Restarting gatherings in scotland

Staying Calm and Keeping Perspective: Places of Worship Closure in Scotland

Considerations to help temper frustrations as church buildings in Scotland are ordered to close.

Places of Worship Closure in Scotland

From this Friday (8 January) the Scottish Government has ordered the closure of all Places of Worship on the Scottish Mainland until at least the end of January.

The key measures for churches announced by the First Minister on 4 Jan 21 include:


Places of worship are required to close for worship, but can open for the purposes of leading an act of worship (broadcast or online), conducting a marriage or civil partnership ceremony or a funeral.​​​​​

'Stay at Home' exemptions

Examples of reasonable excuses to go out:

  • To attend a marriage ceremony or registration of a civil partnership;
  • To attend a funeral or for compassionate reasons which relate to the end of a person’s life. This includes gatherings related to the scattering or interring of ashes, a stone setting ceremony and other similar commemorative events;
  • If you are a minister of religion or worship leader, for the purposes of leading an act of worship (broadcast or online), conducting a marriage or civil partnership ceremony or a funeral.

Life events

Wedding ceremonies and civil partnership registrations can take place with a maximum capacity of 5 people (including the couple, the witnesses and the person conducting the ceremony, 6 if an interpreter is required), provided the venue’s capacity allows for 2-metre physical distancing.

Funerals can take place with a maximum capacity of 20, provided the venue’s capacity allows for 2-metre physical distancing.

You must maintain a safe distance of 2 metres between people not in your household or extended household.

Face coverings must be worn by those attending a wedding or civil partnership, except for the couple and the person conducting the ceremony.

Face coverings do not need to be worn by the person leading a funeral service or by the person providing the eulogy.

Wedding or civil partnership receptions and post-funeral gatherings such as wakes and cannot take place.

Christenings, bar mitzvahs and other life events apart from weddings, civil partnerships or funerals should not take place.

As and when further guidance for churches is updated we will update the above. You can find out more on the Scottish Government website.

Staying calm and keeping perspective

Such renewed restrictions will feel like a bitter setback for many churches who have worked so hard to ensure compliance with previous regulations. Even with the previous restrictions on attendee numbers, the ability to gather at all was massively valued in a time of so many other life curtailments.

The closure of churches in Scotland is all the more frustrating when such measures have not been thought necessary in England at this time. In the light of this divergence, it is appropriate that the Scottish Government be pressed further on the reasoning behind this decision. Churches can of course write to their MSPs and Scottish Government officials to make their concerns known and request such clarification and reconsideration. Indeed, FIEC have done this by writing to the First Minister.

In the meantime, however, there are a number of considerations that can help temper our understandable frustrations.

Renewed health threat

Firstly, the Government is contending with a genuine civic emergency (fueled by the new Covid variant) that now poses an even greater threat to health services than the situation in March 2020. This reality has been laid out in the dramatic increase in case numbers and consequential hospital admissions and deaths. Faced with such data it is right for Government to proactively seek to suppress the spread of the virus and thus prevent many otherwise avoidable deaths.

Different Governmental jurisdictions

Secondly, it is inevitable that different government administrations will come to different conclusions as to which activities need to be curtailed (and the extent to which that should happen). All four UK governments have imposed varying restrictions on physical church activities over the past year (including a complete shutdown of church services in Northern Ireland for a period in December).


Thirdly, unlike March or even autumn last year, there are now two viable vaccines. The ongoing programme of immunising the population means that we can realistically look forward to the Covid crisis beginning to recede in the second quarter of this year.

No partiality

Finally, the reimposition of the closure order on places of worship is part of a raft of measures being introduced across all sectors of Scottish society. Other measures being brought in by the Scottish Government include a new legally enforceable ‘stay at home order’ for all citizens, the tightening of allowable social interactions to just 2 people from 2 households in an outdoor space (from age 12 upwards), and the closure of all schools throughout January (with lessons moving online).

Unity, patience, and grace

There was remarkable unity among churches of all types in accepting the temporary curtailments of 2020 on some of our physical activities. We did so in order to minimize the real threat to health and life faced by some of the most vulnerable in society.

At the start of this new year, Scottish society is once again being asked to go the extra mile in forgoing our rights for the welfare of others (in order to allow time for vaccines to become effective). It would be a shame if, so late in the day, churches were seen to be resisting or grudging their share of that sacrifice in Scotland. It’s hard but more than ever this is a time for renewed patience and grace.

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