The First Minister’s announcement to parliament on 23 February confirmed that places of worship are due to reopen for communal worship as part of Scotland’s second stage of reopening after 5 April. This was largely expected: the Scottish Government has indicated on many occasions that it recognises the sacrifices that people of faith have made over the past few months and that places of worship would be among the first to reopen.

In a speech to the Scottish parliament, Nicola Sturgeon set out her cautious plan to take Scotland out of lockdown, the data and thinking behind these plans, as well as some suggested dates when people can expect areas of the nation and economy to reopen. Following from the announcement on 16 February that some children would start to return to school, the First Minister set out a further three stages of reopening. 

The first stage, expected from 15 March, would see more children return to schools. For a detailed summary of which year groups this would include, see the Scottish Government’s framework of the reopening. At this stage, up to four people from up to two households could meet outside rather than the limit of two people from different households under the current lockdown rules. 

The second stage, expected from 5 April, would see the limit on meeting people increased from four to up to six people from two different households. This stage would also include the reopening of some non-essential retail and the lifting of the requirement to stay at home. People would be allowed to leave their home for non-essential reasons. Notably, at this stage communal worship would be able to take place with a limit of 20 people. 


Although the second stage would officially come into force from the day after Easter Sunday, the First Minister did address this issue in her statement. She noted that the Scottish Government could shift this date by a couple of days to allow churches to meet for Easter as long as the data supported it. 

The third stage of reopening, expected from the last week in April, would see all areas in Scotland return to the five-tier system in place before Christmas. After this point, all areas in Scotland would be placed into level 3 restrictions; this would include (assuming that the nature of the level 3 restrictions do not significantly change) travel exceptions to and from churches and an increased attendance cap of 50 people. For more details on the level 3 restrictions, see our article on the Five-Tier System.

These changes to the restrictions are dependant upon continued improvement in case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths, and an increase in vaccinations numbers, and hospitalisations. The First Minister made clear in her announcement that negative developments such as a rise of new variants could potentially push back these dates. 

Please continue to check our Scottish COVID-19 church hub for church guidance developments as well as the Scottish Government’s new framework and coronavirus guidance.