Worship

It is vital that all congregations take note of the process for reopening of church buildings as outlined in the buildings guidance. This includes an amended process for those buildings that reopened after the first lockdown and have been undertaking the weekly inspections of their buildings.

Individuals must continue to physically distance themselves from others not in their household/extended household group when in church building(s) or grounds and follow all other precautions put in place by the congregation.

Congregations are able to admit the number of individuals they can safely accommodate in the building with physical distancing to a service of worship (Note: limits still exist for funerals and weddings). Congregations must ensure they understand the maximum safe number for the building, and for the worship service taking place. Congregations are legally required to determine and publicly display the Physically Distanced Based Capacity (PDBC) limit of each space in their building as outlined in our guidance. It is an offence for congregations to permit anyone into your church buildings in excess of the PDBC. Balconies and Galleries can now be used by congregations. For more detailed information on this process, please see our Reopening and Looking after your church buildings guidance.

If the expected attendance at worship exceeds the maximum number for the sanctuary, congregations can use a church hall or other similar space to accommodate additional attendees for worship. In areas covered by protection levels 0-3, a church hall can also be used to support additional or supplementary activities for children who are attending church for worship with their parent or guardian (see Children and Worship section below). However, you can only do this if:

  • Each space should be fully self-contained. Any interconnecting doors must be kept permanently closed. Nobody, including worship leaders, may move between halls.
  • Each space should have its own entrance and exit to the outside. Those worshipping in different spaces should not use common corridors or lobbies.
  • Members of one household should all worship in the same space, as should any groups who have shared transport to the place of worship
  • A separate register should be kept for each space for Test and Protect
  • Spaces should be well ventilated, with windows and external doors kept open. If the building has mechanical ventilation this should be carefully assessed, in line with the ventilation guidance, to ensure it does not transfer air between separate spaces.
  • The arrival and dispersal of worshipping groups should be managed separately, with entry and exit times staggered, so that the two groups do not mix together. This can also help to avoid pressure on local transport.
  • All reasonable steps should be taken to prevent worshippers from congregating outside the place of worship
  • Worshippers should be advised to disperse quickly and avoid meeting outside
  • All infection control precautions outlined in the Reopening and Looking after your church buildings guidance are followed and implemented
  • The congregation has suitable and sufficient resources to effectively clean and disinfect both areas at the end of worship.

It may be helpful to have stewards in place to remind people to maintain social distance at all times, particularly when entering and exiting buildings.

Congregations can now serve tea and coffee after worship, using a table service model following the indoor socialising rules. Please see informal hospitality section for more details.

Resourcing online worship

The following is intended to help those seeking assistance with finding good music resources for their on-line worship.

  • There are a number of audio files from CH4 hymns if you register for an account on the Church of Scotland Music Website
  • For copyright reasons it is not possible to provide downloads of videos with words on them. However, a list of churches willing to share recordings of hymns is available on IT's for Ministry's Music webpage. The website is run by a Church of Scotland minister and is curating a list of hymns that churches have recorded and would be able to be used by other congregations with the appropriate licenses. These recordings would not be stored on the site; instead users can access a list of 'who to contact' to receive a copy. Churches willing to share files should visit the site and follow the instructions to participate. The more churches that participate the greater the library of resources will be for people.

General Guidance for Worship

  • Ministers and worship leaders should not shake hands or offer any other form of a physical welcome or farewell to members of the congregation
  • Singing should only take place if it is essential to the act of worship. To judge whether something is ‘essential’ to the act of worship ask yourself: ‘if this thing did not happen would it prevent the act of worship from taking place?’ If not, then it would not be deemed essential.
  • Bibles and other shared items should be removed from the sanctuary and other areas where worship takes place
  • The use of computer/television screens or boards as an alternative to bibles and other worship materials should be encouraged. Alternatively, church websites can be used to share information and members of the congregation or visitors could be asked to print out limited materials for their own use and bring them along with them to support worship.
  • People should not share any materials that they have printed off at home under any circumstance.

Congregations should continue to consider how they will support members of the congregation who cannot attend church in person.

Congregational Responses

Where congregations wish to participate in responses such as the Lord’s prayer or prayer responses, care should be taken to ensure that these are offered at a low volume to avoid the spreading of aerosol particulates. Loud speaking would create the same concern as singing offers. Where responses are to be used, congregations may wish to consider strongly urging all who wish to participate to wear a face covering.

Music and Singing

On 11 May 2021, the Scottish Government reaffirmed its clear instruction that congregational singing must not take place at this time. In areas covered by COVID protection levels 0-2, it is now permissible for more than one person to sing during worship, for example a small choir or worship band. There is no definition of ‘small group’ and it will be down to individual places of worship to determine how many people would constitute an appropriately small group given the size and layout of their building (e.g. how many could fit, physically distanced at the front of the congregation). Congregations should remain cautious about allowing groups to sing as part of worship and should at all times ensure that physical distancing is observed, there is good ventilation, the number of singers are appropriate to the size of space available and that in addition to physical distancing, plexi-glass screens or barriers are used where necessary and that their risk assessment is updated to reflect the change. Should congregations require screens there are various options available, including pop-up roller banner types which can easily be found using an internet search engine.

For areas in COVID protection levels 3-4, a single individual may sing behind a plexiglass screen without the need for a face covering to be worn, only where it is essential to an act of worship. Any screen used should be cleaned regularly and extended physical distancing should be considered.

With regards to instruments, all types can be played in areas within levels 0-2. For areas in level 3-4, only instruments that do not require breath to operate may be played (for example, church organs, tambourines and other percussion instruments). In all cases, instruments used by more than one person should be cleaned between users.

Church organists are allowed to play during church services; however, the congregation must ensure that this does not encourage congregational singing. Church organists who wish to access their church building to practice or prepare for a service should discuss their needs with the local congregation and ensure that the principles relating to hygiene contained within this guidance document are followed.

Face coverings are not required for the purposes of performing where:

  • There is a partition between the person and other persons, or
  • A distance of at least two metres is maintained between the person and other persons

Where music is being recorded for a streamed service, congregations should follow the principles of the guidance in this section of music and worship.

Communion

In churches that have been approved to open, communion is able to be celebrated. However, the traditional arrangements of passing a plate/tray of elements or by intinction are not permitted.

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.

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. In addition, those handing out and receiving the element should wash their hands before and after taking part in communion

Where congregations do not feel celebrating Communion under these circumstances is appropriate they may find it helpful to think how they might help people to deal with that emotionally and spiritually.

Baptism

In all levels of restriction, baptisms are able to take place within an act of worship; however, physical distancing, good hygiene practices and the management of the number of those who will be able to attend will remain in place.

Ministers should consider whether the requirement for physical distance and the space available within the building would be able to support baptism. Ministers should not hold the infant, but 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. The Scottish Government have allowed for an exception to the physical distancing rules during a baptism to allow the minister to sprinkle water on the individual. However, this should be for a short a time as possible and other mitigation such as face coverings for the person holding the infant should be considered.

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. With reduced numbers congregations need to ensure that guests of the family can attend along with members of the congregation. A wider participation in congregational life may be possible by recording the baptism and showing it ‘as live’ in a broadcast service.

Children and Worship (including Sunday Schools and Bible Classes)

When children are a part of the worshipping community, congregations should ensure that children sit in family groups and that young children remain close to the parent or guardian to ensure that physical distancing is maintained and risk to others is reduced.

If, in areas covered by levels 0-2, Sunday school is provided at the same time as worship and the children and young people are in a separate part of the church building from worshippers throughout (i.e. dropped off and collected before and after worship), then children attending Sunday School are not included in the maximum number of individuals allowed to attend worship set by the Kirk Session, based on the PDBC for that area of the building. The principles relating to the safe access and egress of the church building must be followed. The maximum number of children who would be able to participate in Sunday school or other faith-based education is 30 and this number includes the teacher, volunteers and helpers.

However, if the congregation wish to include children and young people in, for example, the first part of worship and take them to another area of the building for activities during the sermon, then they would be required to be counted within the maximum number of individuals allowed to attend worship set by the Kirk Session, based on the PDBC for that area of the building.

In areas under level 3 restrictions Sunday School, Bible Classes and similar should be provided online or outdoors and should only be carried out indoors for the purposes of targeted youth work to support health and wellbeing with vulnerable groups, and are limited to a maximum of 30 which includes the teacher, volunteers and helpers.

In areas under level 4 restrictions Sunday School, Bible Classes and similar are not permitted to meet in person indoors but should meet instead online or using other technology. Outdoor groups may meet with a maximum of 15 individuals (including leaders).

Should a congregation wish to operate a creche during worship where either parents stay with their child or drop them off to be looked after, it should be noted that under 5s do not count towards overall numbers; however, the number of adults who can attend is set at a maximum of 10 in levels 3 and 2, and 15 in levels 1 and 0. No creche facilities should be operating in areas covered by protection level 4.

Congregations must ensure that overall numbers in their PDBC are not breached as this now constitutes an offence. This means that if more than one group meet at a time, in addition to worship, each group must be located in its own discreet space with separate entrance and exit, toilet and gathering area to ensure that crossover between groups does not occur. It is not acceptable to have two groups in adjoining internal halls should the overall numbers be greater than the maximum above.

Intergenerational Worship

Intergenerational worship such as Messy Church or Café Church are part of the worship life of the congregation and as such are able to resume in church buildings. However, congregations must ensure that best practice is followed for such activities including:

  • No unaccompanied children should take part
  • The number of households you can welcome to participate in intergenerational worship is dependent on the size of your space and should not exceed the Physical Distance Based Capacity (PDBC) limit set for your building
  • Spaces for household groups should be set out, for example tables and chairs, picnic rugs, taped-off zones with at least 2m between the closest points of these spaces (for example, 2m from a chair at one table to the nearest chair at the next table) and allocate a household to one space, having all the materials and equipment they require in a container within that space
  • Each household group stays in its own allocated spot for the whole service
  • No food should be included in the service, including food prepared and served by the congregation or snacks brought by each household.

Congregations should ensure that any such service is fully risk assessed and follows all the guidance contained in this document.

Further information on running Messy Church and other Intergenerational Worship can be found in our guide to Running Messy Church Sessions.

Ordination and Confirmation

Ordinations and Confirmations can take place at in all levels of restriction. The Scottish Government has allowed for an exception to the physical distancing to allow the laying on of hands during confirmation and ordination. Participants in the service should stay physically distanced, wear face coverings when not leading the worship and minimising the time spent in the laying on of hands.

Those participating should demonstrate good hand hygiene practices by washing their hands before and after the laying on of hands. All contact should be brief and for as short a time as possible. The shorter physical distance should be kept for as short a time as possible and other mitigation such as face coverings for those  involved should be worn. In the case of an ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament or the Diaconate, the Presbytery may wish to appoint a small number of individuals to lay hands on the ordained.

Taking the Offering

The traditional method of taking the offering by passing the plate should not take place. The Stewardship and Finance Department issued guidance on how members and adherents could continue to give while buildings remain closed and can provide advice to congregations who wish to receive offerings and other income by standing order, text message, use of a contactless terminal, or through the donate button on either the congregation or Church of Scotland website or from a Facebook page. Contactless terminals should not be passed from person to person and it may be appropriate to set the terminal to a predetermined amount to eliminate the need for the screen to be touched by donors. An appropriate cleaning solution should be used for cleaning contactless terminals. Where it is necessary to collect cash, consideration should be given to providing envelopes and discreet, secure deposit boxes. Gloves should be worn when handling money and the areas where any money has been handled should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected afterwards.