Scottish Government brings forward opening date for churches

Churches have been gathering online only in the latest lockdown after the Scottish Government suspended communal worship.(Photo: Facebook/Church of Scotland)

The Scottish Government says it will let churches re-open for communal worship earlier than previously planned as the Covid-19 vaccine rollout continues to bring down case numbers.

Unline England and Wales, churches in Scotland have been banned from holding services in church throughout the current lockdown.

The Scottish Government last month announced a "cautious" roadmap out of lockdown that would have seen churches re-open on April 5 - Easter Monday - with numbers capped at 20. 

The Scottish Government has now revised this to say that "should progress suppressing the virus continue", it will permit churches to re-open for communal worship from 26 March, meaning they will be able to hold Easter services as usual this year. 

The attendance cap will also be increased to 50 where social distancing permits. 

A final decision on the date is to be taken on 23 March. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "In recent weeks, we have seen a significant fall in new cases, deaths and hospital admissions, and the vaccination programme is progressing beyond our initial expectations. All of this is excellent news, and provides strong grounds for hope, but that hope must also be balanced by caution.

"The changes announced today, while modest, are important, and are designed to help people's health and well-being by enabling group exercise and allowing more social interaction. They will also let children see more of their friends, and exercise and play more normally.

"With continued progress, we believe the reopening of places of worship can be achieved relatively safely, and will hopefully enable more people to draw strength, comfort and inspiration from acts of collective worship." 

She added that further "more substantial changes" would be possible in the weeks ahead, with more details being laid out in Parliament next week. 

"If the data allows us to relax more restrictions more quickly than we have previously indicated, we will not hesitate to do so," she said. 

Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, welcomed the news. 

"Christians are Easter people, we live with hope in all circumstances, and the Church will be providing guidance to congregations to help them ensure that buildings are re-opened in a safe and responsible manner," he said.

"While some congregations will adopt a cautious approach regarding the re-opening of our buildings - and others won't have the practical means to do so – everyone will be very glad at this news and will already be looking forward to how most appropriately to celebrate Easter 2021.

"In whatever we do, we'll be remembering that the God who raised Jesus from the grave has been faithful to us throughout the whole of this last year."