A DUNFERMLINE minister believes that new Scottish Government guidelines affecting how many people can attend places of worship are “unfair”.

Rev Mike Weaver from Gillespie Memorial Church said there are contradictions regarding social distancing between religious buildings and other social places that appear to be discriminatory.

He said: "Latest guidance says no more than 50 people should go to church regardless of the size of premises, so even if social distancing is over two metres the limit remains at 50, regardless.

“Yet there is no such limit for cinemas, libraries, universities, restaurants, museums or even pubs.

“The requirement is that they only abide by social distancing rules.

“Where is the evidence that places of worship are somehow more infectious or that religious believers are more irresponsible?”

Numbers inside places of worships have been capped at 50 as part of phase three of the Scottish Government route map out of lockdown.

But the church's leadership feel that restrictions such as face coverings, social distancing and no signing are so alien that they’ve decided to continue their online services and activities until lockdown is eased further.

Rev Weaver said the move into phase three was "good news" but added: “For churches and religious believers, there is unfairness in the guidelines."

He said if gatherings or more than 50 people are a risk, then rules should apply to all spaces, regardless of social distancing and size of premises.

“Surely the answer is to comply with social distancing, undertake a thorough risk assessment and it is this that will then determine the number who can safely go to a place of worship,” he added.

“The majority of our congregation have told us that they wouldn’t enter the building unless there was meaningful worship.

“So, we will continue with our online service because it really still feels like worship and we want to continue with these activities even after lockdown.

“It does feel though that there is a big push to get the economy going but there is really no mention of supporting mental health and it would be nice to see some recognition of spiritual wellbeing from our politicians.”

At Dunfermline Central Mosque & Islamic Centre, worshippers need to obtain a ticket if they wish to attend Friday prayers that are capped at 50.

Spokesperson Sid Akbar said: “People have had to get used to doing things a very different way. I thought some may struggle but it seems that there is an understanding.

“We normally have around 250 people on a Friday so around 200 are missing out but it seems quite well co-ordinated and different family members take turns each week. It’s not an ideal world but even after this I think we will carry on with some of the things we have needed to do now like online sermons.”

A Church of Scotland spokesperson said: “Our priority is to ensure that people feel safe to return to church which for many is a place of refuge and hope. We must ensure that physical distancing and hygiene procedures can be followed at all times.

“There are differences between the hospitality industry and churches not least the resources available to adequately and regularly clean premises to reduce the risks from COVID-19 and the transmission of infection.

“For now we believe this is a sensible and precautionary measure as we gently ease our way back into worshipping together communally.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We understand the important role of congregational worship in supporting spiritual wellbeing and do not want these restrictions to last any longer than is necessary. But we must ensure that people who enter places of worship to undertake congregational activities will be safe.

“Our guidance on safe capacities for places of worship reflects the evolving scientific and health advice and has been developed through engagement with Scotland’s faith communities.

"We will continue to work closely with those communities as we move towards fully reopening places of worship as soon as it is considered safe to do so.”