13th March Update

13th March 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance update from College of Bishops

In the light of the developing situation in relation to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) has today (13 March 2020) issued updated guidance on how members and clergy should respond to the spread of the virus. This guidance is issued on behalf of the College of Bishops.

The Primus, the Most Rev Mark Strange, says:-

“This is a difficult time for many people, some are fearful for themselves or their relatives, while others want to know how to help stem the spread of the virus. Our guidance is given not just to address medical concerns but also with pastoral concern being uppermost in our hearts and minds, particularly the care of the vulnerable in our congregations and communities. Please pray for all those who are unwell at this time, for the fearful and for the lonely and for those who work in the health service as they do their best to respond to the heavy demands at this time.”


1. Ensure everyone maintains good hygiene (we should be doing this already as part of normal good practice) at all gatherings, whether services or other occasions. This includes those who prepare or serve food, those handing out books etc or having other direct physical contact with numbers of people, as well as those administering the Eucharist (see below for more guidance). Provide hand gel at entrances and ensure there is a good supply of soap or hand gel in cloakrooms and kitchens and any other appropriate areas.

2. Continue to follow all public health guidance provided by NHS Scotland, in particular the need for good hand hygiene and washing hands upon arrival and departure from church, and take precautions when coughing or sneezing (see below), which are the main cause of infection. The latest public health advice on COVID-19 is available at https://www.nhsinform.scot/coronavirus

3. The best way of protecting us from the spread is for everyone to use universal good hygiene, – this means everyone, all the time, which will effectively disrupt the spread of the virus.

  • Catch it – sneeze into a tissue.
  • Bin it – bin the tissue.
  • Kill it – wash your hands.
  • Do not touch your face unless you’ve washed your hands.

4. Church members should stay at home and not attend church services if they feel unwell and display influenza symptoms such as a cough, breathing difficulty, and fever. Pastoral support to those who believe they could have the virus should not involve personal visits, and can instead be offered by telephone call until such time as a medical test clarifies the person’s condition.

5. There is no recommendation at this stage from either the Scottish Government or the Scottish Episcopal Church that church services or other church gatherings should be cancelled. The Scottish Government’s restriction on gatherings of more than 500 people does not apply to places of worship, because church services do not require the presence of emergency services.

6. The SEC recognises that in certain circumstances, a local decision may be taken to suspend services, such as in the Shetland Isles where all churches across all denominations are expected to be closed on Sunday 15 March.

7. It is recommended that there should be no physical contact on arrival at church or on departure until further notice.

8. Those handing out prayer books or hymn books should wash their hands before starting.

9. The Peace should not involve direct physical contact but be limited to a nod or a smile and a verbal “and also with you” while members remain in their pew or chair.

10. Presiding priests administering communion should wash their hands thoroughly before the service and use hand sanitiser when available during ablutions and before touching any wafers. Sanitiser should also be made available to servers and others assisting with the distribution of communion, to be used as discreetly as possible without interrupting the flow of worship.

11. Small altar linens should be fresh for each celebration of communion.

12. Church members should remain a respectful distance from the next person on their way to the communion rail, and at the rail, and where possible in pews or other seating.

13. The sharing of the Chalice is suspended until further notice, and communion should be offered in one kind i.e. taking the bread only, placed into the hand. Receiving communion in one kind only has always been recognised as full communion. Intinction is not recommended.

14. Direct physical contact as part a of a blessing or laying on of hands should be suspended, or the person administering laying on of hands should wash hands before and after laying hands on each person.

15. At baptisms, the priest should wash his/her hands before and after the baptismal act, and before and after making the sign of the cross on the candidate’s forehead. It is preferable for water to be poured on the head using a baptismal shell. If chrism/oil is used, this should be done with a spoon or similar. Baptisms by immersion should not take place.

16. The passing round of collection plates should be replaced with an alternative means of taking a collection and anyone handling money or a collection plate should wash hands before and after doing so.

17. The use of holy water stoups should be suspended. If you have water in such a stoup the best way to dispose of it is by emptying the water onto the soil or if you have a traditional piscina this should be used.

18. Young people’s groups such as Sunday School can continue to take place, provided young people wash their hands on arrival for group sessions and again on departure, hand sanitisers are available if at all possible, and tissues are made available, which should be disposed of in a sealed bag immediately after use, and then hands washed again. Please see ‘Guidance to Educational Settings Version 1.0’ published by Health Protection Scotland on 26 February 2020.

19. Pastoral visitors to homes and hospitals should observe all precautions in personal hygiene before and after such visits.

20. Catering (teas, coffees etc.) should be suspended where multiple people touch mugs, utensils and foodstuffs. If refreshments can be prepared with minimal hand contact, served by a small number of people, and placed on a table for collection rather than passed hand-to-hand, then catering could continue, and individually wrapped items (e.g. biscuits) should be offered. All crockery should be washed by dishwasher if one is available or washed thoroughly in hot water with detergent.

21. Vestments (surplices, cassocks) should be washed on the hottest cycle you can without damaging them. Chasubles etc. which could become contaminated, may not be able to be washed. Instead, they should be securely stored away from people, ideally in a well ventilated and brightly sunlit area, for at least 48 hours before re-use.

22. Ensure good regular cleaning of surfaces people touch regularly, including such things as door handles, light switches etc.

Please note that ‘Washing hands’ always refers to washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using a hand-sanitiser with minimum 60% alcohol content.

To avoid confusion within the SEC, it will be helpful if a consistent approach is adopted across the church, by following the above guidelines.

The advice given here does not represent a permanent change in practice and may be updated at any time during what is a fluid situation. The advice will also be reviewed on a weekly basis. Please check this website for updates, which will also be highlighted on social media.


Guidance for SEC board and committee members can be accessed here https://www.scotland.anglican.org/coronavirus-updates/advice-to-members-of-provincial-boards-committees-and-other-bodies/

Guidance to Educational Settings, provided by Health Care Scotland, can be accessed here https://hpspubsrepo.blob.core.windows.net/hps-website/nss/2969/documents/1_covid-19-guidance-to-educational-settings.pdf

Guidance for non-healthcare settings, provided by Health Care Scotland, can be accessed here https://www.hps.scot.nhs.uk/web-resources-container/covid-19-guidance-for-non-healthcare-settings/

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