Discerning a way forward – Questions for Church Councils, Ministers and Lay Leaders

Church Councils or other local governance bodies need to work carefully and systematically through this list of questions, and develop a COVID-19 Safe Plan for the church property or properties under their oversight.

Things to consider before reopening for worship

Do we have a compelling reason to return to physical gathering, instead of what we are doing now?

  • What we should understand is that an easing of restrictions should not be interpreted as a recommendation to gather for physical worship
  • Consider how online ministry might continue if people are also gathering in the building
  • Consider the unintended impact on returning to the most vulnerable in our community
  • How will we continue to minister to the most vulnerable in our community, noting that returning to physical gathering or volunteering is and will likely remain high risk for the foreseeable future?

Do we have a sense as to how people (volunteers, parents, children, vulnerable) in our church feel about participating and gathering together in the near future?

What needs to change for us to re-open right now?

  • Can we develop, implement and maintain a COVID-19 safe plan?
  • Consider improving welcoming processes, especially for those who might have only engaged with us online
  • By what means will maximum numbers of people be maintained, e.g. do we need some form of ticketing/booking system?

In the light of all the above considerations, what do we believe is the wise thing for us to do?

As gathering restrictions are progressively eased

  1. What are some of the good things we have discovered that we would like to continue?
  2. Are there some things we have stopped doing that we don’t need to start again?
  3. What new opportunities do we have to engage with and serve our community?
  4. How will we continue to communicate each new step to people and those around us?

How will we continue to minister to/involve the most vulnerable in our community, noting that returning to physical gathering and/or volunteering is and will likely remain high risk, for the foreseeable future?

 

FAQs

Synod has taken a conservative and cautious position in the interests of those who are potentially the most vulnerable in our communities and so as not to create unnecessary pressure on members, volunteers, Ministers or Church Councils to re-gather until such time as it can be done safely. The Synod holds the view that whilst the Government may have eased and continue to ease restrictions for gathering, this is not and should not be interpreted as a recommendation to do so, without careful planning and consideration of the risks.

The government continues to advise that, vulnerable people should limit physical gathering, see website for more information. As a minimum Church Councils should not approve opening for worship unless they are able to prepare and implement a Covidsafe plan. Those who are vulnerable and high risk in our communities should be made aware of the risks of physical gathering, at this time, and the controls that have been put in place so that they can make informed (individual) decisions.

Singing has been identified as a high-risk activity – almost as effective as coughing and sneezing at transmitting disease – so we cannot sing together at the moment.

  • Read the article from ABC News about why singing in Church spreads COVID-19 here.

Physical contact/greeting/passing of the peace should be actively discouraged. Non-physical forms of greeting should be practiced. Physical touch, such as hugging and hand-shaking places people at risk.

Yes they can as long as long as the congregation is present and Church Council has approved it.

The usual restrictions apply and a plan for how baptisms will be conducted should be completed. The 4 sq mtr rule applies and people must still practice the1.5 mtr physical distance rule. It is not possible to baptize someone and remain 1.5 mtr away, so a plan should be thought through to minimize risk. Hand sanitizer should be present and perhaps an infant may be left in the arms of a parent throughout the actual baptism.

If this feels overwhelming or unmanageable, please ask the family to wait until restrictions ease further.

The Uniting Church does not privately baptise unless there is an emergency such as a critically ill newborn in hospital [Reg 1.2.1 (a)]. All baptisms are celebrated in the presence of the congregation [Reg 1.2.1 (c)].  Regardless of COVID restrictions, no baptism should ever be conducted in a  private home unless the congregation members were able to be present and the Church Council in full agreement.

In the order of service for baptism, the whole congregation is asked:

Leader: Friends in Christ, will you promise to maintain a life of worship and teaching, witness and service so that he/she/they may grow to maturity in Christ?

Response: With God’s help, we will live out our baptism as a loving community in Christ:

nurturing one another in faith, upholding one another in prayer,

and encouraging one another in service, until Christ comes.

If it is decided to offer a morning tea, it is strongly recommended that no homemade food items be contributed to what is available. Only commercially-made, individually packaged items should be available. Please remember this won't be forever.

Volunteers working in the kitchen to serve tea and coffee must adhere scrupulously to the food handling protocols and ensure good hygiene. In the short term, you should strongly consider not serving a cuppa after worship.

Volunteers who are vulnerable or high risk should not undertake cleaning. Specialist contract cleaning should be considered where ever possible. If a cleaning process is difficult or impossible, this is a good reason to continue online gatherings.

Careful communication with the congregation is essential.  If you normally conduct two services, or add an extra service, ensure you plan for cleaning between services. Of course, not being able to be all together might be a reason to continue gathering on-line. Please refer to the Associate Secretary's open letter regarding fines and penalties for breaches of COVID-19 restrictions.

Activities for children need to be set up to be COVID safe. It is recommended that children participate in normal worship although Sunday School can operate subject to maintaining Safe Church/Covid requirements, incl. avoiding sharing of toys, pencils, materials etc. Please note children are counted toward the maximum amount of people permitted in a place at any one time.

Each congregation will make their own decision on this issue. People unable to attend as a result of illness, or who have newly connected with your church on-line, will value the continuation of online offerings

You need to measure the variety of spaces where people will be gathered for an event. This will include areas like kitchens, bathrooms and foyers. If you have areas that people don't use or gather in during an event, you should exclude it from the calculation. 

Advice on physical distancing and calculation of space.

We will not be able to return to “normal” for some time, if ever. Worship will always be different from “what it used to be”. Church, after all, is more than worship. Church includes faith formation, discipleship, fellowship, bible study and prayer, and all manner of missional outreach to those around us. We are still “church”, even though gathered worship will look and feel different.

High risk and vulnerable people should be actively discouraged from physically gathering – including for worship - and should not be engaged in volunteering activities (requiring physical contact), for the foreseeable future. This is to protect their health and wellbeing. 

You should cease all gatherings immediately and review your plan. Immediately notify covid19@nswact.uca.org.au.

We realise that despite the best of intentions, plans can sometimes go askew. The Property Trust will continue to indemnify Church Councils who act in good faith, exercising both care and due diligence in the completion of the required COVID-19 Safe Plan. This is one of the main reasons Synod has requested a copy.

Should a congregation refuse to complete a COVID-19 Safe Plan, any resulting fines, penalties or subsequent legal action will be the sole responsibility of the local Church Council/Congregation and will not be met by Synod or Presbytery  under Regulation 4.11.2. (a)(b).

The Government has said a risk management plan for any gathering is essential. Failure to comply brings heavy penalties. For example in NSW, the initial fine is $11,000.00 and/or six months imprisonment, with possible further fines of $5,500.00 for each day the offence continues. The NSW Police may also issue on-the-spot fines of $1,000.00 for any infringement. In the ACT people can be fined $8,000 individually, or for a body corporate it is $40,500 for failure to comply with the Health Order. Any fines or legal costs will be the responsibility of the local Church Council/Congregation and will not be paid by Synod or Presbytery, so we urge you to be thorough.

At this stage, it is preferable that Congregations take time to consider their own circumstances and use the tools provided to develop their own plans. Please contact your Presbytery if you require further assistance.

Yes, every activity needs a plan. In the absence of a specific activity plan (as per the links provided) the generic gathering template should be used. It is recommended that the specific templates provided are used. These address the relevant Government criteria and enable consistency.

Yes.

The Government has outlined specific restrictions pertaining different activities, Church Councils and leaders should review the Synod website and links to regulated restrictions for each activity. You should not proceed with an activity unless you are aware of the restrictions and have a plan for doing so in accordance with the specified requirements.

Yes, subject to a plan for doing so safely, in accordance with hygiene, and maintenance of contact lists.

Yes.

In this case the worship planning template is the most appropriate. The Church Council should be satisfied that such plans are appropriate and be aware of this and other activities that are occurring in the building. The master planning template might be a helpful resource in this regard.

Basic Preparation

For returning to worship gatherings/small groups on Church Property

Gathering and Physical Distancing

How will we maintain / monitor gathering and physical distancing requirements?

  1. Calculate the area of the room and divide by four (4) to determine the maximum number of people permitted to gather in the space – also noting the maximum stage gathering restrictions above. You will find these resources from Safe Work Australia helpful:
  1. Arrange seats/stands to reinforce gathering restrictions and maintain 1.5m distancing between people, (if possible, remove excess seating).
  2. Print and position signs/posters prominently to indicate maximum number allowed in each room and/or where to sit/stand.
  3. Establish one point for entering and a different point for exiting (if possible).
  4. Appoint and train people to welcome regulars and newcomers as they gather, and to monitor important limitations and encourage new behavioural expectations.
  5. Draft communication to members about what they can expect when gathering is possible.
  6. Draft the liturgy you will use for your first worship gathering, including your plan for children and limits on singing, physical contact and hygiene requirements.
Contact & Infection Management

How will we maintain records / respond to infection?

  1. Establish a process to record the contact details for every gathering.
  2. Establish a process for responding to the possibility of a Covid-19 infection being reported.
  3. You will find the following resources helpful:
Personal Hygiene

How will we encourage good personal hygiene?

  1. Instruct people to stay home if unwell.
  2. Make supplies of hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes accessible at entry points and on benches.
  3. Display good hygiene behaviour posters, particularly in toilets.
  4. Plan for and communicate non-contact communion, or decide not to.
  5. Plan for and communicate non-contact giving / passing of the peace or decide not to.
  6. Plan to eliminate use of shared items such as hymn books, offering plates, printed liturgy or activity sheets, toys and other shared materials.
  7. Maintain good cross ventilation (open doors and windows).
  8. You will find the following resources helpful:
General Cleaning

How will we maintain our physical settings, buildings?

  1. Keep entrances open to minimise contact with doors and door handles.
  2. Make a list of what needs to be cleaned before, during and after a worship service and consider how you will store and maintain adequate cleaning supplies.
  3. Decide who is responsible for cleaning thoroughly before each event, in between events, if multiple services are being held on the same day after each event. Including how you will safely store and maintain adequate cleaning supplies.
  4. Make arrangements to clean/wipe down high touch surfaces with warm soapy water before and after each gathering/service/meeting (e.g. floors, door handles, lecterns, toilets, seats, sanitizer dispensers, microphones).
  5. You will find these guides from Safe Work Australia helpful: