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. The Scottish Government have reduced distancing from 2m to 1m, and have indicated a likely removal of distancing completely over the summer months and as such it is recommended that all congregations work to understand the difference these changes will make to capacity and work to amend their Risk Assessments to ensure they are ready to comply when changes are brought in. 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. Thecelebrant and those employed or volunteering at the venue to facilitate to marriage, or those employed by the couple (for example a photographer)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 twofrom 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.As with all services, the Kirk Session may allow people in households to sit together (in small groups). However, they should think carefully before allowing this in larger groups of 4 or 5 people as groups of this size will alter the spacing for groups around them whilst maintaining the requirement to physically distance.Congregations and those organising weddings must adhere to the maximum numbers which a particular building can hold rather than simply sayingthe 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 1m 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 1 metre 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.
  • 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 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.As with all services the Kirk Session may allow people in households to sit together (in small groups) however they should think carefully before allowing this in larger groups of 4 or 5 people as groups of this size will alter the spacing for groups around them whilst maintaining the requirement to physically distance.Congregations and those organising funerals must adhere to the maximum numbers which a particular building can hold rather than simply sayingthe 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 now permits the use of external speakers outside a venue to facilitate people unable to enter the building due to capacity.

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.

Where is can be done safely, family members and/or friends can participate in the lowering or carrying of the coffin at the church, crematorium or cemetery. Ministers, Deacons and those leading funeral services should discuss the situation with the Funeral Director in advance of the service in order that there is no confusion as to what is and is not allowed.

The Scottish Government state that it is the responsibility of the Funeral Director, crematorium authority or burial authority to carry out a risk assessment before the funeral take place and will discuss option with the family. There are no legal requirements for physical distancing between households or staff for the limited period of time it takes to carry or lower the coffin. At all other times during the funeral service, the required distance of 1 metre should be maintained. Face coverings should be worn by those taking part in carrying the coffin or taking a cord, even when outdoors, and particular attention should be paid to good hand hygiene practices. Families should be told that it is not always possible to carry or lower coffins at services dependant on the restraints of both building and maintaining public health measures.

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.