Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): safe use of places of worship

Guidance to help places of worship operate safely during coronavirus.

18 Sep 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19): safe use of places of worship

This guidance for the safe use of places of worship should be regarded as supplementary to the general guidance on staying safe and protecting others.

We are hugely grateful to the efforts and collaboration of Scotland’s faith and belief communities in continuing to follow best practice guidance in places of worship.

Places of worship remain open with appropriate mitigations and capacity limits do not apply in places of worship for religious services and ceremonies.  

With the recent rapid increase in Omicron COVID-19 cases, we are facing an exceptionally challenging winter and know that this presents significant risks to the National Health Service.  It is within the context of these pressures, that further regulations have been introduced.   

Those responsible for a place of worship must take such measures as are reasonably practicable, to minimise the risk of the incidence and spread of coronavirus on the premises.  This includes measures to reduce crowding and encourage distancing such as changing the layout of furniture; appropriate use of signage; controlling the use of entrances, smaller spaces and shared facilities.   

It is essential that those responsible for a place of worship, carry out a full risk assessment to help decide which actions to take to ensure the safe management of a place of worship.  They must have due regard for the guidance. 

Face coverings remain mandatory in most indoor public places – including places of worship - subject to exemptions. They continue to be an important part of stopping the spread of coronavirus and should be worn correctly. The current guidance and exemptions are set out here: Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings and masks - ( Those responsible for places of worship should encourage worshippers and members of the public to wear face coverings in line with the requirements on individuals.   

Physical distancing is highly recommended during worship wherever possible, unless it interferes with a fundamental aspect of faith specific practice.

We strongly encourage people to undertake Lateral Flow Testing before attending services or gatherings. Places of worship may wish to continue to collect visitor details for the purposes of supporting NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect system. Ensuring adequate ventilation in buildings also remains an important precautionary measure. 

Every person and every organisation in Scotland has a part to play in protecting the most vulnerable in society and staff working in public‑facing roles, easing the burden on the NHS and supporting our economic recovery. Thank you for your continued support. 

Faith-specific practices

In addition to the requirements above we advise that:

General risks

  • services or ceremonies that would traditionally take place over a period of hours or days are adapted to reduce the time spent gathered together and therefore reduce the risk of transmission. 

Hygiene and communal resources

  • good respiratory hygiene (“Catch it, kill it, bin it”) is required at all times
  • individuals are prevented from touching or kissing devotional and other objects that are handled communally, or from placing their face or head in the same location as other worshippers. Use barriers and signs where necessary.
  • individuals avoid touching property belonging to others such as shoes which, if taken off, should be handled only by their owner
  • where communal resources such as books, prayer mats and services sheets are required to be used as part of worship, you should follow good hygiene principles (careful hand washing/cleansing with soap and warm water/alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after handling books or similar objects/items of equipment and avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands).
  • any personal items brought in to aid worship are removed by the user
  • cash giving is discouraged, with online giving used instead. Where cash offerings continue, any receptacle should be set in one place and not handled communally. Any person who has handled money should wash their hands thoroughly afterwards and avoid touching their face.

Singing, projection of voices

  • the use of a microphone and sound system can mitigate the need for the projection of voices where appropriate. Any microphone used should not be handled communally
  • face coverings must be worn when involved in congregational singing, chanting and the playing of instruments. There is an exemption for performers and those leading an act of worship, subject to physical distancing of 2 metres (revised from 1m) or use of a partition or screen. Full details can we found in the Guidance on the use of face coverings. A risk assessment should be carried out to consider any mitigating measures that may be put in place

Food and drink as part of worship

  • where the consumption of food and drink is part of the act of worship, the use of communal vessels is avoided
  • other mitigations for the preparation and handling of food which is part of the act of worship are taken, including strict hand hygiene, pre-wrapping food items and avoiding the sharing of cutlery, crockery or utensils. Face coverings must be worn while preparing and handling food unless an exemption applies. 

Cleansing, ablutions and use of water

  • pre-requisite washing and ablution rituals can be carried out at places of worship if they can be done safely. Otherwise we advise that they are carried out at home. Where such facilities are used hygiene measures should be observed at all times and areas should be cleaned regularly. Individuals should not wash the body parts of others.
  • where rituals or ceremonies require water to be applied to the body, where possible full immersion is avoided and only small volumes are splashed onto the body. Where an infant is involved a parent/guardian should hold the infant. Strict hand hygiene should be maintained throughout.
  • during full immersion in water, where possible, the person being immersed should self-immerse
  • during the immersion, clergy/the officiant may place their hands on the head of the person being immersed, but they should consider the need to touch them in any other way
  • during the immersion, the person being immersed should remove their face covering, however any officiant/clergy attending them should wear a face covering unless an exemption applies
  • if any contained body of non-chlorinated water is used in full immersion, such as a baptismal font, the water should be drained and the font cleaned, after each immersion
  • where a swimming pool is used, please consider the latest Swimming Scotland guidelines. Immersion may also take place in a safe external space of open water

Following best practice guidance for Places of Worship helps to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, protects the NHS and saves lives. 

Relevant regulations and guidance

First published: 18 Sep 2020 Last updated: 3 Jan 2022 -