Current government restrictions on worship services

Dear all,

My email last Friday night has led to further questions on singing, which we seek to address below.

By way of background, the NSW Moderator convenes a COVID-19 Steering Committee, which regularly reviews changes in Public Health Orders and announcements by the Prime Minister, the NSW Premier and NSW Health.  While Peter Merrick and I are pleased to field questions on the latest announcements, please do not hesitate to contact the Moderator, Andrew Campbell, on <revandrewcampbell@gmail.com>; the Moderator-General for the Presbyterian Church of Australia, who is also the Minister at Revesby, Peter Barnes, on <peter.barnes828@gmail.com>; or the Superintendent of Ministry & Mission, Matt Oates, on <moates@pcnsw.org.au>, to raise any questions or concerns that you may have with any information or requests contained in the Updates or associated emails.

The Moderator’s Committee met this morning to consider the extent to which we as a church should respond to current ‘recommendations’ from NSW Health as distinct from mandated legislation in the latest Public Health Order.  As a result of the rapidly escalating crisis in Victoria there is presently a time delay between NSW Government and NSW Health recommendations, and the issuing of the Public Health Order.  This is causing ambiguity and consternation.

While the PHO through the COVID-19 Safety Plan for Places of Worship continues to use the words ‘avoid singing’, it is becoming evident that singing is a main way of transmitting the virus over relatively long distances.  This has led NSW Health to ask all faith leaders in NSW to reinforce to their people the importance of not singing, particularly in public worship services.  They have agreed that a solo singer at the front of the congregation will be accepted if that person is at least 3 metres from the nearest person listening.  At the present time this does not extend to singing as part of livestreaming or recording the service in a church building that has not been opened to the public, subject to the singers standing at least 3 metres apart as outlined in the Safety Plan.  If this changes, we will send a further Update.  This is also true about the use of face masks, which is not mandated nor contained in the Safety Plan, but which may change in coming weeks.

It also does not extend to singing in a private residence, as it is the householder and not the church who is responsible for the health and safety of their visitors.  However, NSW Health encourages every householder to be keenly aware of the risk of transmission of the virus through singing in a group.

There have been some people of faith who have seen the request not to sing as an example of state control. It is, however, applicable to all groups which meet inside a building, and should be seen as a health issue, with the aim of caring for all.  The Moderator and I can affirm that the Premier’s and NSW Health’s recommendations do not seek to be “controlling”, but to be “caring”.

A wonderful aspect of the Westminster Confession of Faith is that civil magistrates are recognised to be under the authority of God “for the public good”, which certainly includes threats to the health and welfare of their people and the protection of their nation.  The Confession expressly asserts that it is our duty “to pray for magistrates, to honour their persons, … to obey their lawful commands … for conscience’ sake.”

I encourage Ministers, Home Missionaries and Elders to contact Andrew, Peter, Matt or me if you have any concerns about the government’s or our requests of this nature during this period of coronavirus.

We deeply appreciate the way that churches have adapted to these constantly changing conditions, and encourage you to share these messages and to engage in shared discussion with those most affected by the constraints placed upon them and their loved ones.

Kind regards,
Jeoffrey R Falls, General Manager, Chief Executive Officer