Reopening Scottish Churches: A Phased Approach

The careful process of reopening churches in Scotland.

Reopening Scottish Churches: A Phased Approach

In practicality closing churches was a straightforward process. However, reopening is far more complex. We are now at a stage where the next steps towards this, eventuality need very careful consideration, and this is what we would like to address on this page. This letter from the Scottish Mission President, Pastor Paul Tompkins to all the members of the church.

Crieff, ScotlandPr. Paul Tompkins

Dear Scottish Mission Members

Grace and peace to you all and I trust you are safe and well. May I once more give a huge thanks to our pastoral teams of ministers, elders and company leaders for the excellent online provision of services and membership care during these last four months. We have lived through an unprecedented and very difficult time.

As we all know, at the end of March, we had to close all churches throughout the BUC, in order to protect the membership and to help save lives. Painful as this was, it was the right thing to do and since then we have been continuing successfully as a church without walls.

In practicality closing churches was a straightforward process. However, reopening is far more complex. We are now at a stage where the next steps towards this eventuality need very careful consideration, and this is what I would like to address in this letter.

Towards this end, you may be aware that I recently put out a video statement that was included in the last Scottish Mission newsletter, urging that we exercise patience and caution as we work together towards this aim. I also shared that there would be a Scottish Mission Executive Committee on Sunday 19th July, which would address the issue of reopening churches. The Committee has now met and, therefore, I can share the following detail and more general information:

Reopening Churches Phased Approach

The Executive Committee carefully and prayerfully looked at all aspects of the current situation and discussed:

  1. a)  The BUC Guidelines on Reopening Churches and a Statement from the Field leaders.

  2. b)  A Risk Assessment Form (which can be downloaded at the bottom of this page) for the Scottish Mission was presented and voted.

  3. c)  The current Scottish Government Phase 3 recommendations and requirements were reviewed with the committee.

  4. d)  The committee looked very carefully at what all this would mean as far as the reopening process could be for our churches.

In so doing the Executive Committee recognized that prudence and preparation were needed in looking at a phased return. Church Boards have also been meeting to address these issues locally and are very aware that we should not rush back unprepared. It has also become clear that under the current social distancing requirements (2 metres) even our largest churches would struggle to get more than twenty members in the Sanctuary, smaller churches less, and Sabbath School classes would be next to impossible.

The Executive Committee also recognized that we have an ongoing duty of care to the vulnerable in our church family and surrounding community, including those that are still in the shielding category, the young and the elderly. It was also understood that as and when we return there are many risks that must be mitigated against, which will mean the church of 2020 will not look the same as the church of 2019.

The two starting points are the BUC Guidelines and the Scottish Government requirements. The BUC Guidelines, which are available on the website set out a two- staged approach and state that:

“No congregation should meet except they meet all of the following criteria -

  1. 1)  They follow the requirements of their country/territory for holding public services.

  2. 2)  Each church board conduct and submit a risk assessment to their local executive committee.”

As we are aware, according to the Scottish Government route map, in Phase 3 a partial reopening of churches is now possible, but with prescribed restrictions. These currently include, in addition to the 2 metre distancing, a singing restriction (effectively no singing), a careful registration needed for track and trace, no use of common hymnbooks or Bibles plus strict hygiene requirements. As a result, the Scottish Government cautions that there is not an instruction to reopen churches (under Phase 3) but rather this should only be done when reopening can happen safely.

It is also noted that further restrictions will be lifted as the country goes through Phase 3 and into Phase 4.

After considering thoroughly the above, and all the available information, the Scottish Mission Executive Committee has voted the following phased approach to reopening churches:


  1. to record the distribution, discussion and approval of the Coronavirus Church Risk Assessment Document, for churches to complete before reopening.

  2. to use the following process and timeline, by churches in the SM towards reopening:

    1. a)  Step 1: Churches to continue providing online services, while they begin to complete their Risk Assessments for step 2 or 3.

    2. b)  Step 2: Churches to complete risk assessments for the intention to broadcast. SM broadcasting guidelines need to be followed.

    3. c)  Step 3: The Executive Committee to meet as soon as possible after the Scottish Government announces Phase 4, to decide on a “not before” reopening date of churches for the purpose of broadcast and physical corporate worship.

In Summary

We are currently at Step 1 - continuing with online services and with all churches actively working on their Risk Assessment forms with their pastoral teams and through their church boards. This will take as much time as needed to make sure that the church is thoroughly prepared, and this is not a short or rushed process. It should be noted that churches that rent properties must be in contact with their landlords and work with them addressing their Risk Assessment requirements as well.

We are working towards Step 2 - where broadcasts from churches are allowed involving only the persons who will be part of the service to be streamed or broadcast. (No congregation)

This step can only begin upon completion and sign-off of the Risk Assessment form. There is no fixed date for this and is flexible depending upon what is appropriate for each church. The Risk Assessment will be endorsed by each church board and sent on for acceptance by the Scottish Mission, in accordance with the BUC guidelines.

We await Step 3 until we have further information from the next Scottish Government review leading up to Phase 4 of the release of lockdown restrictions. Review dates have been currently happening every three weeks, but the latest information released on 23 July indicates that it may take a little longer for relaxation of some of the current restrictions that will help provide both ongoing clarity and safety as we reconvene corporate worship.

The Executive Committee will meet again as quickly as possible after more substantive information is given leading up to Phase 4 and we will update the churches accordingly. Prudence remains necessary as we are aware that the virus is still with us, as evidenced by a marked cluster recently reported in the Lanarkshire area.

Thank you for your understanding and patience as we work together on this matter. We all want to start back when it is safe to do so and please continue to pray for God’s guidance and His wisdom as we take these steps. As we all appreciate, it is not an easy matter and we want to take good and wise decisions for the safety of all our congregations throughout Scotland.

God Bless

Pastor Paul Tompkins

Scottish Mission President

The recent video, recorded a few days before the Executive Committee Meeting, can be seen HERE.


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