Congregations should also be aware that in some cases, sector-specific guidance published by the Scottish Government allows for the removal of face coverings whilst inside the church building, for example whilst undertaking some forms of exercise. Congregations must check with all organisations and groups that use their church buildings as to their professional bodies’ requirement to wear a face covering and with the Scottish Government's sector-specific guidance.

Travel and Transport

The Scottish Government has issued a series of travel restrictions under the protection levels system. Some limited exemptions from the restrictions not to travel to or from other parts of the UK exist. These should not be seen as loopholes.

From Friday 16 April the COVID-19 restrictions on leaving your local authority area will end, with people being allowed to travel across Scotland freely, although overnight stays with other households are still not permitted.

Congregations should not run any ‘lifts to church’ schemes to collect people and bring them to worship. Equally, congregations should not put in place any schemes, or broker lifts between people for travel to appointments such as vaccination or hospital.

For more information, see the Scottish Government's guidance on travel and transport.

Schools (and School Chaplaincy)

At the present time, it is very unlikely that school chaplains will be allowed to enter a school to engage with pupils, regardless of which level an area is in. School chaplains should always check with the Head Teacher to ascertain the position. School Chaplains may consider alternatives such as recording talks for the classroom or an assembly.

Congregations may be asked by schools to host an Assembly or Prizegiving in the worship space. Such activities can take place in church buildings; however, the minister or chaplain will need to determine whether the activity is an ‘act of worship’ or an ‘event’.

If it is an act of worship (assembly, story/chaplain input, prayer, song etc) then you can follow the worship guidance which has no maximum number other than the numbers that can safely fit in the building (under 12s do not need to distance).

If it is a prizegiving (even with a prayer at the end) then it would be an indoor event which can only take place at level 2 and below. The events guidance sets limits on indoor events at 100 (level 2), 200 (level 1) and 400 (level 0) and all ages (except for under 5s) must be counted in the numbers. As an example, even although under 12’s do not need to physically distance from each other, you could not, in a level 2 area, fit four classes of 32 children, plus teachers into the church as that would breach the events limit.

Children under the age of 12 do not need to physically distance from one another. This may mean that you can revise your PDBC to take account of extra children being able to fit into the church.

We are aware that a number of congregations have either offered or have been approached by their local schools to see if their church buildings can be used to support children returning to schools. Congregations who are considering using their church buildings in this way are encouraged to have early discussions with their local schools and to contact the Law Department for advice and assistance on establishing a letting agreement.

Activity-Based Risk Assessments

It is good practice for congregations to ensure that an activity-based risk assessment is undertaken of any group or activity, both inside or outside of the church building which includes children, young people or adults. This risk assessment will help congregations and activity leaders understand the risks associated with the activity including the risks to the participants and how to appropriately manage and control those risks.

Such a Risk Assessment is substantially different in character to the COVID-19 Building Risk Assessment. Youth Scotland have produced a number of helpful resources that congregations may find useful in planning a return to indoor children’s and youth work:

Youth Work

Children and youth ministries, Sunday schools, faith-based education, non-regulated organised activities for children and face-to-face youth work are, in certain protection levels, able to resume in church buildings. The Scottish Government through Youthlink Scotland has produced in-depth guidance that congregations and service providers must consider before any children’s or young person’s work can resume. The Scottish Government has also published additional guidance relating to unregulated organised activities for children including carer and toddler groups. Congregations and service providers should note that not all activities can resume in church buildings at the present time, and you should refer to the Scottish Government sector guidance to ensure that your planned activity can safely resume.

General Youth Work Provisions

Before any activities can resume, congregations must ensure that the measures outlined in the Reopening and Looking After Your Church Buildings guidance are followed. In addition, the following general principles will apply:

  • The default position is that all work with children and young people, including Sunday Schools, Bible Classes and other faith-based education, falls under the general guidance for activities for children and young people unless sector-specific guidance from the Scottish Government is in place for the activity
  • Whether an activity takes place indoors or outdoors the same principles apply for calculating numbers and even if a very large area is utilised for the activity, care should be taken to ensure that the numbers attending can be safely managed. Numbers should not exceed the number stated for the activity in your risk assessment. If a higher number can now be accommodated for an activity a revision of the Risk Assessment will be necessary with the Risk Assessment being approved by the Kirk Session, or other regulatory body.
  • Where an activity falls under the general guidance for organised activities for children capacity is based on the ability to maintain physical distancing (2m) for all users of the space (between adults, between children over 12 years and between adults and these children) and should not exceed a congregations PDBC. Facilitators will also count in relation to the capacity of the building. Under 5’s do not count within the calculations.
  • For activities categorised as ‘Youth Work’ (see definitions below),
    • In circumstances where support to a vulnerable young person is required, this can be provided on a one-to-one basis (indoors or outdoors) at any protection level with mitigations in place.
    • In areas under levels 3 and 4 restrictions digital youth work should be the norm with face-to-face being prioritised to those who need it the most.
    • In areas under COVID Protection level 3, youth work should be provided online or outdoors and should only be carried out indoors for the purposes of targeted youth work to support health and wellbeing with vulnerable groups, the completion of youth qualifications or employment training or education recovery. Activities are limited to a maximum of 30 people (if the activity is for those under the age of 18) or 15 people outdoors/ 5 indoors (for activities where the young people are aged 18 and over) which includes the youth worker, volunteers, young people and children.
    • In areas under COVID Protection levels 0-2 youth work is permitted to take place indoors or outdoors. The numbers able to attend is based on the Risk-Assessed Physical Distance Based Calculation (PDBC) for the space being used. All other mitigations such as face coverings and distancing remain in place for such activities except where there are exemptions. Physical activity and sports should follow the general guidance for sport whereas activity akin to events should follow events guidance.
    • Young people aged 12 and over and adults must continue to physically distance (2m) from one another at all times in both indoor and outdoor activities.
    • The capacity for how many people can participate in youth work may change depending on the type of activity being undertaken or its location
  • Children under 12 do not have to physically distance, however young people over 12 and adults must maintain a 2m physical distance at all times.
  • The sharing of food and drink should not take place at children’s activities or youth work activities
  • As with all activities in a place of worship, face coverings should be worn by all over the age 5 without a medical exemption. In certain instances face coverings may be removed by young people, however youth leaders, volunteers and adults should continue to wear a face covering at all times unless there is an exemption. The removal of the face covering in youth work sessions should be the exemption not the rule. The default should remain that face coverings are worn except when young people are actively engaged in exercise, physical activity or small learning groups.

What can be classified as ‘Youth Work’

Congregations should understand that not all work with young people aged 12-25 is classed as ‘youth work’. In order to be classed as ‘youth work’ and operate under that exemption and guidance, the group must be able to demonstrate a clear educational focus and a structured programme. This means that a drop-in youth club where there is no planned programme is unlikely to fall under the ‘youth work’ guidance and would therefore follow the ‘organised activities for children’ guidance. For more information on what defines a Youth Work Group or Activity there is useful information on the Covid FAQ page on the website of Youth Link Scotland.

It is important that congregations and service providers ensure that any activities provided within their church buildings are run safely. Scottish Government guidance states that before implementing any planned face-to-face delivery or re-opening of youth work spaces, youth work leaders should be able to demonstrate the following:

  • That the Scottish Government scientific and medical advice deems it safe to proceed
  • Youth work leaders have the ability to comply with Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland guidance
  • Comprehensive risk assessment are in place relating to both the building/space being used and the activity undertaken
  • Appropriate measures for infection prevention and control are in place
    • Enhanced cleaning arrangements
    • Adequate facilities, equipment and procedures for personal hygiene
  • Measures are in place to comply with physical distancing requirements
  • Ability to adhere to the Scottish Government Test and Protect COVID-19 guidance
  • Specific measures to protect those who are at higher risk from COVID-19 infection
  • Clear communication processes - to ensure staff, volunteers, service users and parents understand what measures have been put in place to manage risk of COVID-19 transmission
  • Appropriate insurance cover
  • That these arrangements and measures are monitored and reviewed regularly.

Sunday Schools and Bible Classes

For more information on Sunday Schools and Bible Classes please see the Worship section of the guidance

Holiday Clubs

Congregations which provide a holiday club for children and young people can take place in church buildings or church grounds in level 3 – 0 areas. Capacity is based on the ability to maintain physical distancing (2m) for all users of the space (between adults, between children over 12 years and between adults and these children) and should not exceed a congregations PDBC. Facilitators will also count in relation to the capacity of the building. The Organised activities for children guidance must be followed alongside the general principles outlined above.

Uniformed Organisations

Due to the nature of uniformed organisations and the educational model they provide, sections of uniformed organisations with children and young people of any age should comply with the Youthlink Scotland guidance.

Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) (Formal childcare)

Children’s nurseries and after-school care

Only those children’s services registered with the Care Inspectorate can return to using church buildings for the present time. Nursey providers must ensure that they can operate their service in accordance with the relevant Scottish Government sector guidance. The congregation must ensure that both the nursery and themselves have a COVID-19 risk assessment in place and that the congregation has completed the buildings checklist before the nursery can reopen.

As with registered nurseries, Care Inspectorate after-school clubs (child care provisions) from a church building are able to return. Service providers must ensure that they can operate their service in accordance with the relevant Scottish Government sector guidance. The congregation must ensure that both the nursery and themselves have a COVID-19 risk assessment in place and that the congregation has completed the buildings checklist before the nursery can reopen.

Should a congregation wish to undertake, or give space to an unregulated children’s activity then they should follow the unregulated children’s activities guidance.

Unregulated Children’s Activities

Carer and toddler groups

Carer and toddler groups can resume in church buildings, indoors from level 3 and outdoors from level 4 so long as the Scottish Government’s guidance on organised activities for children is followed alongside the general principles outlined in this section of the guidance document. The following principles apply specifically for carer and toddler groups where all children are under the age of 5:

  • Capacity is based on the number of adults attending being able to physically distance safely within the space and should not exceed a congregations PDBC.
  • Facilitators will also count in relation to the capacity of the building
  • Under 5’s do not count towards the capacity limit
  • All individuals aged 12 or over should maintain physical distancing.

Face coverings must be worn at all times except when sitting down (excluding under 5s).

Drama and Music Activities

Drama Groups can resume outdoors at any level and indoors from level 3. Capacity is based on the ability to maintain physical distancing (2m) for all users of the space (between adults, between children over 12 years and between adults and these children)  and should not exceed a congregations PDBC. Facilitators will also count in relation to the capacity of the building

Where singing is part of the activity it should only take place indoors for younger children (under 8) from Level 3, under 12s from Level 2, with adults participating indoors from Level 1. Choirs can commence from level 2 outdoors and from level 1 indoors, with appropriate mitigations on physical distancing and increased ventilation.

Further information can be found in the Scottish Government's guidance on organised activities for children.  

Breakfast Clubs

Breakfast Clubs can resume within levels 0-4 as they form an important part of the day for children and families as well as providing accessible childcare options for working parents. Churches providing breakfast clubs should operate in line with the guidance provided for regulated school age childcare provision, including setting safe maximum numbers based on the guidance contained and the physical space available. Further information can be found in the Scottish Government's guidance on school-age childcare services.

Sport and Exercise Classes

Within different protection level areas there are different rules on what sport and exercise groups (including dance groups) can take place within a place of worship.

  • Level 0 –Indoor and Outdoor classes for all ages are permitted to take place
  • Level 1 –Indoor and Outdoor classes for all ages, except indoor contact sports for over 18s are permitted to take place (with exception of professional sports)
  • Level 2 –Indoor and Outdoor classes for all ages, except indoor contact sports for over 18s are permitted to take place (with exception of professional sports)
  • Level 3 –Indoor classes for under 18s only are permitted and outdoor classes are permitted with the exception of no outdoor contact sports for those 18 or over (with the exception of professional sport)
  • Level 4 – No indoor activities are permitted and only outdoor classes for non-contact sports are permitted (with the exception of professional sport)

Congregations must ensure that arrangements are in place to ensure that physical distancing, hygiene and cleaning and disinfection measures are in place before any sports or exercise groups return to their church building. Congregation and activity leaders must also refer to sportscotland guidance on specific sport activities and to sportscotland guidance on leading physical activities. If specific COVID-19 guidance for a particular sport, or exercise activity has not been published by either the Scottish Government, sportscotland or a professional body, then this activity should not take place at this time.

Physical distancing requirements may be different for each individual sport and exercise activity and congregations must ensure that the appropriate guidance is followed at all times. In most cases, the 2m physical distance must be complied within all church buildings until at least certain sport and exercise classes/activities begin. In some cases, face coverings can be removed by those participating in certain sport and exercise activities, however it is the responsibility of the congregation and activity leaders to confirm whether is applies to their specific activity or not. Face coverings must be worn at all times and a 2m physical distance must be adhered to at all other times whilst inside a church building.

Many dance schools and teachers in Scotland are also members of the SDTA which has issued guidance to their members. Congregations may wish to ask their group for a copy of this guidance. In addition, congregations and dance leaders should refer to the Scottish Government’s guidance for the performing arts and venues sector.

Entertainment

Some congregations provide services such as community cinemas. In level 3 and 4 areas all such activities should not take place. However, in level 0-2 certain activities can take place following the relevant guidance. Congregations should check not only Scottish Government guidance but also with the local Environmental Health Managers to ensure compliance and all permissions are in place. It is not enough for a church to ‘deem itself’ a cinema, for example, it must follow all sector guidance for operating such activities.

Visitor Attractions

Some congregations will wish to re-open their buildings during the day because they attract visitors and tourists. It is important to ensure that the building is cleaned before opening and regularly during opening hours and that the appropriate distance of 2 metres can be maintained between visitors. There should be access to hand washing facilities and hand sanitiser and items such as hymn books, visitor books, leaflets, pens etc should be removed. It is also essential to maintain records for Track and Trace purposes. Cash donations should not be accepted and alternative methods of giving should be considered. To ensure that the building is safely managed when open to the public, it must be always staffed. It is not permissible to unlock a building in the morning and leave it open with no supervision for the whole day.

Visitor Attractions can open in areas covered by levels 0-2, remain open in level 3 areas with protective measures as outlined on Scottish Government website but must remain closed in level 4 areas.

Some congregations may be eligible for grant funding from the Historic Environment Recovery Fund, which is open to organisations which manage historic buildings and sites that are normally open to the public at least 28 days per calendar year. This includes buildings or sites that attract visitors as well as those which are open to the public for specific purposes.

Registering Attendance in Church Buildings

Congregations must ensure that there is a system in place to keep a temporary register of those who attend or visit their church buildings for a period of 21 days to support contact tracing as part of NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect programme. This extends to visitors, contractors, volunteers and employees. Congregations should collect the names, contact telephone number and the date of when individuals attend worship, a congregational activity or visit their church buildings. Every congregation will be required to adopt a specific privacy policy as the Trustees of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland are the Data Processor, not the congregation. Groups not under the jurisdiction of the Kirk Session are responsible for ensuring that Test and Protect data is kept and stored in accordance. With their own privacy policy.

Each congregation will be required to provide the details of at least one person within the congregation who will be the main contact should the local Health Protection Team required details of who has attend their church buildings. Congregations should register their point of contact online at churchofscotland.org.uk/test-protect. Further information, advice and guidance is provided on our Assisting NHS Test & Protect page.

Furloughing Parish Ministers

Furloughing of parish ministers should not happen. Where a parish minister has young children at home they should feel able to alter their working pattern to allow for sufficient flexibility to share responsibility for children and ministry across the working week within the family unit whilst continuing to serve their parish and community. There will always be a willingness from colleagues to assist where genuine emergencies occur, but Presbyteries also need to balance the well-being of ministers who would be required to provide interim moderator cover for a furloughed minister. At a time when more in communities are seeking the support of our churches it is important that all employees and office holders within a parish setting are able to provide necessary support.

Church Buildings as Vaccination Centres

Congregations may wish to offer their facilities as Vaccination Centres at the present time. Other than in cases where use is only for a matter of days, it will be necessary for a suitable lease or licence to be put in place for such use and any congregation who is approached and willing to have their buildings used in such a way should contact the Law Department for more information and assistance.

Church Buildings as Polling Places

Many congregations let their church buildings to their local authority to be used as a polling place. The Scottish Government has confirmed that church buildings can reopen and be used as polling places and, therefore, it is up to each individual congregation to decide whether this is appropriate to do so.

In practical terms, congregations should only consider letting their church buildings as a polling place once they have completed the reopening of church buildings checklist and a COVID-19 risk assessment and submitted both documents to Presbytery for approval. Those congregations which have already reopened their church buildings after the initial lockdown in March 2020 should only complete the buildings safety declaration, review and update their COVID-19 risk assessments and submit both documents to Presbytery for approval. If the congregation has already been approved by the Presbytery for the reopening of their church buildings, then no further action is required.

Local authorities have been issued with guidance from the Electoral Commission about how to operate polling activities safely. Congregations who decide to let their church buildings as a polling place should be aware that the resources available to local authorities to support polling places varies considerably. Some local authorities may be able to assist with enhanced cleaning or pay for an external cleaning company to undertake enhanced cleaning after polling day; however, this is not guaranteed. Congregations must discuss with the local authority who will be responsible for cleaning and disinfection and the removal of waste from their church buildings once polling has ended. Congregations must also ask to see a written copy of their local authorities' COVID-19 risk assessment and assure themselves that adequate control procedures are in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission whilst their building is been used as a polling place.

As well as the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2021, a number of local government by-elections are planned for throughout the year and the same guidance as highlighted above should be followed.

Insurance of Church Buildings during Lockdown

It is vital that congregations ensure that they keep abreast of insurance requirements for their buildings. More information, including a checklist for weekly inspections, can be found in our Reopening and Looking after Your Church Buildings Guidance. If you have any questions on insurance, please visit the COSIC website for the current situation and for details of how to contact the insurance team.

Maintenance of Church Buildings

You should continue to follow the guidance issued by the Church of Scotland Insurance Service (COSIS) and the General Trustees about regularly visiting and inspecting your church property. It is important that congregations continue to ensure their buildings are safe and in a good state of repair. More information can be found in our Reopening and Looking After Your Church Buildings guidance.

Contact

Email: covid19guidance@churchofscotland.org.uk

First Published: 8 Jan 2021

See All Updates

16 June 2021

Wedding Section updated to reflect latest guidance on numbers

11 June 2021

General youth Work Provisions updated to reflect the removal of upper cap on numbers for groups in certain protection levels

10 June 2021

Updates to:

4 June 2021

Updated PDF documents detailing what is and what is not permitted in each of the COVID protection levels

Updates to information about items used in worship, including pew cushions, printed materials and hymn books

Updated information regarding Congregational Responses and Congregational Singing

Updated information about singing and chanting during weddings and funerals

New information regarding Meetings and Organised Groups for Adults, including the need to appoint a COVID-19 Officer

Further information about hosting school events and prizegivings in churches

Additional information about visitor attractions

More information about registering attendance in church buildings

27 May 2021

Updates to reflect changes regarding:

21 May 2021

Updated information about hospitality in church buildings

18 May 2021

Update to information about children and worship, including Sunday Schools and Bible classes

14 May 2021

Updates to reflect changes in restrictions:

23 April 2021

General updates to reflect changes in restrictions after 26 April including:

15 April 2021

General updates to most sections to reflect the latest government guidance on the strategic framework including:

19 March 2021

Amended text in General Worship section highlighting travel restrictions, balcony/ gallery use and general safety provisions

Updated section in Youth Work section on outdoor Youth Work in Enhanced Level 4 areas

12 March 2021

Changes to introduction reflecting possible changes to communal worship from 26 March 2021

New Section on Holy Week and Easter

Changes to introductory text in Worship section reflecting possible changes to communal worship from 26 March 2021

Changes to Distributing Material section

New section on Scottish and Local Elections

29 January 2021

Update to Ordinations in enhanced level 4.

New section on Registering Attendance.

Update to insurance and maintenance sections.

8 January 2021

First published