Publication - Advice and guidance

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

Guidance to help places of worship safely re-open for permitted purposes.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for the safe use of places of worship
Individual and congregational worship

Individual and congregational worship

Places of worship are able to open for the following purposes:

Any other use of the premises is subject to the restrictions and guidance for the relevant activity.

Opening for any purpose remains subject to physical distancing and hygiene safeguards, as set out under general principles.

Those responsible for running a place of worship should engage and communicate with worshippers and the wider community to explain what is permitted and what is still prohibited, and what measures are being taken by the place of worship to reduce the spread of the virus.

Faith-specific practices

Physical distancing and strict hygiene safeguards must be maintained at places of worship to minimise the risk of infection.  Everyone should stay 1 metre apart and avoid face-to-face interaction as much as possible. Where absolutely necessary for a faith-specific requirement, interactions within a 1 metre distance may take place provided they are brief, kept to a minimum and face-to-face interaction is avoided where possible (for example work side-by-side or facing in different directions). These interactions should only take place when it is absolutely essential and it would be unreasonable to maintain physical distancing in the circumstances (for example, the laying on of hands in the ordination of new ministers). For any such interactions, face coverings must be worn, including by the individual leading the act of worship.

Faith leaders should set out policies reflecting how faith-specific rites and rituals can be carried out safely in accordance with this guidance. Where such policies are established nationally or regionally, they may require those responsible for individual places of worship to carry out assessments to consider the particular features of their buildings.

In addition to the general principles, it is strongly advised that:

  • 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 
  • 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)
  • good respiratory hygiene (“Catch it, kill it, bin it”) is also required at all times
  • any personal items brought in to aid worship are removed by the user
  • the projection of voices, including shouting, is avoided. The use of a microphone and sound system can mitigate the need for this. Any microphone used should not be handled communally
  • 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 
  • speaking across food or drink is avoided. Where this is essential to the act of worship, everyone, including the person leading the worship, should wear a face covering and the food should be securely covered 
  • pre-requisite washing and ablution rituals are carried out at home prior to arrival at the place of worship where possible. Where such facilities are used, physical distancing and hygiene measures should be observed at all times and areas should be cleaned between each individual use. Individuals should not wash the body parts of others
  • 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
  • once services are complete, worshippers are encouraged to move on promptly. Places of worship should put in place procedures to manage this
  • 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. Where full immersion is required, this should be done following the below guidelines

Full immersion in water

Where full immersion is a necessary part of a ritual or ceremony, this is permitted with the following measures in place:

  • only one person should be immersed at any one time
  • where possible, the person being immersed should self-immerse, or be attended to by a member of their household only. Where this is not possible, they should be attended by a single officiant/clergy member
  • those being immersed should be at least 1 metre away from the congregation and officiants at all times, except as necessary in the case of clergy/the officiant, at the point of immersion (see below)
  • during the immersion, clergy/the officiant may place their hands on the head of the person being immersed, but they should not ‘cradle’ the person or touch them in any other way. They should wash their hands after each person is immersed with soap and water for the requisite duration. If this is not possible they should use hand sanitiser
  • during the immersion, the person being immersed should remove their face covering, however any officiant/clergy attending them should wear a face covering where it is safe to do so
  • where any contained body of non-chlorinated water is used, such as a baptismal font, the water should be drained and the font cleaned, after each immersion
  • where a swimming pool is used, this should be maintained according to Swimming Scotland guidelines
  • immersion may also take place in a safe external space of open water. In this case, from 19 July 1 metre physical distancing should be maintained where possible and any person attending the individual being immersed should retain their face covering where it is safe to do so.

Singing, chanting and the playing of instruments 

Singing, chanting and/or the playing of instruments is permitted in small groups in level 2 - 0 areas. For example, a small choir and/or band would be permitted to perform.  Congregational singing, both indoors and outdoors, is permitted in areas that are in levels 0 – 1 and is permitted for life events such as baptisms, christenings and coming of age ceremonies, etc., where these take place as part of a wider congregational service. It is also permitted at  marriage ceremonies  and funeral services, for which there is separate guidance.

Congregational singing

Where congregational singing is permitted, a risk assessment should be carried out to consider any mitigating measures that may be put in place. Individuals/households in congregations are advised to wear face coverings (see exceptions below that relates to performing or persons leading the worship) and observe 1 metre physical distancing between each participant/household and between participants/households and any others attending.

Small group performances

Singing, chanting and playing instruments There is no definition of ‘small group’ and it will be down to individual places of worship to determine how many people would constitute an appropriately small group given the size and layout of their building (e.g. how many could fit, physically distanced at the front of the congregation). Individual places of worship should consider physical distancing, undertake risk assessments and put in place mitigating measures where appropriate.

Scientific studies indicate that it is the cumulative aerosol transmission from both those performing in and attending events that involve singing, chanting and the playing of wind and brass instruments, that is likely to create risk. 

For areas in levels 3 – 4, where it is essential to an act of worship for an individual to sing or chant indoors, a single individual may do so behind a plexiglass screen without the need for a face covering to be worn. Any screen used should be cleaned regularly and extended physical distancing should be considered

For areas in levels 3 – 4, where it is essential to an act of worship for an individual to sing or chant indoors, a single individual may do so behind a plexiglass screen without the need for a face covering to be worn. Any screen used should be cleaned regularly and extended physical distancing should be considered

With regards to instruments, all types can be played in areas within levels 0 – 2. For areas in level 3 - 4, only instruments that do not require breath to operate may be played (for example, church organs, tambourines and other percussion instruments). In all cases, instruments used by more than one person should be cleaned between users.

Face coverings are not required for the purposes of performing where:

  • there is a partition between the person and other persons, or
  • a distance of at least one metre is maintained between the person and other persons

Life event ceremonies

Places of worship may perform ceremonies to mark life events where these form part of a wider congregational service (including baptisms, christenings and coming-of-age ceremonies).  The measures set out in this guidance should be followed, including the guidance on Restrictions on capacity. Separate guidance is provided for  marriage ceremonies and funeral services within places of worship.

Consideration should be given to how faith-specific rites and rituals during life event ceremonies can be adapted in accordance with this guidance to ensure the safety of those present.

Hospitality

With the exception of marriage ceremonies and funeral services, if food or drink is offered before or after a service or in connection with religious life events, this must be done in accordance with the guidance for hospitality businesses. What is permitted will depend on the protection level to which the place of worship is subject.  At all protection levels, worshippers must remain seated and be served in their place, and they must wear face-coverings (unless exempt) when not seated, for example arriving and departing or moving to toilets.  1 metre distancing must be maintained between people from different households, and groups of people eating at one table must not exceed the current restrictions for the area.  Those responsible for the place of worship should ensure that people do not mix between tables, and that physical distancing is maintained when moving from the service to where the hospitality is provided.


First published: 18 Sep 2020 Last updated: 16 Jul 2021 -