Churches re-open in Scotland

Pic: Michael D Beckwith

By Lianne Kolirin 22 June 2020

Scottish places of worship reopened today, a week after lockdown restrictions were eased south of the border in England.

They are allowed to welcome individuals in for private prayer or contemplation, “subject to physical distancing and hygiene safeguards”, according to government guidelines.

Rev Dr George Whyte, principal clerk of the Church of Scotland, welcomed the move and said that the church had prepared extensive guidance to allow for a phased reopening.

“As we continue to live with the threat of coronavirus, ministers and congregations must consider carefully whether or not they should return to the church building in the early phases, depending on their own circumstances and the nature of their church,” he added.

“Parishioners and ministers in high risk groups may be at particular risk from infection and many will prefer to continue with online worship options at this stage. Others will know that with physical distancing there simply will not be room for all those who might wish to attend when Sunday worship becomes a possibility further down the road.

“However, we recognise that for many the buildings themselves are an important sacred space and the opportunity to return to their place of worship, even on a limited basis, will bring spiritual and mental-health benefits.”

A statement on Scottish government’s website, which outlined how the reopening should be safely achieved, said: “We recognise the important role places of worship play in providing spiritual leadership to many people, and the difficulties experienced by faith communities in being unable to come together.”

In a Facebook post published last week, St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh revealed that it would open daily from midday to 6pm, with an hour each day dedicated to confession in English and later in Polish.

The post said: “We’re pleased to let you know that from Monday 22 June, we’ll be reopening the Cathedral again for personal prayer, and we can’t wait to welcome you back. We’re taking a cautious approach to reopening, and since our top priority is to keep everyone safe in the Cathedral, we’re taking great care to put comprehensive social distancing and cleaning measures in place. The Church will look a little different for a while, but you can find out exactly what to expect in the video.”

As in England, each community now has the right to reopen in that very limited way, but there is of course no obligation upon them to do so.

“Each place of worship should make its own decision about when it is ready to do this,” the government statement said.

Until now Scottish places of worship have only been permitted to open for funerals with limited attendance, broadcasting acts of worship and essential voluntary services. The permitted uses have now been extended to include individual prayer or contemplation.