CHURCH services in Inverclyde have been suspended with immediate effect to help combat coronavirus - and funeral masses are now subject to restrictions.

Lyle Kirk led the way by cancelling its service last Sunday and now all other Church of Scotland and Catholic places of worship are following suit.

The Catholic church also says local funeral masses can now only be attended by close relatives.

A leading local minister says suspending services indefinitely is unprecedented, but the right decision to protect older people.

Alan Sorensen, of Wellpark Mid Kirk, said: "This is the right decision to make.

"As far as I know this is the first time it has ever happened.

"I don't think church services stopped even in 1918 during the flu epidemic.

"But most of our members are over 70 and we have to look after them.

"They are vulnerable and many have underlying health conditions."

Other activities in churches have also been brought to a halt.

Wellpark Mid Kirk have cancelled their Kirk Cafe, which opens twice a week on Thursdays and Fridays to serve the town centre community.

Meanwhile Scotland’s Catholic bishops announced yesterday that no public masses will be celebrated in Scotland with immediate effect.

In a statement the bishops said priests would continue to celebrate Holy Mass in private, praying for those suffering from Covid-19 and those who care for them.

Churches will also remain open for personal prayer and parish priests are asked to be available for the reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Communion as and when they are needed, especially for the sick and housebound.

For the celebration of baptisms, funeral masses and weddings the bishops ask that only close family are invited.

The statement added: "The bishops advise that Holy Week liturgies may be curtailed, but ask Catholics to remain together in spirit and in prayer and to join in a National Day of Prayer this Sunday 22nd March, Mothering Sunday, to pray the Rosary for our country and our world in this time of need."

Wellpark Mid Kirk minister Mr Sorensen says he is now looking at putting prayers and readings on a podcast this Sunday.

He added: "We are using social media in a much more active way."

Reverend Sorensen admits that recent events could be a fundamental turning point for the church.

He added: "I think this is a wake up call.

"We have to think about what the church will look like in a few years time.

"As I said, most of our members are over 70 and what will happen in the future when they are no longer here?

"We will have to think about what church is.

"We will have to actively come up with new radical ideas about church and what it should be.

"This could be a time of renewal."