Worship

Capacity and Distancing

The limits on capacity within churches have been removed. It is important that when congregations feel it necessary to increase capacity they do so safely and after undertaking a Risk Assessment process.

The legal requirement of distance within churches has been removed by the Scottish Government; however, it is important to remember that mixing in the community without maintaining physical distancing measures helps the virus to spread widely. It is therefore important that people remain vigilant and follow the guidance from the Scottish Government to keep a physical distance from those in other households. It is recommended that congregations consider whether keeping distancing throughout a church building will be a useful mitigation to continue in the months that lie ahead.

Booking, check-in and contact details

Individual congregations will need to judge whether a booking system requires to be in place given the number of worshippers and the available space. The regulation to keep a register of those attending worship has been removed by the Government, however when a congregation offers hospitality (tea and coffee after the service for example) the legal duty to maintain a register is applicable. It is recommended therefore that congregations continue to ask people to check-in to a church building for any reason which can be done via a QR code or a paper register. More information can be found in the Test and Protect section.

Face coverings

It is still a legal requirement that people wear a face covering when attending a church for worship. Unless people are medically exempt or under the age of 12, everyone needs to wear a face covering when entering and leaving our churches, when they are seated in our pews and when they stand to sing. Those leading worship, reading scripture, or singing in a choir which is physically apart from the congregation (for example, on a chancel) have an exemption to remove their face covering when actively involved in the leading or singing, but should return to wearing the face covering when, for example, sitting listening to the sermon. For more information see the general ‘Face Coverings' section.

Touch

Congregations may be lamenting the loss of handshakes or hugs as part of their life together. It is important to remember that our communities are still in the middle of a pandemic and touch should be avoided during an act of worship or when people enter or leave a church. This would also extend to the worship leader greeting people at the end of the service, except where there is a real pastoral need in an individual case (for example, someone who suffers from dementia who may become upset if their handshake is not returned by the minister).

Multiple acts of worship in a day

It is important that the church building is appropriately cleaned between meetings. This does not necessarily require a deep clean of the space but all ‘hand touch points' should be cleaned in between services. This includes, but is not limited to, door handles and doors, pews, book boards and bathrooms. Where there is obvious soiling of surfaces these must be fully cleaned and sanitised before the next use. It is important that a congregation determines through a Risk Assessment process the appropriate gap between services, which should be based on the need to clean and sanitise effectively, not on the expediency of worship times.

Music and singing

All musical instruments can now be played in a place of worship. A choir or music group can sing without a face covering if they are apart from the congregation (for example, on a chancel) and keep a 1m distance from each other (or are separated by partitions). The size of the group will be defined by the available space.

Congregations are permitted to sing either seated or standing but must continue to wear face coverings. If a person has an exemption from wearing a face covering, then the exemption still stands during congregational singing. However, congregations may wish to enter a dialogue with individuals about how they might also consider their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around them. It may be the Kirk Session consider suggesting that individuals might wear a face shield, or sit in a particular location, or even to consider whether they participate in singing without a face covering. Care must be taken not to disadvantage an individual because of a medical condition or disability; however, congregations must seek to balance risk and act proportionately for the wellbeing of all worshippers during the pandemic.

Ministers, Deacons and Worship leaders may wish to consider wearing a face covering for congregational singing in an expression of unity with the congregation, even although there is an exemption from wearing a face covering when leading worship. This may also be considered by a choir when participating in congregational singing.

Hymn books and pew Bibles

Whilst these items can now be used with appropriate cleaning mitigations, congregations should determine whether they are necessary to the individual participating in the act of worship. The use of computer/television screens or boards as an alternative to Bibles and other worship materials should be encouraged. Churches may print words of hymns and responses for use, and it is recommended that these be placed on seats in advance of the service with the worshipper removing them at the end of the service and disposing of them either at home or in a wastepaper bin at the door of the church.

Where Bibles or hymns books need to be used, these should not be left on the pews or seats each week, but instead should be given to individuals upon request at the door. At the end of the service, used hymn books should be placed in a safe space (e.g. plastic crate with lid), labelled with ‘Date last used' and ‘Date available for use' clearly marked. These should be left ‘in quarantine' for as long as possible dependant on local circumstances. However, it is recommended that they sit for at least 72 hours (3 days) before cleaning. After the ‘date available for use' has passed, books should be removed from the box, sanitised with an appropriate spray sanitiser and placed ready for redistribution. The box should then be cleaned and sanitised. Hymn Books should not be used until the congregational risk assessment is updated and approved by the Kirk Session.

Communion

The Sacrament of Communion can continue to be celebrated in worship. However, the traditional arrangements of passing a plate/tray of elements or by intinction are not permitted and neither is the use of common vessels.

Congregations will need to think about how the elements will be distributed to prevent cross-contamination and how physical distancing will be maintained when serving the elements. The use of the common cup is not permitted except for the celebrant. Similarly, the passing of plates or trays from individual to individual is not permitted. If congregations are celebrating communion, then disposable individual cups should be used as most church building(s) will struggle to safely clean and disinfect large numbers of individual glasses. Congregations will need to think creatively about how communion is celebrated and the elements shared. One solution may be individual disposable glasses with a piece of bread on small disposable plates that could be collected by individuals from a table. Another may be for those serving to wash their hands immediately before communion, wear disposable gloves and face covering and take a tray of elements and hand the element to the individual.

Those preparing the elements should be kept to a minimum, ideally one person, and good hygiene should be practiced. The celebrant should wash and sanitise their hands before distribution. If the elements are being handed to individuals, then a face covering should be used by the celebrant and/or person distributing. The minister should be careful not to ‘speak over' the elements on the communion table when they are not wearing a face covering. It is vital that those handing out and receiving the elements should wash their hands before and after taking part in communion

Baptism

The Sacrament of Baptism can take place within an act of worship; however, as with all acts of worship it is important to maintain a physical distance, good hygiene practices and, in some smaller churches or when hosting larger families, management of the number of those who will be able to attend.

Ministers may hold the infant, but where there is concern about distancing or touch, can also ask a parent or guardian to do so for the duration of the service. Ministers should also demonstrate good hand hygiene practices by washing their hands before and after the baptism. The water used for baptism should not be used more than once.

Within the Church of Scotland, a baptism normally takes place within an act of worship in the presence of the congregation, with ‘private' baptisms not being part of our tradition except in extreme circumstances. It may still be that in smaller church buildings, or in larger families, not all of those the family wish to invite can be invited whilst bearing in mind the number who worship in the church each week and congregations should discuss this when planning the Baptism.

Sunday Schools and Bible classes

Children can play a part in worship as they might have done ‘pre-pandemic'. Young people aged 12 and over are required to wear a face covering. It is important to consider how young people over the age of 12 and adults might continue to keep a safe distance from those in other households whenever possible.

Intergenerational worship

Intergenerational worship such as Messy Church or Café Church are part of the worship life of the congregation and can take place in church buildings. It is important to remember that all the mitigations in place for worship remain in place for intergenerational worship, such as keeping a distance, face coverings and check in. Where food is to be served as part of the worship the guidance on hospitality should be followed and no food prepared off premises (except for food prepared in a commercial, environmental health-approved facility) should be served.

Ordination and confirmation

The laying on of hands can take place during an act of ordination; however, it is still recommended that only a small, representative group take part in this act. Those participating should demonstrate good hand hygiene practices by washing their hands before and after the laying on of hands and contact should be brief and for as short a time as possible. It is not advised at this time to allow the right hand of fellowship, instead welcoming the newly ordained person with a round of applause or making use of sign language.

Taking the Offering

It is still not permissible to pass an offering plate or bag around the congregation during worship. Instead, offerings should be collected as people enter the church building. Consideration should be given to the use of contactless terminals and individuals are encouraged to donate online on either a congregational website or the Church of Scotland website. Cash offerings can be made, and offering envelopes can be left; however, care should be taken when counting these offerings. Gloves should be worn when handling money and the areas where any money has been handled should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected afterwards.