By Peter Kearney and Laura Crawford
The Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church in Scotland and churches serving other denominations have been given the green light to open next week.
The Rev Dr George Whyte, Principal Clerk of the Church of Scotland, said: “We welcome the news that worship services will be able to resume on a limited basis from July 15 after being required to close our buildings earlier in the year due to the COVID-19 emergency.
“We have been grateful to the Scottish Government for the way in which they have listened to our concerns and worked with us to get to this stage.
“Ahead of today’s announcement, we have prepared guidance to help ministers and congregations as they consider if they should open their church building at this point.
“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 these early phases, depending on their own circumstances and the nature of their church.
“Our guidance is designed to support those who will need to implement the changes and restrictions which will need to be put in place so that congregational worship, funerals and weddings can safely take place.
“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 and a cap on numbers that there simply will not be room for all those who might wish to attend Sunday worship.
“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.”
Scotland’s Catholic Bishops have also welcomed the First Minister’s comments on places of worship and have announced the resumption of communal worship in Catholic parishes from 15 July.
The President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, Bishop Hugh Gilbert said: “Over the past month, our parishes have been preparing for the safe resumption of communal prayer and the celebration of Mass, which is at the centre of the life of the Church.
“To have been unable to attend Mass for many months has been a source of real sadness for Scotland’s Catholics and I am sure there will be great joy at the prospect of returning.
“Thanks to the widespread implementation of the church’s Infection Control protocols, Catholic parishes will begin the resumption of public Masses and other communal activities from 15 July.”
Bishop Gilbert added: “The bishops are extremely grateful to all those who have worked tirelessly to prepare our parishes for public worship and to those who made their views known to their parliamentary representatives and the government on the subject of communal worship.
“While thanking the Scottish Government for listening to these calls, we would remind parishioners that the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains suspended and ask those who return to do so in accordance with the infection control measures in force in each parish, mindful always of the need to protect themselves and others.”