Prayer and worship in churches, weddings and funerals

Updated 7 August 2020

Advice for churches regarding opening for prayer and worship, as well as conducting weddings and funerals.

If you are experiencing any Covid-related symptoms, are feeling unwell or you, or a member of your household have received a positive Covid test please do not attend Church for any reason until you have completed a 14 day self-isolation period.

Worship

We are very conscious of the need to provide spiritual resources in this time, both nationally and locally. While physical services in most communities remain cancelled, a number of churches have moved to offer online worship. From 15 July the Scottish Government regulations for places of worship allow churches to reopen for communal worship, subject to ensuring that a risk assessment is completed and that when they open physical distancing and good hand hygiene is observed. From Saturday 8 August the Scottish Government have made the wearing of face coverings mandatory in churches.

The Church of Scotland is following government guidelines and everyone will be asked to provide their name and contact details as part of NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect System At this time singing in worship is not permitted and numbers are limited to a maximum of 50 people in a church building at any one time, although many churches will only be able to admit fewer individuals safely.

It will take some time before all churches are offering worship again in their buildings and you are encouraged to contact your local church for the latest information.

We continue to encourage congregations to worship online, connect with each other 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. We also have information available on how to safely use Zoom to connect with your local congregation and community.

Offerings

The Church is aware that closing down worship services has impacted 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. At this time when you visit a church building the use of cash should be carefully considered if you are able to give by contactless or electronic means that would be preferable. For more information, please visit our page on maintaining congregational income.

Many churches open for prayer

Church buildings can open for prayer once again and a number across the Church of Scotland have chosen to do so. Church buildings can only open after a full risk assessment process has been undertaken. You are encouraged to contact your local church for the latest information. We continue to encourage people to use alternative means to stay in touch as a church community to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Instead, use telephone, social media or email contact. We have information available on how to safely use social media and telephone support.

Funerals

Sensitive conversations will need to take place with families and mourners ahead of funeral ceremonies. Churches are permitted to host funeral services if the building has been approved to reopen. The final decision of whether funeral services take place in church buildings is the responsibility of the Minister or Interim Moderator. As not all buildings have been approved to reopen you are advised to contact your local church or ask your funeral director to make contact.

Those leading a funeral service can now meet with families in a face to face visit, however all present must follow proper hygiene and distancing rules and follow the instruction from the Scottish Government on how many people from different households can meet at one time. Currently, this is up to 8 indoors from three households, and up to 15 outdoors from five households, with an individual meeting with a maximum of four other households in a day. It may be that an online meeting may still be the best option for the family at this time.

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 must be limited to a maximum of 20 people. This attendance figure is set by the Scottish Government and is the same whether a funeral takes place in a church, crematorium or cemetery. 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.

If a funeral is taking place indoors, face coverings are mandatory, except for those who are exempt. The person delivering the eulogy may remove their face mask but must maintain a 2m distance from others or remain behind a protective screen. If physical distancing can not be maintained, the person must wear a face covering.

As in church services, no singing should take place at a funeral whatever the location.

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.

Wakes and post-funeral gatherings can be held in regulated venues (e.g. hospitality venues) with up to 20 people in attendance. In a non-regulated venue, gatherings must adhere to the general rules regarding indoor and outdoor gatherings.

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.

Weddings

Marriage ceremonies can now take place inside churches and outdoors if the building has been approved to reopen. Numbers attending a marriage ceremony must be limited to a maximum of 20 people, which include the couple, photographer, witnesses and guests. Those who had an event planned can contact their own minister directly to discuss their individual and whether a date can now be booked for your wedding. You can contact your local minister here.

Baptisms

Baptismal services are once again able to take place, if the building has been approved to reopen. However physical distancing, good hygiene practices and management of numbers will remain in place. Ministers should not hold the infant but ask a parent or guardian to do so. The Scottish Government have allowed for an exception to the physical distancing 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 mitigations may wish to be considered.