COVID-19 Update #12

Dear all,

Easing of restrictions in NSW from Friday 15 May

You will have read that NSW churches will be able to open from Friday for restricted purposes:

  • religious gatherings/places of worship up to 10 worshippers
  • indoor funerals up to 20 mourners, outdoor funerals up to 30
  • weddings up to 10 guests
  • up to 5 visitors to a household at any one time
  • outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people

This means that you will be able to conduct baptisms and bible studies on church premises subject to complying with the 4m2 rule and demonstrating social distancing.

We believe that the maximum of 10 people will include the Minister and any pastoral assistants.  However, in saying this, we note that the ACT government eased restrictions last Friday and that the ACT government has clarified that the 10 people do not include those providing the service.  So, for those in NSW, we will clarify this and provide a further Update on or before Friday.

We are checking on the restrictions that will apply to bible studies undertaken in a member’s private home but believe bible studies will be restricted by the rule of “up to 5 visitors to a household”.  We are seeking further information on this and will include this in our next Update.

To keep up to date in NSW, please refer to https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/what-you-can-and-cant-do-under-rules.

Hygiene and Cleaning

The NSW government requires continued practicing of physical distancing and good handwashing hygiene.  If church members or guests present even the mildest symptoms, they unfortunately need to be asked not to attend.

Safe Work Australia provides a very handy Checklist for Physical Distancing, Handwashing and Cleaning at https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces/industry-information/general-industry-information.

While it does not list places of worship, the guidelines are equally applicable across industries.

In particular, please:

  • Have hand sanitizer available at the entry to the Church and around the church space.
  • Ensure bathrooms are well stocked with hand wash and paper towels.
  • Put up posters with instructions on how to handwash.  Examples are available on the Work Safe Australia website.
  • A combination of cleaning and disinfection is recommended. Cleaning with detergent and water is sufficient.  Once clean, surfaces can be disinfected.
  • It is highly recommended that church spaces are cleaned before and immediately after the church space is used.

Please download detailed information on cleaning from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/how-clean-and-disinfect-your-workplace-covid-19

Government financial stimulus – update, instructions, and request for information

The General Office has received interim correspondence from the ATO and the following has now been confirmed:

  1. Cashflow Boost for Employers

Unfortunately, the Church has been unsuccessful in its submission to the ATO in respect of Congregations utilising the General Office payroll service.   The submission sought approval for each Congregation on the central payroll to report their own payroll data and, by doing so, to allow them to individually participate in the stimulus.  

The General Office is making further enquiries, but the ATO is expected to apply this treatment consistently to other state-based churches that operate a centralised payroll service.

The Cashflow Boost, being a refund of PAYG withholding, will therefore only be available to the General Office, and is expected to be paid at a capped amount of $100,000.  This benefit will be shared equally with each Congregation on the central payroll through a reduction in the May 2020 month-end salary recharge.

We now ask all Congregations that have not already done so to please proceed to lodge their 31 March 2020 Business Activity Statement (BAS).  We thank you for your patience as we have sought to obtain this benefit for all congregations.

  • JobKeeper Payment

We are very pleased to confirm that all PCNSW Congregations are eligible for the JobKeeper subsidy in relation to their Minister (Religious Practitioner), where they have or expect to incur a decline in turnover of more than 15% based on the comparable month or quarter last year, and where their Minister:

  1. is not employed under a common-law contract but under Terms of Call;
  2. receives a payment, non-cash benefit (NCB) or other type of fringe benefit as provided by the Congregation; and
  3. has completed a Religious Practitioner nomination form.

For Congregations utilising the central payroll service, we are continuing to work with the ATO to determine the eligibility of common-law employees, including home missionaries (contractually, employees of Ministry and Mission) and pastoral assistants.  

In terms of accessing JobKeeper payments for Religious Practitioners, Church Offices is pleased to offer to facilitate this on behalf of Congregations using central payroll at no cost to the Congregation. 

The General Office has arranged for an independent tax-agent to undertake the enrolment and processing of all applications.  The General Manager, Jeof Falls, and CFO, Jordan Perry, will shortly be emailing instructions on this service to impacted Treasurers and Ministers.

Congregations processing their own payroll are also encouraged to enrol for the JobKeeper program for both their Religious Practitioners and employees where eligible to do so.  Please reach out to Jordan Perry if you have any questions in this regard.

The General Office will also soon request information from each Congregation on their income for April 2020/2019.  Your timely feedback upon receipt of this request would be very much appreciated.

Key websites and resources

  • Frequently Asked Questions, including copies of all previous Updates, can be found on: https://pcnsw.org.au/covid19/
  • Pulse eMag: https://pcnsw.org.au/the-pulse/.  The May edition of the Pulse is out today.  Please forward this link to all members in your congregation and invite them to catch up on all that is happening across our Church.  We have received highly appreciative feedback from many congregational members for us continuing to produce the Pulse in the eMag format.
  • The PCNSW/ACT Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/presbyterianchurchnsw/ captures posts from across various Presbyterian committee and congregation Facebook pages – check it out and please share it with family and friends.
  • Ministry & Mission: https://mmpcnsw.org.au/covid19/ has a growing number of resources for healthy ministry and is available to receive requests for financial assistance.
  • A range of Jericho Road COVID-19 resourcescan be found on: https://jerichoroad.org.au/
  • Gospel, Society and Culture Committee (GS&C) website for all relevant COVID-19 matters: http://gsandc.org.au/blog/.
  • Presbyterian Youth (PY) for a range of children’s and youth ministry resources: https://pynsw.org.au/resources/
  • Youth leaders are also encouraged to join PY’s Facebook group as a great way to share ideas and to be encouraged at this time: https://www.facebook.com/groups/pynswyouthleaders/.

Grace and peace,
Rev Richard Keith, NSW Moderator
Jeoffrey R Falls, General Manager, Chief Executive Officer