To Ministers, Home Missionaries, Pastoral Leaders and Other Stakeholders

Dear all,

We have received a number of questions from ministers, home missionaries and other pastoral leaders in respect of the current Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order (No 2) 2020 (which is available here), with the following extracts:

Explanatory note: This Order makes changes – (b) to provide that, in general, persons may participate in gatherings of not more than 10 persons in public places (rather than 2 persons).

Part 2 – 6. Directions of Minister concerning gatherings of more than 10 persons

(1) The Minister directs that a person must not participate in a gathering in a public place of more than 10 persons.

(2) Subclause (1) does not apply to – (b) a gathering of persons for the purposes of work,

Part 3 Closure of certain premises – 7. Directions of Minister concerning closure of certain premises

(1) The Minister directs that the following must not be open to members of the public except as provided in this clause – (g) places of public worship, except for the following purposes— (i) conducting a wedding, funeral or memorial service or religious service at which no more than the number of persons permitted at the gathering for the service under clause 6(3) are on the premises, (ii) private worship at which there are no more than 10 persons,

In summary, we confirm the following based on the current NSW Health Order:

  1. Church services
  • Church services of up to 10 people are allowed (“being a gathering of up to 10 people”), which excludes the persons necessary for “the conduct of, or assisting in the conduct of, the service”.
  • That is, the minister and those working on the production of a livestream are excluded from the maximum of 10 worshippers.
  • However, church members reading from the bible or leading prayers during the service are to be treated as part of the worship service and included in the maximum of 10 worshippers. 
  • Although we love to hear hymns and songs being sung by a choir, we strongly recommend choirs not operate during this period – please wait for the restrictions to be fully lifted before your choir comes together in person.
  • Children are included in the maximum number of 10 people.
  • Vulnerable members should be discouraged from attending church services for the time being – it would be terrible if a minister has to conduct a funeral service for an elderly or vulnerable person who has contracted COVID-19 while attending the church.
  • We do not believe that the legislation provides for more than one area within the church property being used at the same time – i.e. the limit of 10 is for the whole church site at any one time.
  • As the responsibility for upholding COVID-19 restrictions rests with the Church, if a minister or pastoral leader is concerned that opening the church for worship services may lead to more than 10 people arriving to attend, we suggest you do not open the church until restrictions are further lifted.
  1. Meetings of Session and Committee of Management Session can be held on church premises as we believe they satisfy the requirement that they are held “for the purposes of work”, that is, for the work of church administration.

We believe that, as they would be for the purpose of work, more than 10 elders and COM members can meet together, subject to:

  • such meetings not being “reasonably practicable” to be held by video-conferencing.
  • such meetings being restricted to only the minister(s), pastoral leaders, elders and members of the committee of management.
  • at all times ensuring the maximum number of people in the meeting room complies with the 4sqm rule.
  • members comply with 1.5m social distancing.
  • the meeting room is cleaned after the meeting.
  1. We believe Bible studies and Prayer times are “private worship” and are allowable subject to no more than 10 people participating and the church premises being cleaned after each study or prayer time.  Such times of bible study and private worship would also be subject to the 4sqm rule and social distancing.
  1. As Youth groups and Children’s ministries usually involve activities and games and are not primarily for Bible study and prayer, we do not believe that these are allowable on church premises at the present time.
  1. Meetings of a Congregation involving no more than 10 are allowed (“being a gathering of up to 10 people”), but subject to:
  • such meetings not being “reasonably practicable” to be held by video-conferencing.
  • at all times ensuring the maximum number of people in the meeting room complies with the 4sqm rule.
  • members comply with 1.5m social distancing.
  • the meeting room is cleaned after the meeting.
  1. Meetings of a Congregation with more than 10 people would not be regarded as meetings for the purposes of work, therefore, are not allowed and would need to continue to be held by video-conferencing.

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