As you will be aware, the Prime Minister and Premier, in line with health advice, from midday today, has announced that religious gatherings and places of worship will temporarily be closed.
The only exception is small weddings and funerals where there can only be “very small groups and where the 1 person per 4 square metre rule applies”.
These restrictions mean it will not be possible to have small groups meeting on church premises. This does not preclude staff using church offices as their workplace with appropriate social distancing, though we encourage people working from home where possible.
We’ve also been advised by the NSW government that the ban does not prevent a small number of people working on the production of a live stream or pre-recorded church service.
As well as complying with government directives, we consider that churches should do all they can to encourage people to remain at home and limit the range of people with whom they have contact. Remaining physically isolated as much as possible and moving in very limited social circles will be the best way in which Australians will be able to help limit the spread of the virus.
To that end, we advise the following measures:
- churches not organise gatherings in homes or small groups for watching live streamed worship
- churches not organise any gatherings for youth, community or prayer groups
- leaders’ meetings should be held by phone or video conference wherever possible
- ministers, elders and those involved in pastoral care should only make physical visits when that is unavoidable or seems necessary to sustain a person’s spiritual, mental or emotional health
This situation is evolving rapidly and may even change before the end of this week.
We would like to share with you the words from GracePoint Presbyterian Church to their congregation this morning: “Remember that we are not a people without hope or without God, and we are certainly not a people without a community!”
Like GracePoint, we encourage all ministers together with their elders to use alternative ways to keep caring for each other, staying connected, and meeting around God’s word and prayer.
We are currently forming a COVID Steering Committee, led by the Moderator and supported by Ministry & Mission, the Trustees and the General Office to help you prepare. This will be explained more fully in the next few days as we settle the most urgent priorities.
We will also be gathering information from all congregations about the impact of these bans on the financial health of the congregation. To that end, we will ask you to take the time to provide open feedback and information to a survey that we plan to send to all ministers by the end of this week. It will be used to complement information that we have from Form F Returns so that we can assess the best ways that we can assist congregations to get through this period.
Use or church premises
We have received several emails this morning asking: “Can external groups that usually use our facilities continue to meet in our premises?”
While Licensees should be managing their own risks and compliance with COVID-19 directives from government, our insurers have guided us to be prudent on these matters and recommend that we close our doors to Licensees. We suggest that external parties using church property should be asked to temporarily cease their group activities and move to alternative means of meeting unless their activities are subject to government directions, such as early learning centres and pre-schools.
Jeof Falls and Peter Merrick are receiving many emails of enquiry, which they encourage and will be responding to as quickly as they can.
Please do not hesitate to contact them with any question, no matter how small you may feel it to be.
Grace and peace,
Rev Richard Keith, NSW Moderator
Jeoffrey R Falls, General Manager, Chief Executive Officer