Church buildings may reopen for private prayer as part of phase 2, easing out of lockdown

The Church of Scotland has welcomed the announcement that the country can now enter phase 2 of the Scottish Government's Route Map through and out of the crisis which allows for the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions.

Churches in Scotland will be able to open their doors again for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak, for private prayer and funerals with social distancing and strict hygiene measures in place from 22 June. Weddings "with minimal attendees" will be allowed outdoors from 29 June.

While this may only be possible in a few settings it is nonetheless an encouraging move.

Ahead of the latest announcement The Church of Scotland has been working hard to produce guidance that will help congregations if and when they plan to reopen their church buildings.

This guidance describes the practical steps that need to be taken to keep people safe as well as the possible implications for worship numbers and styles.

Rev Dr George Whyte, Principal Clerk of the Church of Scotland, said:

"We welcome the news that we can carefully begin moving forward from the coronavirus emergency which made it necessary to close our buildings.

"We have been working hard behind the scenes to prepare guidance to help ministers and congregations as they consider how and when will be the best time to reopen their buildings.

"Church representatives have worked closely with the Scottish Government to consider the implications and we particularly welcome their willingness to work collaboratively and to consult with faith groups on this complex issue.

"Our guidance is designed support those who need to consider the changes and restrictions which will need to be put in place as our buildings are opened and we are happy to share it with smaller faith groups who may also be grappling with these issues and who may need additional support to plan for the future.

"As we continue to live with the threat of coronavirus, ministers and congregations must consider carefully whether or not they should return to the church building in the early phases depending on their own circumstances and the nature of their church.

"Parishioners and ministers in high risk groups may be at particular risk from infection and many will prefer to continue with online worship options at this stage. Others will know that with physical distancing there simply will not be room for all those who might wish to attend when Sunday worship becomes a possibility further down the road.

"However, we recognise that for many the buildings themselves are an important sacred space and the opportunity to return to their place of worship, even on a limited basis, will bring spiritual and mental-health benefits."

As well as highlighting the many factors that congregations should consider, the guidance also contains a buildings checklist and a COVID-19 risk assessment, which should be completed before any church building reopens.

The guidance will be kept under review and updated as government policy and legislation changes, so please check the Church of Scotland website regularly for any updates.

A letter from the Scottish Church Leaders Forum

Ten church leaders from the Scottish Church Leaders Forum have co-written a letter in response to the phase 2 announcement.

"On behalf of the churches in Scotland which we represent, we welcome the announcement by the First Minister that Scotland can enter into Phase 2 in terms of the Scottish Government's Covid 19: Framework for Decision Making.

"We are mindful of the impact of Covid 19 in terms of the loss of life and of livelihood and are conscious of the continuing toll upon our community. Alongside this, we are conscious of our indebtedness to those in the medical, nursing and care professions for their contribution in facing the continuing challenges of our time.

"Equally, we recognise the extent to which so many people contribute to the building of social cohesion and the sustaining of our common life. Further, we recognise the fact that there are some members of our society who have been disproportionately impacted by Covid 19 and we have much to learn as a consequence.

"The closure of our places of worship over the past twelve weeks due to the impact of Covid 19 has been unprecedented. The immediate consequence of this was that we were no longer able to gather for worship in the manner to which we were accustomed.

"The challenges that we faced in the light of this were, once more, unprecedented. However, we have learnt much during this time, especially with regard to the centrality of the relationships that lie at the heart of what it is to be members of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

"In normal times, the relational dimension of what it is to be members of the body of Christ is given expression in our physically gathering for worship. In these recent times, we have been unable to do so. This has resulted in a profound longing for spiritual communion and a desire to see our physical gathering renewed and, at the same time, a realisation of the creative opportunities offered in terms of enabling relationships through technology.

"This deepening of spiritual longing and the creative possibilities inherent in technology are part of the legacy of the past weeks.

"Our desire is to serve the people of Scotland through our witness to the love of God made known through Jesus Christ.

"In the re-opening of places of worship for individual prayer, we see a sign of the renewal of our shared life and of our witness to that enduring love, albeit that we do not expect that every church will choose, or be able, to reopen its buildings at this time."

Read the full signed statement here.