Use of church buildings

Iona Abbey
Updated 22 June 2020

Many churches are now open for prayer and worship, but local restrictions may apply and careful consideration must be given as to how congregations can safely open and operate. Please visit our latest updates page for more information about the safe reopening of church buildings.

Government regulations allow a number of church buildings to be used to support vulnerable members of their congregation and the wider community. This is either through arrangement with other agencies such as food banks, or by providing cooked meals for the homeless. The following activities are permitted in church buildings:

  • Services providing food or drink to the homeless
  • Hosting essential voluntary or public service such as food banks or homeless services
  • Live streaming of a service without audience
  • Private prayer
  • Funeral services
  • Looking after the children of key workers through an approved local authority request

If you are experiencing any Covid-related symptoms, are feeling unwell or you, or a member of your household have received a positive Covid test please do not attend Church for any reason until you have completed a 14-day self-isolation period.

Practical Guidance

Services providing food or drink to the homeless

Those services that were open and operating before 23 March are allowed. If a church wishes to begin providing this service they may do so, provided appropriate social distancing (at least 2m between each person), good hygiene practices and strict hand hygiene control are observed. Congregations are encouraged to liaise with their local authority before beginning a new service.

Volunteers within the at-risk category must not participate, whether they feel fit and healthy or not. All areas used to store and distribute items and where service users have access must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before and after each session, including all hand-touch sites.

Hosting essential voluntary or public service such as food banks or homeless services

Services that were open and operating before 23 March may continue to operate. If a church wishes to begin providing this service they may do so, as long as appropriate social distancing (at least 2m between each person), good hygiene practices and strict hand hygiene control are observed. We encourage congregations to liaise with their local authority and local Health Protection Team before beginning a new service.

Volunteers within the at-risk category must not participate, whether they feel fit and healthy or not. It is very important that service users are treated with dignity and respect; however, food from food banks should be provided for collection outside buildings whenever possible. All areas used to store and distribute items and where service users have access must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before and after each session, including all hand-touch sites.

Live streaming of a service without audience

All live streaming or recording activities should take place with no more than two people present to comply with latest Government instructions on people (outwith family units) gathering. Physical distancing and good hand hygiene practices must be observed at all times. All equipment used during the live streaming or for recording purposes must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before and after use.

Working with volunteers

Congregations are advised to work only with those individuals who regularly volunteer with their church. However, we do understand that under the current climate many congregations have been approached by other members of the community who wish to volunteer. The Church of Scotland's safeguarding team should be contacted for further advice before agreeing to allow anyone else outwith your current cohort of volunteers to volunteer.

The UK and Scottish Government are absolutely clear that everyone apart from those providing an essential service should stay at home. The Church of Scotland should fully endorse this view whilst accepting that some church-based activities within the range listed above may continue to operate in line with the restrictions described and based on need.

Further information

Further information about the use of church buildings at this time is available from Brian Auld, Assistant Secretary (Safe Buildings), General Trustees’ Department. He can be reached at bauld@churchofscotland.org.uk.