Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance

This page was last updated at 6pm on 26th March 2020. For the most up to date guidance from the Scottish Episcopal Church, please check https://www.scotland.anglican.org/coronavirus-updates/.

Below is the statement from the 26th March.

Guidance on weddings, funerals, baptisms and church access

In light of the latest Government guidance over the coronavirus pandemic, and the number of queries being fielded by Bishops and clergy seeking clarification on certain areas, the College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church today issues updated guidance on how to respond. This guidance supersedes any previous guidance on the subject areas covered below.

The College of Bishops has agreed the following:

  1. No weddings should take place until permitted by Scottish Government advice.
  2. Church buildings may no longer be used for funerals and similarly the lying in of remains must also cease until further notice. Funerals elsewhere are permitted where those present are limited to the immediate family (or a friend in cases where no family members are attending). A distance of 2 metres must also be maintained between every household group, as per public health guidelines.
  3. Baptisms should not take place in a church building, and until further notice should only take place when there is an emergency situation. If in doubt, clergy should confer with their Bishop.
  4. A local resident Priest or Lay Reader may visit their church and may only be accompanied by someone who is currently resident in the Priest’s/Lay Reader’s own home. That principle likewise applies to live streaming/broadcasting from a church building. Live streaming/broadcasting may be done from home (and should not involve others from outwith the Priest’s/Lay Reader’s home).

The Bishops thank all those for their support and assistance in adapting and responding to these unprecedented circumstances.

Blessings

+Mark Primus, and Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness and Acting Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway
+Kevin, Bishop of Argyll and The Isles
+John, Bishop of Edinburgh
+Anne, Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney
+Andrew, Bishop of Brechin
+Ian, Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane

Periodic visits to church buildings which are temporarily closed are indeed advisable but should not be undertaken by those who are vulnerable or at risk. A useful checklist of points to consider in that regard has been produced by Ecclesiastical Insurance:

https://www.ecclesiastical.com/risk-management/unoccupied-properties-during-covid-19/church/

Below is the statement from the 23rd March.

Church buildings closed to public until further notice

The College of Bishops has taken the “difficult and painful” decision that the church and cathedral buildings of the Scottish Episcopal Church should now be closed to the public until further notice.

A letter to all Clergy, Lay Readers, Vestry Secretaries, Diocesan Secretaries and Diocesan Offices states:

“The College of Bishops sends you our heartfelt thanks for the way that you have responded to the advice we have issued during this pandemic. The reports of the imaginative ways people have been kept together spiritually have been heart-warming.

“The information we have is that the increase in Coronavirus cases has followed the expectations of the medical officers. Unfortunately, because people are struggling to self-isolate or to maintain a distance from each other the threat to people is growing.

“The College of Bishops has therefore taken the difficult and painful decision that our churches and Cathedrals should now be closed to the public.

“There are several reasons for this decision.

  • People are travelling to get to our churches and that may put them at risk.
  • The staff or volunteers who are keeping the buildings clean are being put at risk by the genuine desire to be thoughtful and caring to those who come into our buildings.
  • Trying to keep churches adequately disinfected etc is in itself a significant demand if people are continuously coming and going in and out of our churches.
  • Many of those who have charge of our churches are themselves in the vulnerable group and we need to protect them.

“Perhaps the most pressing reason is that we should set an example – to ask people to stay at home but then offer them the opportunity to come into our churches while they are out and about sends a conflicting message. Being out and about without very good reason is directly against government advice, and we need to keep people safe.

“This advice does not exclude clergy from continuing to offer daily prayers and worship in our churches, but these activities must be restricted to one member of the clergy or lay readership team and we should not be inviting others to physically join us. Those who feel unable to use the church because of personal health reasons or who would have to travel by public transport to the Church should simply stay and pray at home.

“The question we must always ask ourselves is whether anything we are doing encourages people to leave their homes and/or gather unnecessarily? If so, we must stop and find another way.

“Please put clear signage on your church noticeboard/doors. We suggest that any notices which might be put up outside churches shouldn’t simply read “closed until further notice” but rather something along the lines of “Our church building is closed for the time being, but our people continue to meet virtually. Details of online services will be posted at https://www.scotland.anglican.org/coronavirus-updates/” (or your own church website as appropriate).

“We are aware that a number of churches are offering their own online worship. We ask that in arranging such worship, those involved be kept to the bare minimum so as to avoid the risk of infection transmission.

“The College of Bishops continues to hold the Province in prayer, and we ask you to keep us in yours. We also ask that the practice of lighting candles at 7pm on Sunday evening be continued throughout the current pandemic.”

Blessings

+Mark Primus, and Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness and Acting Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway
+Kevin, Bishop of Argyll and The Isles
+John, Bishop of Edinburgh
+Anne, Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney
+Andrew, Bishop of Brechin
+Ian, Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane

Below is the statement from the 17th March.

The College of Bishops continues to follow closely the developing situation in relation to coronavirus. The rapidly changing picture brings about changes on an almost daily basis. The College continues to hold in its prayers the clergy and laity of the Scottish Episcopal Church and the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole.

The College expresses its thanks to everyone in the Scottish Episcopal Church for all that they are doing to adapt to current circumstances and continue in the provision of care and pastoral support. Clergy and lay readers are encouraged to be in touch with their Diocesan Bishop in connection with any matters of difficulty or concern.

At this time, the College offers further guidance as follows. It should also be emphasised that in a rapidly changing situation, the guidance that follows must be regarded as subject to any public health guidance or direction, which must take precedence.

  1. Advice issued last night by the Scottish Government is to the effect that church services should cease. Consequently, the Bishops ask that all gatherings for worship, including small gatherings such as house groups, should be discontinued until further notice.
  2. Church buildings can be kept open as a place for people to come and pray. However, if a church is open for private prayer, notices should be clearly displayed asking that visitors wash their hands on entry to the church.
  3. The province is working on plans to make worship available online. The bishops encourage participation in the broader Eucharistic life of the church in this way and emphasise the such online involvement is a form of participation in the Eucharistic community, even though participants cannot physically partake of the bread or wine.
  4. Clergy and lay leaders must feel free to self-isolate themselves when that is appropriate either to safeguard their own health or the health of others. Again, however, any member of clergy or lay leader needing to self-isolate is asked to discuss the matter with the diocesan Bishop. Where a decision to self-isolate is taken, the bishops expect congregations to be understanding and supportive. Self-isolation, except in the case of illness, does not mean that ministry and pastoral care must cease. Contact and communication can still be maintained over the telephone, by email or other electronic means.
  5. The taking of funerals may give rise to specific concerns. It may simply not be possible for family relatives or friends of the deceased’s to be able to attend a funeral service as usual. However, clergy can still take a funeral at the graveside or crematorium, even if those present are limited to clergy and funeral directors. Again, in cases of difficulty, bishops encourage clergy to discuss such matters with them.
  6. In the light of the public health recommendation that non-essential travel should not be undertaken, it is clearly inappropriate to continue with meetings which would draw people from a wider area – such as regional gatherings. Institutions, licensings etc will need to be dealt with differently from normal, and, again, such matters should be discussed with the diocesan Bishop.
  7. In some cases, where local income is dependent on regular giving through the weekly collection or giving envelopes, it is possible that congregations might encounter difficulties with cash flow. Churches are encouraged to consider alerting congregations to such potential difficulties and encouraging alternative ways of giving, for example by standing order. In cases where it is thought difficulty might arise, treasurers are encouraged to contact their diocesan office at an early stage to discuss whether any form of support can be made available.
  8. Consideration should be given to resilience planning in current circumstances. As a bare minimum, churches are asked to ensure that they have clear records for detailing those who hold keys for access to churches and halls and of the names of bank signatories and payroll officers, as well as plans on how to deal with circumstances if such individuals become ill or have to self-isolate.

The Most Rev Mark Strange

Primus

Below are the statement from the 18th March.

Coronavirus – Additional Guidance

The College of Bishops is aware that the current situation in relation to Coronavirus raises all sorts of questions about matters of practice and theology. We will endeavour to respond to queries as best we are able in the circumstances and the following further guidance is offered.

Weddings and Funerals
The guidance regarding cessation of public worship gives rise to particular issues in relation to matters such as weddings and funerals. Weddings may already be “in the diary” and couples may wish to know whether or not their wedding can go ahead. In the current climate, it is difficult to see how wedding services can proceed on the conventional basis involving large numbers of people, given the fact that church services generally are suspended at present. There are of course pastoral considerations which need to be taken into account also. It is suggested that clergy discuss options with the couple. One may be to proceed with the wedding on the arranged date but with only the couple and immediate family present at the service, and with all present maintaining suitable distance between one another. An alternative would be to defer the wedding and have a future date when circumstances return to a greater degree of normality.

Similarly, pastoral considerations arise in relation to funerals. Funerals need not take place in church and it would seem that if a funeral is arranged for the graveside, again, it would be not unreasonable for immediate family to be present. Clergy should feel free to discuss matters with their Bishop. It should be noted that many crematoria have the facility to livestream services and to host a recording of services for a period of time after the cremation service.

Churches being Open for Prayer
Clergy may want, and are free, to open their churches for prayer, but should not feel obliged to do so. If people come into the church to pray, as individuals, they should observe adequate social distancing and wash their hands on entry. A sign on the church door to highlight this request might be helpful.

Eucharist and Daily Offices
Clergy are welcome to celebrate the Eucharist in their own churches or conduct the usual Daily Offices by themselves, but such occasions should not become services open to others to attend. We recommended that such Eucharists or Offices take place with doors closed.

Pastoral visits and home communions
Visits should not be made without first checking that it is appropriate and safe to visit someone in their own home. People who are self-isolating or who are vulnerable or in a high-risk category and require pastoral support should not be visited in person but may be supported over the phone or via Skype. In effect this means that home communions to those in such categories should also be suspended. More generally, the Bishops wish to discourage home communions at this time since it may expose clergy to risk of infection from those who are not yet showing symptoms but are nevertheless incubating the disease.

Where a visit is to be made to someone in their home who is currently well, clergy should wash their hands when they arrive and when they leave, either with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or by using a hand sanitiser.

Last rites and end-of-life pastoral visits
It is with great regret that we recommend clergy do not pay personal visits to anyone who is dying and has the coronavirus infection. This is a very difficult situation, but clergy have to look after their own health both for themselves and for their congregations as a whole. In the case of a patient dying in a High Dependency Unit, it may be possible for a priest to join family members behind glass or outside in a waiting room and offer prayer there for the dying person.
If a person is dying and does not have the virus, a pastoral visit can go ahead, provided no-one else that the visitor will come into contact with is either ill or self-isolating.

Vestry meetings
Vestries should not meet physically but decisions and management could be carried out by phone, email or other non-contact means. Such decisions can be “homologated” at a later stage. Within such constraints, vestries should consider issues of contingency planning and resilience in the coming period. The Church of England template is a useful resource in that regard (but please note that it was prepared at a time before church services were suspended and so should be read in that light). It is available on the following webpage: https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-churches?mc_cid=9d8d133b3b&mc_eid=6a632ecdd2

Use of church halls
Group activities in church halls should be stopped until further notice. In many cases, churches let their halls to outside users. It is expected that in most cases, such users will make decisions for themselves to discontinue activities for the time being but, if not, it is suggested that discussion be undertaken with any such groups with a view to agreeing that lettings be suspended in the current period.

Visits to care home and nursing homes
Public health guidance is that only essential visits should be made to care homes or nursing homes. This could apply to end-of-life situations, but clergy should assess such requests on a case-by-case basis, taking note of the guidance given for last rites and end-of-life pastoral visits (above).

Operation of diocesan offices (open/closed)
This is a matter for individual dioceses. The General Synod Office has moved to home working for most employees and physical meetings of provincial boards and committees are suspended for the time being.

The Most Rev Mark Strange

Primus

Coronavirus Safeguarding Considerations issued by the General Synod Office

During the current period of uncertainty caused by the Coronavirus concerns, the Scottish Episcopal Church’s Provincial Safeguarding Officers will continue to be available to deal with safeguarding situations as they arise. Contact with the Safeguarding Team should be via e-mail on protection@scotland.anglican.org or, in the event of urgency, by telephone on 07702 793553. If this phone is not answered immediately, leave a voicemail message and one of the Provincial Officers will get back to you.

From Wednesday 18 March the Safeguarding Team will not be in a position to process PVG applications. Correctly completed PVG application forms received by the Safeguarding Team up to 18 March have been processed and submitted to Volunteer Scotland Disclosure Services. Applicants should receive their certificates in due course. Letters have been issued in respect of PVG disclosure certificates received by the Safeguarding Team up to 18 March. Please do not send any PVG applications to the Safeguarding Team until further notice. Please contact Daphne Audsley DaphneA@scotland.anglican.org if you have questions about PVG.

In the past few days, we have been asked for advice on the subject of Church volunteers wishing to provide support and assistance (e.g. shopping) to vulnerable neighbours who are confined to their homes or wish to isolate themselves because of illness or increased risk. Individuals may be offering their services directly to neighbours. However, where churches wish to provide assistance on an organised basis, it is suggested that churches make contact with their local council community care services to ascertain if they might be able to assist with services already set up for this purpose. If this is something that churches wish to do, the work should be carried out by congregational members who are ideally members of the PVG Scheme or at the very least in a position of trust and known to the Church. We would strongly advise against using people who do not fall into this category. When undertaking such services, members should carry some documentation proving identification and the fact that they are authorised by the local church.

The handling of money – for example if shopping is being undertaken for a vulnerable person – is an area of particular risk and careful consideration should be given to how this is handled. For the protection of both the vulnerable person and the volunteer, a safeguarding risk assessment should be conducted and a robust procedure for recording who is undertaking these duties, how the handling of money is organised and how goods purchased or obtained are handed over. It might be possible, for example, for a financial float to be provided by the congregation to the volunteer who does the shopping, with the congregation later recovering payment from the person from whom the shopping is done. Receipts should be copied and retained. Individuals undertaking such duties on behalf of the church should not be providing money to people they do not know and it would be sensible for those to whom such a service is provided to have been referred by a church member. Church members making personal arrangements with friends and neighbours to provide such support would not be considered to be acting on behalf of the Church.

Volunteers undertaking such a service to vulnerable people may well be in a ‘risk’ category themselves and should not place themselves in situations where they are at risk of either contracting the virus or putting others at risk of contracting it. Above all, it is important to take heed of and follow all the advice issued by the Scottish Government, Health Protection Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church in respect of appropriate precautions to be taken and for updated advice and guidance to considered and followed as it is issued. Direct physical contact should be avoided at all times.

If in doubt, please e-mail or call the Provincial Safeguarding Officers.

CONTACTS

Donald Urquhart, Provincial Safeguarding Officer, protection@scotland.anglican.org or telephone 07702 793553

Daphne Audsley, Assistant Safeguarding Officer, DaphneA@scotland.anglican.org