Use of church buildings for essential community services

Updated 8 April 2020
Iona Abbey

Following the announcement from the Prime Minister and the First Minister on 23 March 2020 that all non-essential shops and services must close, further guidance was published on 24 March by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The purpose of this guidance is to explain, in clear terms, what facilities and services are to remain open.

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

Practical Guidance

Services providing food or drink to the homeless

Those services open and operated before 23 March are allowed. If a church wishes to begin providing this service they may do so, provided appropriate social distancing (at least 2m between each person), good hygiene practices and strict hand hygiene control are observed. Congregations are encouraged to liaise with their local authority before beginning a new service.

Volunteers within the at-risk category must not participate, whether they feel fit and healthy or not. All areas used to store and distribute items and where service users have access must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before and after each session, including all hand-touch sites.

Hosting essential voluntary or public service such as food banks or homeless services

Services that were open and operating before 23 March may continue to operate. If a church wishes to begin providing this service they may do so, as long as appropriate social distancing (at least 2m between each person), good hygiene practices and strict hand hygiene control are observed. We encourage congregations to liaise with their local authority and local Health Protection Team before beginning a new service.

Volunteers within the at-risk category must not participate, whether they feel fit and healthy or not. It is very important that service users are treated with dignity and respect; however, food from food banks should be provided for collection outside buildings whenever possible. All areas used to store and distribute items and where service users have access must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before and after each session, including all hand-touch sites.

Live streaming of a service without audience

All live streaming or recording activities should take place with no more than two people present to comply with latest Government instructions on people (out with family units) gathering. Physical distancing and good hand hygiene practices must be observed at all times. All equipment used during the live streaming or for recording purposes must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before and after use.

Working with volunteers

Congregations are advised to work only with those individuals who regularly volunteer with their Church. However, we do understand that under the current climate many congregations have been approached by other members of the community who wish to volunteer. The Church of Scotland Safeguarding team should be contacted for further advice before agreeing to allow anyone else outwith your current cohort of volunteers to volunteer.

The UK and Scottish Government are absolutely clear that everyone apart from those providing an essential service should stay at home. The Church of Scotland should fully endorse this view whilst accepting that some church-based activities within the range listed above may continue to operate in line with the restrictions described and based on need.

Further information

Further information about the use of church buildings at this time is available from Brian Auld, Assistant Secretary (Safe Buildings), General Trustees’ Department. He can be reached at bauld@churchofscotland.org.uk.