In the afternoon of Monday, 4 January, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon announced a new set of rules and guidance, largely returning to the legal regulations of the first lockdown of March 2020. In this update, we underline what these restrictions mean for you and your church and highlight where you can find more information.

Speaking to the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister announced the need for new tighter restrictions in a bid to combat the fast-spreading new strain of the virus. All of mainland Scotland will remain under these new restrictions for the duration of January, with an initial review scheduled after two weeks; however, it likely the restrictions will continue at least into February. Island communities not connected to the mainland will continue under the level 3 restrictions imposed on Boxing Day but will be monitored carefully in the coming weeks. You can check which Island areas remain under level 3 restrictions here.

Similar measures were also announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in England a few hours after the First Minister, and further measures are likely to be announced in Wales and Northern Ireland. It is important to note that lockdown variations still exist across the four nations of the UK, and there are different rules regarding church closures.

General restrictions

The rule of six’ in place under level 4 restrictions has been replaced; only two people from two households are able to meet outdoors to socialise or exercise together whilst maintaining social distancing. Outdoor exercise/​recreation can only continue where it follows this rule.

Notably, children aged 11 and under are not counted in that limit. Under 12s will continue to be able to take part in organised activities outdoors. Schools will continue to use remote learning except in the cases of vulnerable children and children of key workers. 

As under the level 4 restrictions imposed on Boxing Day, heavy restrictions on travel remain in place except for a limited number of essential reasons. These include essential travel for work, providing essential care, and ministers/​worship leaders traveling to broadcast a service. See the Scottish Government list of travel exemptions for more details.

Church guidance and rules

The First Minister also announced a number of specific restrictions that will apply to churches and places of worship from Friday, 8 January. Services and private prayer cannot take place within churches in Scotland; the stay-at-home rules do not contain an exception for attending a place of worship. Places of worship are therefore closed other than for broadcasting services, conducting funerals or weddings and for providing essential voluntary services (such as foodbanks). As in level 4, there are travel exemptions in place for those traveling to attend a wedding or funeral, as well as for ministers, worship leaders and essential staff broadcasting a church service or to provide a voluntary support service.

Weddings can only take place with the legal minimum of attendance (five people). This number includes the people getting married, the pastor/​minister conducting the service, as well as two witnesses. Funeral attendance is similarly restricted to up to 20 people, with wakes and other related gatherings currently prohibited under these restrictions. Christenings and baptisms should also not take place under the current restrictions. All attendance at weddings and funerals is still subject to the capacity of the venue in question.

Guidance is continually being updated for other activities taking place within church networks or church buildings, and support services such as recovery ministries may still take place where there is no reasonable online alternative. In all circumstances where exemptions exist numbers are advised to be the minimum possible with maximum possible activities taking place online.

Links to some of the relevant guidance can be found here:

For a more detailed look at the lockdown restrictions in mainland Scotland, see the Scottish Government’s lockdown guidance. The Evangelical Alliance’s latest advice and FAQs is also a helpful resource. 

For Evangelical Alliance Scotland’s response to these developments, please see the following article from national director Fred Drummond here.