The Scottish Government’s guidelines on places of worship are constantly evolving as the coronavirus situation changes, this page will be constantly updated based on contact with the Scottish government and other church organisations.

Last updated: 24 February 2021

The guidance detailed here is based around the national lockdown announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the 4 of January. For a more detailed look at the general guidelines currently in place, please see the Scottish government lockdown guidance. The details listed below apply to all current level 4 areas, consisting of all mainland Scotland. To check the level of restrictions in your area please see the Scottish government postcode checker.

As announced in the First Minister’s statement to parliament on 23 February, places of worship are due to reopen for communal worship during the second stage of reopening from 5 April. The First Minister did announce that this date was not fixed for places of worship and could be shifted by a couple of days to allow meeting for religious holidays. Notably, this would include the end of Passover and Easter Sunday on 4 April. It was indicated that there would be a 20-person limit on services at that time.

After the last week of April, Scotland is expected to return to the 5-tier system with each area of Scotland starting at level three. See our article on The Five Tier System for a summary of the church rules at level three.

Church services

Under the current Scottish lockdown, in-person church services cannot take place; places of worship are only open to church staff essential for broadcasting a church service. Social distancing rules still apply to church staff when broadcasting services. 

Exceptions to these social distancing guidelines do apply in a limited number of cases where faith-based practices are deemed absolutely essential and it would be unreasonable” to maintain distancing: the Scottish Government gives the example of the laying on of hands in the ordination of new ministers. Churches are encouraged to assess the necessity of such practices and plan accordingly.

A number of other suggestions are made by the Scottish Government:

  • Communal resources, such as Bibles, song sheets, and orders of service should not be used. Single-use alternatives that worshippers take home themselves can be used but should not be handed directly to worshippers:
  • the consumption of food or drink should be avoided where it is not essential to worship. Where it is essential shared vessels should be avoided. For Churches, this advice would be relevant to communion. Speaking across food or drink is also to be avoided:
  • when services end, worshippers or staff should leave the building promptly. 

For more details, exceptions, and guidance, please see the Scottish Government guidelines on Individual and Congregational Worship.

Worship

Singing as part of a church service, both indoors and outdoors, should be avoided at this time. This guidance also applies to the playing of wind and brass instruments as part of a worship band. 

The Evangelical Alliance, as well as other faith organisations, has been in constant dialogue with Scottish Government officials since the first iteration of congregational singing rules. We will continue to advocate for such an important part of Christian worship to be possible in Scotland as long as this is safe and supported by good evidence. The Scottish government uses the evidence of scientific studies that indicates risk in aerosol transmission through singing and wind instruments. 

Where it is essential for an individual to sing or play a wind instrument indoors, one individual may perform behind a screen in order to reduce the risk to others within the building. Instruments other than wind/​brass instruments may be played within a church but should be cleaned regularly and not shared. 

Different rules apply for professional performers and if the activity is taking place outdoors: please refer to the Scottish Government performing arts guidance.

For more details, see the Scottish Government guidance on worship and services.

Weddings

Under the current restrictions, weddings may take place but attendance is limited to the legal minimum: five people with the possibility of an interpreter attending in addition to this if deemed necessary. This limited number consists of the couple getting married, the celebrant, and two witnesses. These restrictions remain in place regardless of whether the marriage is taking place indoors or outdoors. As mentioned under the Travel section, attending a wedding is listed as an exception to the stay-at-home guidance, local travel restrictions, and restrictions on travel across UK national boundaries; all domestic travel to attend or officiate a wedding is permitted. 

Notably, post-wedding celebrations (i.e. wedding receptions) are not permitted under the current rules.

For more details, see the Scottish government guidance on weddings and civil partnerships.

Funerals

Funerals may continue to take place under the current restrictions with attendance limits of 20 people including children; this number does not include a funeral director, celebrant, or venue staff but does include any person hired by the family.

Post-funeral gatherings, such as wakes, are not permitted under the current rules, however funeral-related commemorative events (the Scottish Government gives the example of ashes scatterings) may take place subject to the same rules on distancing, attendance, and health assessments. As mentioned in the Travel section, travel to attend a funeral is listed as an exception to the national travel restrictions; the Scottish Government is requesting funeral organisers to make funeral arrangements as local as possible during this time. 

These funeral restrictions are subject to social distancing and the wearing of face coverings, the latter not being necessary during the giving of a eulogy for example. Notably, the attendance of a funeral is subject to the space capacity of the venue in question to allow for sufficient social distancing. 

Scottish government advice also notes:

  • the carrying of the coffin, and family and/​or friends’ participation in this, is subject to the expertise and risk assessment of the funeral staff as distancing requirements remain in place. The government advice notes that family involvement could take place under certain circumstances such as where the coffin could be carried as a single household. These assessments are to be made by the funeral director on a case-by-case basis in conversation with the burial/​cremation authority:
  • singing during a funeral service is subject to the same restrictions and guidance as those for worship services; attendees should not sing, chant, or play wind instruments. The government guidance does note that a bagpiper could be permitted subject to distancing, health assessments, and consent from the venue:
  • orders of service may be distributed but should not be handed to attendees, these should be left on seats for attendees to use and take home or dispose of themselves. 

For more detail on funeral guidelines, please see the Scottish Government guidance on funeral services.

Other life events

Christenings, baptisms, and other coming-of-age ceremonies, defined by the Scottish Government in its guidance as other life events’, are subject to separate guidance to weddings and funerals. Under the current lockdown, all other life events should not take place. 

Travel

Under the current lockdown, a stay-at-home rule applies for all but a limited number of exceptions; travelling to attend a normal church service is not one of these exceptions. Travel to a church in order to broadcast a church service is permitted; this exception extends to a church minister, a worship leader, and any other staff required in order to broadcast the service. 

Travel to attend a wedding or funeral is allowed, subject to the restrictions on the attendance of weddings and funerals. Please refer to the Scottish government guidance on weddings and funerals. Travel to attend or deliver support services and other essential services (such as foodbanks) is also permitted under the current restrictions. See the current list of exceptions to the Scotland travel rules.

It is worth noting that travel between Scotland and the rest of the UK is restricted except in the case of a limited number of exceptions. Please see government guidance on inter-UK travel.

Support services

Support services, defined by the Scottish Government as any services supporting people’s wellbeing (the examples of drug/​alcohol support, victim support, and group therapy among others are given), can take place under the current restrictions. The Scottish Government does encourage these services to shift online where possible and that people only meet in person where this is not possible. See the Scottish guidance on support services for more details.

Youth work

There is a great deal of debate within different faith groups and denominations on the classification of typical church youth and children’s work; whether these are deemed acts of worship’ or unregulated childcare’ indicates whether youth work can take place under the current lockdown. The Scottish Government does accept that it is not possible to fully classify every sub-category of children’s activities and states that it will be up to each organisation or individual to assess [which] guidance applies to their activity”; please refer to the Scottish Government’s guidance on organised activities for children for the full statement.

Different organisations have taken different approaches; the Church of Scotland, for example, considers its Messy Church to be an act of worship and so subject to the guidance on church services. Please see the Messy Church guidance.

The Scottish Government’s guidance on unregulated childcare and unregulated activities states that such activities should not take place under the current restrictions.

Small groups

Meeting as a church small group for prayer, teaching, or worship is not listed as a permitted use of church buildings in the current restrictions, nor is it given as an exception to the stay-at-home guidelines. On this basis, it can be said that in person prayer and/​or small groups are not permitted under the current restrictions. 

This article is not intended to replace government guidance but to supplement it with useful information for our members. Please continue to check www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19 for updates. For further clarification on the guidelines, or to help share best practice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing scotland@​eauk.​org