Latest updates

Updated 30 March 2020

Latest updates from the Church of Scotland, to help churches manage the Coronavirus/COVID-19 lockdown.

Guidance for congregations with employees

We have updated our advice for congregations with employees to include more information about furlough and the Job Retention scheme, as well as template letters that can be used to inform employees of the scheme and a template furlough agreement.

We have a guidance available online to help churches manage employees. This covers:

  • The government's new Job Retention Scheme
  • 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 3 working days.

Funerals

Sensitive conversations will need to take place with families and mourners ahead of funeral ceremonies. No funeral service can take place in the church building. These have been closed for all services.

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 attendance at a funeral service, wherever it is held, must be limited to immediate close family, e.g. parents, or the spouse and the couple’s adult children (but not their partners) and perhaps the deceased’s siblings (but not their partners) and not grandchildren or cousins or other relatives or close friends or colleagues. 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 given in a memorial service later in the year.

Use of church buildings for essential community services

Current instructions from Government state that that church buildings should now be closed. However, a number of congregations allow their buildings 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, the following activities would be a 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
  • Looking after the children of key workers through an approved local authority request

Further information is available on this page.

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.

Churches no longer open for prayer

Church buildings can no longer be kept open as a place for people to come and pray following stringent new restrictions put in place by the Scottish and UK Governments on Monday evening (23 March). The measures reflect the need to slow down the spread of the virus, reduce the peak impact of it and prevent the NHS being overwhelmed. We encourage people to use alternative means to stay in touch as a church community whilst staying at home to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Instead, use telephone, social media or email contact.

Weddings and baptisms

Latest advice from the UK and Scottish Governments will prevent weddings and baptisms from taking place for the foreseeable future to reduce the spread of coronavirus through social gatherings. All public gatherings of more than two people are now restricted. For those who had an event planned they can contact their own minister directly to discuss their individual circumstances with the understanding that a postponement is now necessary until a later date when we can return to normal circumstances.

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 very 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. We will be providing a recorded service every Sunday via the Church of Scotland website and social media platforms, as well as transcripts.

We will also 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. At present, our Weekly Worship offers readings and spiritual thoughts appropriate for each week. Going forward, we hope to provide webinars to help you learn how to use online tools to connect with your local congregation and community.

Wellbeing

These restrictions are likely to 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 in 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 maximize physical and emotional wellbeing.

Online worship

Several churches live stream or post their services online. You can find a list of these on our Kirk services online page.

Further information on livestreaming, including information on copyright, can be found in this circular on the Law Department’s webpages. OneLicence.Net is currently offering a free podcast/streaming licence up until 15 April 2020, to help new users cope with the challenges brought about by COVID-19.

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.

In exceptional circumstances, it may be possible to continue to use your premises for two purposes only. These are the provision of childcare for key workers and the operation of foodbanks. 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.

Worship - Cancellation of Services

The Scottish Government now advises that people should minimise social contact by avoiding crowded areas and large gatherings, including religious congregations, and smaller gatherings.

The Church of Scotland now asks, in the strongest terms, that all gatherings for worship should cease until further notice, with effect from Tuesday 17 March 2020. Other Scottish Churches are taking similar actions. This obviously includes Easter services. Some Presbyteries have already instructed this action. This will include, but not be restricted to: housegroups, meetings for youth work, and church cafes. It will still be possible for an individual to offer a livestream of a sermon and prayers.

Further information on livestreaming, including information on copyright, can be found in this circular on the Law Department’s webpages here. Sunday broadcasts of a weekly service take place on Radio 4, and also on Radio Scotland; other radio stations are available. Several churches currently offer livestreams or recorded services; a list can be found on our website.

National Day of Prayer

The Moderator, the Right Reverend Colin Sinclair, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and other church leaders, issued a call for a National Day of Prayer on Sunday 22 March; more details can be found in the news section of our website.

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.

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 where people 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. You can find the page at covid-19.scvo.org.

General Assembly

The decision has been taken in the light of Scottish Government advice to cancel the General Assembly of May 2020. The Office of the General Assembly will be in touch with commissioners separately.

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
  • Churches can underline the importance of handwashing by ensuring that hand sanitisers are not available in toilets where soap and water can be used
  • 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

NHS Scotland have prepared a poster which could be displayed at your building entrance to give advice to visitors. The purpose of this poster is to protect the visitor and those within the building.

Travel advice

Advice has also been issued to travellers, advising against all non-essential travel worldwide. This advice was revised on 23 March.

Posters

Below are two posters which you may wish to display in your buildings.

This page will be updated when new advice becomes available from NHS Scotland and the UK Government.