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Advice for Churches: COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Updated 20 March 2020
We are very conscious of the need to provide spiritual resources in this time, both nationally and locally. While physical services are cancelled, a number of churches are moving to offer online worship. We will be providing a recorded service every Sunday via the Church of Scotland website and social media platforms, as well as transcripts which can be printed and delivered to those who are not able to access online resources.
We will also be aiming to provide guidance and ideas for how congregations can connect with each other and offer spiritual practices for members to follow in their own time. This will, from next week, include webinars to help you learn how to use online tools to connect with your local congregation and community.
Sensitive conversations will need to take place with families and mourners ahead of funeral ceremonies, and to consider the size of groups gathering for funerals. For the avoidance of doubt, no funeral services should take place in church. In common with other denominations, we are asking you to consider whether funerals should be restricted exclusively to minister, immediate family, and funeral directors. In addition, local guidance from funeral directors and crematorium staff will be critical here. We should think instead about a simple committal ceremony at cemetery, or crematorium, with an intentionally very small number of people present. It should be noted that many crematoria have the facility to stream services and to host a recording of services for a period of time after the cremation service.
Tributes can then be paid in other ways for larger numbers of people to read – either online, or in a church newsletter – or given in a memorial service later in the year.
Of course this is not how we would normally do these things, but these are exceptional times and we have to do the best we can to mourn our loss with dignity whilst protecting the health of others.
Guidance from NHS Inform Scotland (here), updated on 19 March, offers some measures in social distancing to reduce the spread of Covid-19, and these are to:
Avoid large gatherings
Avoid gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars and clubs
Avoid gatherings with friends and family
In light of the above, it is not appropriate for large wedding services to take place. It is suggested that ministers discuss options with the couple. One possibility will be to go ahead with the wedding as arranged, with only the couple and immediate family present at the service, and with all present maintaining suitable distance between one another. The other option is to postpone the wedding to a later date when a greater degree of normality applies.
These restrictions are likely to become more severe before they are relaxed, and are likely to remain in force for months rather than weeks. These are unprecedented times and we can only live into and with these days, weeks, and months.
We want to encourage you, if there is any respect in which the radical change to the pattern of daily life offers space and freedom, to take those opportunities, perhaps to do something different, to allow the change to maximize physical and emotional wellbeing.
Several churches live stream or post their services online. You can find a list of these on our Kirk services online page.
Further information on livestreaming, including information on copyright, can be found in this circular on the Law Department’s webpages. OneLicence.Net is currently offering a free podcast/streaming licence up until 15 April 2020, to help new users cope with the challenges brought about by COVID-19.
Letting Church Halls
Many congregations will have churches, halls and other premises that are used by church groups and let to external agencies for a range of events. In light of the recent Scottish Government advice to practice social distancing or to stay at home if you’re unwell or in an at-risk group to limit the spread of COVID-19, it is no longer appropriate for this to take place.
Both congregational and outside organisations should be made aware that your building is closed and will remain so until the current situation is under control and it is appropriate to resume group activities. The Church has already closed down worship services and activities as our contribution to this community effort to keep people safe.
Worship – Cancellation of Services
The Scottish Government now advises that people should minimise social contact by avoiding crowded areas and large gatherings, including religious congregations, and smaller gatherings.
The Church of Scotland now asks, in the strongest terms, that all gatherings for worship should cease until further notice, with effect from Tuesday 17 March 2020. Other Scottish Churches are taking similar actions. This obviously includes Easter services. Some Presbyteries have already instructed this action. This will include, but not be restricted to: housegroups, meetings for youth work, and church cafes. It will still be possible for an individual to offer a livestream of a sermon and prayers. Further information on livestreaming, including information on copyright, can be found in this circular on the Law Department’s webpages here. Sunday broadcasts of a weekly service take place on Radio 4, and also on Radio Scotland; other radio stations are available. Several churches currently offer livestreams or recorded services; a list can be found on our website.
Church buildings can be kept open as a place for people to come and pray. Notices should be clearly displayed asking that visitors observe robust hand hygiene.
The Moderator, the Right Reverend Colin Sinclair, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and other church leaders, has issued a call for a National Day of Prayer; more details can be found in the news section of our website.
The Church is aware that closing down worship services will impact on 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.
Pastoral Care Networks
Please see our guidance note from the Church’s Safeguarding Department with some useful guidance about setting up small pastoral care networks with a practical outcome. This guidance note contains a postcard which may be useful. There are some good ideas here about small groups; such groups can mitigate social isolation, and help people to continue to feel that they are part of the wider community of faith. Previous advice about using tools such as Skype, email, letters, greetings cards, Facetime, and Whatsapp groups are all useful approaches and some of these are particularly helpful where people don’t use technology.
SCVO (the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations) have set up a page to signpost people to opportunities to help their communities during this crisis. You can find the page at covid-19.scvo.org.
The decision has been taken in the light of Scottish Government advice to cancel the General Assembly of May 2020. The Office of the General Assembly will be in touch with commissioners separately.
Best hygiene practice should continue to be observed in all pastoral contacts.
Updated advice is available from NHS Scotland.
Public Health Scotland and the UK Government recommend that you should take usual infection prevention precautions including:
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available
Churches can underline the importance of handwashing by ensuring that hand sanitisers are not available in toilets where soap and water can be used
It is particularly important after taking public transport to use sanitiser on your hands
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
Carry tissues to catch coughs and sneezes and bin the tissue
If you feel unwell, stay at home, do not attend work or school
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in church buildings
NHS Scotland have prepared a poster which could be displayed at your building entrance to give advice to visitors. The purpose of this poster is to protect the visitor and those within the building.
Advice has also been issued to travellers, advising against all non-essential travel worldwide. This advice was revised on 17 March.
Below are two posters which you may wish to display in your buildings.
General public information
This page will be updated when new advice becomes available from NHS Scotland and the UK Government.
Direct Dial: 0131 240 2212
Mobile: 07711 273232
Switchboard: 0131 225 5722
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