By Bill Heaney
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon dropped yet another pre-election lockdown clanger when she announced restrictions on the gatherings of religious groups on the run-up to Easter.
She said people will only be able to gather for communal worship from 26 March “so long as no more than 50 people are in attendance and physical distancing is maintained throughout [the church].
One regular churchgoer said: “That is just preposterous. I don’t know who the government’s expert on the capacity of churches is, but he cannot be in them often to come to a conclusion such as this.”
Ms Sturgeon has made no exceptions at all, which means that churches such as St Patrick’s and Riverside in Dumbarton, pictured right, St Andrew’s Cathedral and Glasgow Cathedral in Glasgow, which are vast, are being treated the same as St Mahew’s in Cardross or Buchanan Parish Church at Drymen, which are two of the oldest and smallest churches in the country.
The First Minister, who appears to be losing her touch following the mauling she has taken over her performance at the Salmond Inquiry; the internal party row over transgender issues and just today again the Calmac ferry nationalisation scandal which has cost the SNP government £ millions.
The Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: “We welcome the latest announcement from the Scottish Government that communal worship can potentially resume from 26 March with the possibility of up to 50 people in attendance, assuming physical distancing of 2 metres can be in place.
“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.
“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.”
The Catholic Church too was treading warily. A social media post from the Archdiocese of Glasgow said only: “Church services can resume from Friday March 26 with maximum numbers attending liturgical services lifted to 50 (rather than 20) where building can guarantee social distancing. Good news. Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter Masses can now be celebrated in church. Deo Gratias [Thanks be to God].”
Much larger congregations than that are commonplace in most churches, especially at Easter.
Meanwhile, Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie has welcomed the easing of outdoor meeting restrictions during lockdown.
He said his thoughts are with everyone affected by the virus as the country approaches a “grim anniversary”.
Dumbarton Academy-educated Mr Harvie highlighted the mass events that have fallen foul of the restrictions, from music concerts to beer festivals, and asks: “Why should a football club be any different?”
He added that Rangers “seriously did nothing to prevent dangerous mass gatherings in its name” and he asks why the club is being allowed to carry on for the rest of the season at the risk of such scenes being repeated.
Chief Constable Iain Livingstone and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will hold summit talks before the scheduled Old Firm match on March 21.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “People are being asked to forgo all sorts of things right now and there can be no exceptions if we are to, frankly, get through it.”
She also revealed she has received a three-page letter from Rangers which “does not even just reflect the fact that what happened at the weekend was deeply regrettable.”
Ms Sturgeon said she is due to meet the Chief Constable Iain Livingstone and will provide an update before the scheduled Old Firm match on 21 March.