Level 4 status: consequences for places of worship

November 17, 2020

Today’s announcement that 11 local authority areas are to move up to level 4 in the Scottish Government’s Strategic Framework to contain Covid-19 has implications for places of worship.

The areas moving into level 4 are: the City of Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, Stirling and West Lothian. These changes, which take the above areas into the highest level of Government’s 0 to 4 grading of required restrictions, come into effect from Friday this week until 11 December.

In most areas, the current maximum number of people permitted to attend a service of public worship is 50. However in a level 4 area, that is reduced to just 20 – so today’s announcement will affect church services in the areas concerned from this coming weekend.

Also, whilst the normal rule is that people in a level 3 or level 4 area should not travel out of their own local authority area, or into a local authority area in level 3 or 4, there are exceptions so that a Minister of Religion or worship leader may cross boundaries to travel to their place of worship. For others wishing to attend worship, it is permissible to travel to their normal place of worship to or from a level 3 area but not level 4. Consequently, for example, someone living in a level 3 area may not travel to their normal place of worship if it is in a level 4 area and vice versa (unless they are a Minister of Religion or worship leader).

There are also more limited restrictions applicable to weddings taking place in a level 4 area, with the maximum number of attendees reduced to just 15 (the celebrant is not included in that number, but the couple, witnesses and guests are within the figure of 15) and wedding receptions are not permitted.

There is no restriction on travel to and from a marriage ceremony, regardless of location, but Scottish Government guidance indicates that when considering travelling from an area in levels 1 to 4 to a level 0 area, invited guests should consider whether their journey is essential. The Government guidance states that “some people are essential to the ceremony: the couple, the two witnesses, the celebrant and any required interpreter. Others may also play a key role, such as people required for religious or belief reasons. However, other guests may not be essential.”

Meanwhile, East Lothian and Midlothian are reduced from level 3 to level 2 from Tuesday next week (24 November).