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 numbers of people be limited to enable safe physical distancing?

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. However, Congregational singing is now allowed without masks being worn but it is recommended that 1.5m physical distancing be maintained where possible.

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

Physical contact/greeting/passing of the peace can proceed but with care and respect for the other person. 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.

Consideration will need to be given to any current restrictions, including physical distancing. 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.

These can return to normal, however, normal health and hygiene principals should be adhered to. 

Volunteers working in the kitchen to serve tea and coffee must adhere scrupulously to the food handling protocols and ensure good hygiene. 

Volunteers who are vulnerable or high risk should not undertake cleaning. Specialist contract cleaning should be considered where ever possible. 

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 where possible. 

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 services.

Please be mindful of the nature of the activities and the possible risk to vulnerable people and consider what can be done to make the situation more safe. 

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) Where possible, limit the number of people gathering in an area to enable physical distancing.

2) Consider whether fresh air circulation and ventilation can be improved to minimise infection.

3) Consider spacing seats to encourage physical distancing.

4) Have signage to encourage Covid-19 safe practices

Please be guided by the following:

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. Consider non-contact communion.
  5. Consider non-contact giving / passing of the peace.
  6. Consider eliminating 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 may 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: