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


We recognise the important role that places of worship play in providing spiritual leadership to many people, and acknowledge the outstanding contribution of Scotland’s faith communities during these unprecedented times.

From 2 November 2020, the Scottish Government has implemented a new strategic framework based on five levels of protection.  These limits are necessary for public health reasons and the protection levels can be applied either locally or nationally.

From 8 January 2021 places of worship located within an area having Level 4 restrictions must close for communal worship and individual prayer, until further notice.  This means that places of worship are effectively closed for both congregational worship and individual prayer.  We are well aware of how important communal worship is to people, but we believe that this restriction is necessary to reduce the risk of transmission.   There are some situations that allow a place of worship to open, subject to conditions, which can be found in Individual and congregational worship.

Large public gatherings are still restricted.  Places of worship located in areas with protection Levels  0-3 only, should not admit more than 50 people in total, regardless of venue size and usual capacity for levels.  They are able to open for a number of permitted purposes, including, but not limited to:

  • individual prayer or contemplation
  • congregational services, including pre-arranged or scheduled acts of worship and communal prayer
  • broadcasting acts of worship
  • funeral services (separate guidance is available on this)
  • marriage ceremonies and, where celebrants in a faith community undertake them, civil partnerships registrations (separate guidance is available)
  • religious life event ceremonies, such as baptisms, christenings and coming-of-age ceremonies that form part of a wider congregational services (as above) 

It is possible for places of worship in all Levels to open for essential voluntary services or public support services (including the provision of food banks or other support for the homeless or vulnerable people, blood donation sessions, vaccination centres or support in an emergency).

Opening for any permitted purposes remains subject to physical distancing and hygiene safeguards.

A place of worship may be able to organise an outdoor worship event, with a maximum total of 200 people, in line with outdoor live event guidance.  This is subject to guidance within the strategic framework which states that no outdoor events can take place at level 2 upwards, apart from holding a drive-in event in a level 2 area, on condition that it is set out as noted within events sectorial guidance.

This guidance is not an instruction to reopen places of worship for any of the permitted purposes. Each place of worship should make its own decision about when it is ready to do this and should only reopen if this can be done safely. Any place of worship that is reopening must take the contents of this guidance into consideration.

This guidance is based on scientific and medical advice at the time of writing.  It does not constitute legal advice. Please ensure that you are reviewing the latest version of this guidance.

First published: 18 Sep 2020 Last updated: 7 Jan 2021 -