Alongside this, parishioners with serious underlying health conditions will receive instructions explicitly urging them not to attend. For those on the receiving end, it could feel almost as distressing as the shocking DNR letters sent by GPs early in the pandemic, which caused untold anxiety and grief.

The crassness of such advice beggars belief. Surely this age group can assess the risks for itself? If pews were packed as full as the Cheltenham races it might just about be defensible. Few services, however, attract high numbers. Most congregations could have upheld social distancing throughout the pandemic with no fear of catching anything worse than a cold from the draught whistling among them.

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More importantly, the vast majority of the Kirk’s most devoted and loyal followers are over 70. Some will be dedicated, life-long attenders; others will have reached retirement before making time to think about faith, and the search for the meaning of life.

I have countless friends in their seventies and eighties who are fitter and sharper than many younger folk. It seems invidious to talk of them as a universally frail category; perhaps they are better described as having reached a point when there is much less road ahead than in the rear view mirror. Yet, regardless of physical condition, by this stage spiritual sustenance and solace become more pressing and meaningful. Equally comforting is the companionship and consolation of a like-minded community.

Brought up as I was in a devout Church of Scotland family, I saw the importance for older members of the routine, ritual and contact weekly services offered. Remembering some of our church-going friends, people of inspiring kindness and integrity, it is deeply upsetting to think that it is individuals like them, to whom the church owes its very existence, who are being sidelined and devalued. The idea of banishing the elderly, of consigning them to a Zoom link or a virtual coffee morning until the virus has fled, is cruel. There’s no other word for it. Those for whom technology is intimidating, confusing, or a second-rate stop-gap, will be left stranded.

To withdraw all prospect of real human contact is particularly egregious at a time like this. For months, the 70-plus have been living in near isolation and confinement, bombarded with terrifying news and statistics, and unable to see family or friends. Imprisoned as they have been at home, for them the church represents a calm, still centre during the storm. Many will have been longing to get back into their place of worship, but will now be worried they are not entirely welcome. It doesn’t get much more hurtful than that.

As well as being harsh, the Kirk’s attitude is also short-sighted. Dwindling as its resources are, it relies heavily on bequests. For some parishioners, as they approach old age it is important to know they will continue to contribute to the Church of Scotland’s work, long after they have gone. Their legacies are priceless, not to say essential, but they should not be taken for granted. Codicils and rewrites take minutes.

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Regardless of the financial contribution older members have already made, to treat them so negligently is heartless. Of course nobody should fall ill because of attending a Sunday service, but if safety procedures are followed, it will be no more dangerous – arguably less so – than any other venture or visit.

In showing such caution and cowardice, the Kirk has forgotten the principles on which it was founded: it is a Christian duty to tend the sick, befriend the lonely, and to nurture every believer’s spirit. This latest salvo smacks more of health and safety or fear of litigation than life-giving care and compassion. The Kirk has never been more necessary for all its members, but if ever there was a statement of its redundancy, this letter is it.

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