Funerals and Weddings

The Scottish Government has set different limits for services dependent on the COVID-19 Protection Level in which a congregation or parish sits. The maximum numbers for each type of service may not be able to be met within safe building limits with physical distancing and congregations should ensure that expectations of people making use of the buildings are set at an early stage in discussions (for detailed numbers for each service please see the wedding or funeral sections).

Where these services take place in a church building the congregation have responsibility for ensuring these numbers are adhered to. When a minister or deacon conducts a service in another location they should ensure they are comfortable with the arrangements for controlling numbers.

Whenever church buildings are used for additional services such as weddings or funerals, care must be taken by the congregation to ensure that appropriate cleaning and disinfection of the church buildings takes place before the church building is reused. Where this is less than 72 hours after the funeral service, extra care must be taken.

Weddings

The maximum number for weddings are as follows:

  • Level 4 – five (couple, witnesses and celebrant) or six if an interpreter is required until 26 April 2021, thereafter 20
  • Level 3 – 50
  • Level 2 – 50
  • Level 1 – 100
  • Level 0 - 200

Whereas the maximum numbers at level 4 includes the celebrant (until 26 April 2021), in all other levels the maximum number includes all those at the ceremony including the couple, the witnesses, photographer and guests but excludes the celebrant and those employed or volunteering at the venue to facilitate to marriage.

It is important that congregations work with couples to ensure that they understand the maximum numbers are with physical distancing in place and that it is unlikely that they will be able to invite the number outlined in the Scottish Government Framework in many church buildings (or even hotels), especially in level 1 and 0 areas.

Congregations should remember that a building’s capacity depends not only on physical distancing but on whether those attending come singly or together from a household. We would suggest that it is more helpful to indicate the number of “seating positions” a building has where either one person or two (at the most) from the same household can sit. This can often make it easier for couples inviting people to attend to understand the actual number they can have at the service. Congregations and those organising weddings must adhere to the maximum numbers which a particular building can hold rather than simply saying the number for the Level in which they have been placed.

There is a possibility that couples may seek to use an alternative church building to their own, or parish, church due to differences in maximum capacities. Ministers should work with couples to help them understand that within the Church of Scotland it is important that individuals, where there is no church connection, make use of their local parish church for services. It is important that when a minister is approached to conduct a wedding service in their church and it becomes clear that this “private invitation” is really about the seating capacity of their church that they either persuade the family that the wedding should take place in the parish church or work with the parish minister to allow access to their church to conduct the service.

The need for a 28-day notice period for a Marriage Schedule remains in place and couples should consult with their local registration office for more information.

As with worship, it is important that congregations ensure that arrangements are in place to ensure physical distancing and precautions are in place and adhered to, to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19. In addition, the Scottish Government has advised the following:

  • Singing or chanting should not take place
  • The minister or deacon should remain physically distanced from the couple when leading worship
  • The couple can remove face coverings throughout the ceremony (when the minister or deacon is conducting the act of worship but not before of afterwards); however the minister or deacon should take extra care when standing in front of the couple during this period
  • Individuals from other households should continue to observe physical distancing rules. This may have an impact on, for example, a bride wishing to be accompanied ‘down the aisle’ by a family member.
  • The couple's spoken responses or vows should not be in a raised voice
  • Where the couple exchange rings, these should be handled by as few people as possible. Those handling the rings should wash their hands before and after the ceremony.
  • Ministers and Deacons leading the service should consider whether practices that involve breaking the physical distancing rules, or physical contact are necessary. Where it is felt that such practices need to continue for liturgical reasons, a shorter physical distance should be kept for as short a times as possible and other mitigation such as face coverings for those involved may wish to be considered.
  • Consideration should be given to using different pens for signing the schedule. Where the same pen is used by the couple, minister or deacon and witnesses, following the conclusion of the ceremony all should wash their hands and the pen should be cleaned and disinfected.

Wedding receptions in levels 0-3 can be held in regulated premises, for example hospitality venues such as hotels, with maximum numbers mirroring the numbers allowed to attend a wedding ceremony. No receptions can take place in level 4 areas.

Funerals

It is recognised that one of the most challenging aspects of the COVID-19 lockdown has been the inability of families to hold a funeral service in their church or community. Should a congregation agree to reopen their church buildings and have met all the criteria in the COVID-19 risk assessment, buildings checklist and secured the approval of Presbytery to reopen, a minister (or Interim Moderator) may agree to allow funeral to be held in their church buildings.

The maximum number for funerals are as follows:

  • Level 4 –20
  • Level 3 –50
  • Level 2 – 50
  • Level 1 – 100
  • Level 0 – 200

These numbers do not include the minister or person conducting the service, the funeral director and volunteers who will assist with people safely entering and leaving the building.

It is important that congregations work with Funeral Directors and families to ensure that they understand the maximum numbers are with physical distancing in place and that it is unlikely that they will be able to invite the maximum number to many church buildings (or even crematoria), especially in areas below level 4. Congregations should remember that a building’s capacity depends not only on physical distancing but on whether those attending come singly or together from a household. We would suggest that it is more helpful to indicate the number of “seating positions” a building has where either one person or two (at the most) from the same household can sit. This can often make it easier for families inviting people to attend to understand the actual number they can have at the service. Congregations and those organising funerals must adhere to the maximum numbers which a particular building can hold rather than simply saying the number for the Level in which they have been placed.

There is a possibility that families may seek to use an alternative church building to their own, or parish, church, due to differences in maximum capacities. Presbyteries and Congregations should work with Funeral Directors and families to help them understand that within the Church of Scotland it is important that individuals, where there is no church connection, make use of their local parish church for services. It is important that when a minister is approached to conduct a funeral service in their church and it becomes clear that this “private invitation” is really about the seating capacity of their church that they either persuade the family that the funeral should take place in the parish church or work with the parish minister to allow access to their church to conduct the service.

Congregations should refer to the Scottish Government guidance when preparing for funerals.

The Scottish Government guidance on funeral services strongly discourages people who are not counted in the maximum number from going to the funeral service and gathering outside the crematorium, funeral director service room, or in the burial ground. In the event that this is allowed to happen, we advise that following the service, ministers should consider (if they believe it to be appropriate) expressing their concerns to the Funeral Director. Should ministers fail to be satisfied with the response from the Funeral Director, they should inform the Presbytery Clerk and the COVID-19 Group by email: covid19guidance@churchofscotland.org.uk.

When arranging a funeral in a level 4 area, unless the threshold for pastoral visiting is able to be met (providing emotional support to someone whose wellbeing is at risk, including those who are isolated) funeral visits should be carried out online or by phone. If a personal visit is to be made to someone’s home only members of that household should be in attendance. Ministers, deacons and others leading funerals may also meet families in church buildings previously approved to open by presbytery if it proves impossible to meet using technology.

As singing is not permitted in church buildings for funerals at this time, the minister may consider the playing of non-wind/brass musical instruments during the service. As with worship and prayer, shared items such as bibles and hymnbooks must not be used and should be removed from the sanctuary.

Whilst it is permissible for coffins to be inside the church building, assuming that the funeral director has followed all professional guidance on managing the deceased, no coffin should be left in the church overnight and should only enter the church building a maximum of 30 minutes prior to the commencement of the service. The minister has the final say over whether or not a coffin can be placed in the church building. Family members may only carry coffins within churches where they form a single or extended household.

With the exception of level 4 areas where no gatherings are permissible, post funeral gatherings can be held in regulated premises, for example hospitality venues such as hotels, with the maximum numbers allowed mirroring the numbers permitted at a funeral service. Those conducting services should bear in mind that although they are not included in the maximum numbers at a service they are included in the maximum numbers at any post-funeral gatherings and if they attend, they should ensure there is sufficient space in the numbers for them to attend. The general principles for social gatherings would apply and further information can be found by visiting the Scottish Government website.