Funerals, Weddings and Baptisms

Flowers decorating a pew

Advice for churches regarding weddings and funerals.

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 10-day self-isolation period.

Most churches are now beginning to reopen and offer space for funerals and weddings to take place again. There are still restrictions on these important events. Most importantly to note is that a church building, due to the need to keep physical distancing in place, is unlikely to be able to hold the ‘headline' figure that the Government can say may attend such ceremonies, especially at level 1 and level 0.

We offer the following extracts from our guidance to assist those planning such services. More detailed advice is available on our Reshaping Church Life guidance or from your local Church of Scotland minister. You can find your local minister using our church finder.

Funerals

Sensitive conversations will need to take place with families and mourners ahead of funeral ceremonies. Churches are permitted to host funeral services if the building has been approved to reopen. The final decision of whether funeral services take place in church buildings is the responsibility of the Minister or Interim Moderator. As not all buildings have been approved to reopen you are advised to contact your local church or ask your funeral director to make contact.

Those leading a funeral service can now meet with families in a face-to-face visit; however, all present must follow proper hygiene and distancing rules and follow the instruction from the Scottish Government on how many people from different households can meet at one time. It may be that an online meeting may still be the best option for the family and the person leading the funeral at this time. If a personal visit is to be made to someone's homeit is important that limits on indoor gatherings are respected by thosein 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.

In arranging a funeral during this pandemic, a minister or other worship leader must comply with government instructions and health advice. These will inevitably mean restrictions on the numbers of those who can attend the service, so these conversations will need to be sensitively handled but the law must be followed.

The maximum attendance at a funeral service is dependent on the area in which the church is located and the capacity determined by physical distancing in the building. The maximum numbers for each protection area level are as follows:

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

This attendance figure is set by the Scottish Government and is the same whether a funeral takes place in a church, crematorium or cemetery.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).

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 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.

As in all aspects of life there is a need to respect social distancing guidelines for those who are not of the same household – no closer thanonemetre.

If a funeral is taking place indoors, face coverings are mandatory, except for those who are exempt. The person delivering the eulogy may remove their face mask but must maintain a 2 1m distance from others or remain behind a protective screen. If physical distancing can not be maintained, the person must wear a face covering.

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.

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.

Those leading the service should maketheir own travel arrangements to the graveside or crematorium – do not travel in the car with the bereaved family or the undertaker. After the service, as difficult as it is, you must not shake hands or offer a hug.

Post-funeral gatherings such as funeral teascan be held in regulated premises (except in level 4 areas), for example hospitality venues such as hotels, with the maximum numbers allowed mirroring the numbers permitted at a funeral service.

Weddings

Marriage ceremonies can now take place inside churches and outdoors if the building has been approved to reopen.

The maximum attendance at a wedding service is dependent on the area in which the church is located and the capacity determined by physical distancing in the building. The maximum numbers for each protection area level are as follows:

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

This attendance figure is set by the Scottish Government and is the samewherever a wedding takes place. 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.

For the full guidance on weddings, including exemptions on face coverings for the bride and groom, please visit our Reshaping Church Life guidance.

Those who had an event planned can contact their own minister directly to discuss their individualweddingand whether a date can now be booked for your wedding.You can contact your local minister through our church finder.

Baptisms

Baptismal services 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. You can contact your local minister through our church finder for more information.