Prayer and worship in churches, weddings and funerals

Updated 15 April 2021

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 10-day self-isolation period.

Worship and prayer

We are very conscious of the need to provide spiritual resources in this time, both nationally and locally. However, churches currently under enhanced level 4 restrictions may not open for worship or private prayer. While physical services in most communities remain cancelled, a number of churches have moved to offer online worship.

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.

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. It may be that an online meeting may still be the best option for the family and the person leading the funeral at this time. In areas in enhanced level 4, 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.

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 maximum attendance at a funeral service is dependent on the area in which the church is located and the capacity determined by physical distancing in the building. The maximum numbers for each protection area level are as follows:

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

This attendance figure is set by the Scottish Government and is the same whether a funeral takes place in a church, crematorium or cemetery. 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.

As in all aspects of life 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.

Post-funeral gatherings such as funeral teas can not take place under current enhanced level 4 restrictions.

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.

The maximum attendance at a wedding service is dependent on the area in which the church is located and the capacity determined by physical distancing in the building. The maximum numbers for each protection area level 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

This attendance figure is set by the Scottish Government and is the same whether a funeral takes place in a church, crematorium or cemetery.

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.

The maximum numbers above includes couple, the witnesses, photographer and guests but excludes the celebrant (except in level 4 areas until 26 April 2021 where the celebrant is included in the five) and those employed or volunteering at the venue to facilitate to marriage. 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 through our church finder.

Baptisms

Baptismal services 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.