Latest updates

Updated 2 July 2020

Updates from the Church of Scotland, to help churches manage the Coronavirus/COVID-19 lockdown. This page will be updated when new advice becomes available from NHS Scotland and the UK Government.

The guidance document on reopening our church buildings has been updated to reflect additions made following the move to phase 2 in Scotland’s route map through and out of the crisis.

Posters

A series of posters produced by the Communications department have also been added to support churches to signpost any changes to procedures when visiting their buildings.

Below are two additional posters from the NHS which you may also wish to display in your buildings.

Guidance for the reopening of church buildings

The Scottish Government published their four-phase plan to easing COVID-19 restrictions on 21 May 2020. Since then, the Church of Scotland has been working collaboratively with Presbytery representatives and members from a number of different departments within the national office to produce guidance that will help congregations plan to reopen their church buildings.

This guidance describes the practical aspects for reopening church buildings and the possible implications for worship. This guidance is designed to facilitate discussion, and support ministers and the relevant decision-making bodies at a local level as they consider how and when will be the best time for them to reopen their church buildings. The Scottish Government has not provided a definitive time line for when church buildings can reopen, however it is important that congregations take steps now to plan and prepare their church buildings, members of their congregation and volunteers for the reopening of their church buildings.

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.

We will review and update this guidance as government policy and legislation changes, so please check the Church of Scotland website regularly for any updates.

If you have any questions relating to this guidance, please contact us.

Planning for the reopening of church buildings for worship

The next announcement from the Scottish Government on this is expected around Thursday 9 July, as part of phase 3 of the framework for easing restrictions on lockdown. More information on these phases can be found on the Scottish Government website.

Phase 2, which was announced on Thursday 18 June, allows for churches to be open for private prayer and funerals, and for marriages to take place outside, with a limited number of attendees, all subject to physical distancing and hygiene safeguards.

Phase 3 is currently planned to allow places of worship to be allowed to open for extended groups, again, subject to physical distancing and hygiene safeguards.

These phases are conditional on a number of requirements, all set out in the framework document, mainly around a low or decreasing infection rate. Please note, too, that no building can legally open without a legally mandated COVID-19 risk assessment, a copy of which you can find here.

Whilst the dates of moving into different phases will be communicated by the Scottish Government, there is no expectation that all Church of Scotland buildings will open on these key dates. It will be for Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions to consider carefully how these permissions might be used in local contexts.

A group is meeting on a weekly basis to compile guidance and expects to release updated guidance ahead of Thursday 9 July to help congregations and office-bearers to prepare their response.

Group Members:

  • Brian Auld, Assistant Secretary (Safe Buildings), General Trustees
  • Graham Biggerstaff, General Trustees (Convener, Safe Buildings, General Trustees)
  • Eva Elder, Admin Team Manager, GT’s
  • Rev Dr John Ferguson, Parish Minister and Clerk to Presbytery of Aberdeen and Shetland
  • Rev Bryan Kerr, Parish Minister and Clerk to Presbytery of Lanark
  • Mary Macleod, Solicitor of the Church
  • Ruth MacLeod, Head of Communications
  • Rev Angus R. Mathieson, Interim Head, Faith Nurture
  • Rev Dr George Whyte, Principal Clerk

Looking after church buildings

Our information on looking after church buildings has been updated to cover gas and electrical inspections, controlling the risk of Legionella, and advice on playing the organ. You can find answers to other frequently asked questions on our page about looking after church buildings during the Coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 funding

Our COVID-19 Funding page has been updated with new information about application deadlines and award amounts for some of the funds.

Information for congregations with employees

Our guidance for congregations with employees has been updated to reflect the extension of the Government Job Retention Scheme to the end of October 2020, as well as changes one may expect from August onwards.

This page includes information about furlough, as well as template letters that can be used to inform employees of the job retention scheme and a template furlough agreement.

Our guidance also covers:

  • Self-employed/freelance workers
  • Pay for those in self-isolation or caring for children or elderly relatives
  • Working from home
  • Employees who cannot work from home
  • Holidays and unpaid leave
  • Termination of contracts

Anyone who requires more tailored advice is urged to contact dstihler@churchofscotland.org.uk or mmacleod@churchofscotland.org.uk and a solicitor from the Church of Scotland Law Department will respond within three working days.

‘Live streaming’ and online publication of worship and other events

We now have guidance available for churches planning to livestream, photograph or film services and other church events. This includes information about equipment and technical considerations, safeguarding and copyright.

Global and national concerns

Find out what the Church is doing to promote solidarity, fairness and healing in a worldwide crisis.

Safeguarding reporting requirements

The Safeguarding Service hopes that everyone is keeping safe and managing in these difficult times.

Sadly, anyone, especially those who are already marginalised or vulnerable, can find themselves at increased risk of harm or abuse during these unprecedented times in lockdown. In addition, with many people now using social media to connect with and keep in touch with one another, there may be increased incidents of bullying, sexualised behaviour or grooming or other forms of abusive and harmful behaviour. It is important that any such harmful behaviour is reported. Further information about this is available on our safeguarding advice page.

Phishing emails and scams

There is already evidence of online criminals taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis, and the criminal threat will only increase through the current difficulty. To help keep you safe online, we have information on the latest email scams, including how to recognise them, and what to do if you receive one.

Using Zoom in the current crisis

Zoom is a useful tool, allowing the local work of each congregation to continue “virtually” online. This has become increasingly important in recent weeks when it comes to Kirk Sessions and Presbyteries continuing their ability to make decisions.

However, we cannot ignore that there have been security concerns noted in the media, together with situations we have been able to create whilst testing the Zoom app and updates from Zoom themselves. Thankfully, Zoom themselves have changed their default policies to stop a number of the concerns occurring in the first place, but if Church of Scotland congregations or departments are to continue to use Zoom they should do so in the safest way possible. We have created a guide to help you set up a Zoom meeting that is as safe and secure as possible.

Use of church buildings

Current instructions from Government state that church buildings can only be open for private prayer and funerals, and the Church of Scotland guidelines state that this can only happen following a robust process of decision making by minister, Kirk Session and Presbytery. It should not be assumed that your local church is open for prayer at this time. However, there are also government exemptions within the regulations that allow a number of churches to be used to support vulnerable members of their congregation and the wider community. This is either through arrangement with other agencies such as food banks, or by providing cooked meals for the homeless. In light of the recent instructions by the UK Government and the updated guidance from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Scottish Government, the following activities are permitted in church buildings:

  • Services providing food or drink to the homeless
  • Hosting essential voluntary or public service such as food banks or homeless services
  • Live streaming of a service without audience
  • Private prayer
  • Funeral services
  • Looking after the children of key workers through an approved local authority request

Further information is available on this page.

Funerals

Sensitive conversations will need to take place with families and mourners ahead of funeral ceremonies. At this present time funerals can only take place in church buildings where:

  • A minister and Kirk Session have agreed to work towards the church building reopening.
  • Paperwork including a reopening church buildings checklist and full Covid-19 risk assessment is undertaken, completed and acted upon.
  • The local Presbytery approving the reopening of the church following submission of relevant paperwork.
  • A minister agrees that a funeral can take place within the church building.

Most church buildings remain closed at this time.

Our advice is to arrange funerals over the phone wherever possible to minimise contact. This is not as easy as meeting the chief mourners face-to-face, but these are exceptional times.

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 Scottish Government regulations on who can attend funerals in Phase 2 has not changed. The attendance at a funeral service, wherever it is held, must be limited to members of the person’s household, close family members, e.g. parents, spouse and children. Only if there are no household or close family members attending the funeral, can a friend of the person who has died attend. Even with the small number, there is a need to respect social distancing guidelines for those who are not of the same household - no closer than two metres.

Make your 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.

Latest government instructions restricting social gatherings mean it is unlikely families will be able to socialise following a funeral and many hotels and restaurants are now closed. Our advice to the person who has taken the funeral service is not to socialise at a purvey or wake, and to return home immediately.

Tributes can then be paid in other ways for larger numbers of people to engage with – either online, with a recorded tribute, or in a church newsletter – or even in a memorial service later in the year.

Safeguarding: Safe Use of Social Media/Remote Learning and the Provision of Telephone Support

We have updated Safeguarding Service advice for congregations on the safe use of social media/remote learning and the provision of telephone support during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak.

Weddings and baptisms

The Scottish Government has intimated that marriage and other ceremonies may restart under Phase 2 from Monday 29 June, but only in outdoor settings and with limited numbers. For those who had an event planned they can contact their own minister directly to discuss their individual circumstances.

At the present time, baptisms are not permitted to take place due to government regulations on the restricted use of church buildings and physical distancing.

Pastoral care

Our advice to ministers, elders and deacons is in line with government advice to maintain social distancing; therefore pastoral work should be conducted by phone or other means of digital communication to protect the health of all concerned.

In many areas visiting in hospitals has been severely restricted and it may be more appropriate for a hospital chaplain who is onsite to visit.

It would be for staff and relatives to decide whether a visit from a minister was advisable in terms of clinical decisions.

Worship

We are conscious of the need to provide spiritual resources in this time, both nationally and locally. While physical services are cancelled, a number of churches are moving to offer online worship. The Moderator, Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, is providing a recorded sermon every Sunday via the Church of Scotland website, Facebook and Twitter, with captions available for those who need them.

We will be aiming to provide guidance and ideas for how congregations can connect with each other and offer spiritual practices for members to follow in their own time. The Weekly Worship section offers readings and spiritual thoughts appropriate for each week. You can also find in this section two weekly worship videos, each offering a short service with hymns.

The Moderator and the Scottish Church Leaders Forum have joined a call to pray together at 7pm every Sunday. A prayer for this time will be posted to the Church website each week.

Wellbeing

These restrictions could become more severe before they are relaxed and are likely to remain in force for months rather than weeks. These are unprecedented times and we can only live into and with these days, weeks, and months.

We want to encourage you, if there is any respect to which the radical change to the pattern of daily life offers space and freedom, to take those opportunities, perhaps to do something different, to allow the change to maximise physical and emotional wellbeing.

Online worship

More and more churches have begun to live stream or post their services online. You can find a list of some of these on our Kirk services online page. If your local church has a website or a Facebook page you are encouraged to check with them and see if they are offering an online service.

Further information on livestreaming, including information on copyright, can be found in this circular on the Law Department’s webpages.

Letting church halls

Many congregations will have churches, halls and other premises that are used by church groups and let to external agencies for a range of events. In light of the recent Scottish Government advice to practice social distancing or to stay at home if you’re unwell or in an at-risk group to limit the spread of COVID-19, it is no longer appropriate for this to take place.

Both congregational and outside organisations should be made aware that your building is closed and will remain so until the current situation is under control and it is appropriate to resume group activities. The Church has already closed down worship services and activities as our contribution to this community effort to keep people safe.

Your premises may only be used by groups for the purposes of:

  • Services providing food or drink to the homeless.
  • Hosting essential voluntary or public service such as food banks or homeless services.
  • Looking after the children of key workers through an approved local authority request.

The Government has said that private and voluntary sector childcare providers can stay open, provided they:

  • (i) Support only the children of key workers and vulnerable children; and
  • (ii) Wherever possible, they work with local authorities in their areas to do this.

Local authorities have been strongly encouraged to involve private and third sector childcare providers in delivering critical provision.

Where a local authority identifies the need for your premises to be used for such childcare purposes or confirms that a foodbank within your premises is a critical local resource then they may remain open for these purposes. Public health guidance should be sought from the local authority in each case, and contact should also be made with Brian Auld, the General Trustees’ Assistant Secretary (Safe Buildings) at bauld@churchofscotland.org.uk for advice on ensuring that such projects are run safely.

Offerings

The Church is aware that closing down worship services will impact on congregational income, and we want to encourage people to continue contributing financially as far as possible, and to encourage the increased use of standing orders as an expression of ongoing stewardship.

To help support local churches during this time, and for anyone who cannot or does not wish to set up a standing order, we have now launched our online donations platform.

Pastoral care networks

Please see our guidance note from the Church’s Safeguarding Department with some useful guidance about setting up small pastoral care networks with a practical outcome. This guidance note contains a postcard which may be useful. There are some good ideas here about small groups; such groups can mitigate social isolation, and help people to continue to feel that they are part of the wider community of faith. Previous advice about using tools such as Skype, email, letters, greetings cards, Facetime and Whatsapp groups are all useful approaches and some of these are particularly helpful for people who don’t use technology.

SCVO (the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations) have set up a page to signpost people to opportunities to help their communities during this crisis.

General Assembly

The decision was taken in light of Scottish Government advice to cancel the General Assembly of May 2020.

Government guidance

The UK Government has made available a number of guidance documents related to COVID-19, including information on the importance of staying at home during this time. These are available in various languages, including English, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), French, Gujarati, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Urdu and Welsh. These may be useful for congregations with members who do not speak English as their first language.

The Scottish Government has released a Coronavirus (COVID-19) framework for decision making, which outlines how the government will determine what steps need to be taken to control the spread of the virus while minimising harm to health, society and the economy.

Hygiene recommendations

Best hygiene practice should continue to be observed in all pastoral contacts.

Updated advice is available from NHS Scotland.

Public Health Scotland and the UK Government recommend that you should take usual infection prevention precautions including:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available
  • It is particularly important after taking public transport to use sanitiser on your hands
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Carry tissues to catch coughs and sneezes and bin the tissue
  • If you feel unwell, stay at home, do not attend work or school
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in church buildings

Travel advice

Advice has also been issued to travellers, advising against all non-essential travel worldwide. This advice is being revised regularly so please bookmark the page.