COVID-19 Church Worker Frequently Asked Questions

Assume all information below is current, unless pending changes are indicated.

Latest Changes - Last updated 7 April 2020

  • Updated answer about financial assistance for parishes. See answer regarding financial assistance below and the SDS page.
  • Updated information on funerals. Public Health Order amendment (Apr 3) does not count those conducting the service in the 10 person rule.
  • Added in live-streaming section, a form letter in case of visits by authorities enforcing the two-person rule.
  • A reminder about Safe Ministry while video conferencing. Safe ministry link here.
  • Updated pastoral guidelines, clarifying government guidelines allow pastoral visits in exceptional circumstances.

Index to FAQs

GENERAL

GATHERINGS

CHURCH ADMINISTRATION

PASTORAL CARE

FINANCES

Frequently Asked Questions

Where will I find ongoing information and updates?

The Archbishop will be communicating with rectors, wardens each Tuesday. There will be regular updates via the Sydney Anglican COVID 19 page. Please visit this site daily for ongoing information and answers to FAQs.  We encourage you to check the page maintained by NSW Health as well as our own page at sydneyanglicans.net/covid19.

While we have overview information on this page, further detail on some answers can be found on the Parish Portal at SDS

If you have further questions, please contact our Parish HR Partner Vikki Napier, who has been designated as a point of contact for parishes for any queries related to the impact of COVID-19 on parishes and parish ministry. Vikki’s email.

What are the government restrictions that apply to gatherings?

Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020 is in effect in NSW.  

This order directs that a person must not, without reasonable excuse, leave the person’s place of residence unless it is for obtaining food or other goods and services, travelling for the purposes of work or education if they cannot do it at home, exercise or medical or caring reasons.

In addition, the Order directs that a person must not participate in a gathering in a public place of more than 2 persons outside of gatherings of members of the same household or gatherings essential for work or education. 

In regards to church gatherings, the only exception are weddings and funerals (more details below).

For further information see the Public Health Order

Can we live stream or prerecord church services?

We have made enquiries to NSW Health and have been officially informed that Church buildings are deemed workplaces for the purpose of live streaming church services. Therefore, more than two church workers, paid or volunteer, can gather to record or stream services. While there is no maximum number, it is expected the number will be kept to a minimum with social distancing measures observed and closed to the public. Social distancing must be modelled on-screen. The building must be closed to the public.

There is a form letter for churches to show to police or other authorities if needed. Download here

Can we meet outside as an alternative?

No.

The NSW government has banned all public gatherings at places of worship.  This includes indoor and outdoor gatherings on church property.  This rules out running 'church in the carpark' (for example). Gathering together in groups of more than 2 in a public place is also now prohibited, as is leaving a place of residence without a reasonable excuse. The only exceptions are for funerals with a maximum of ten people and weddings with a maximum of five people.

What about weddings?

Small weddings are only permissible under the NSW guidelines provided that there will be no more than one person per 4 sqm and there are no more than 5 people in attendance.

What about Funerals?

Small funerals are only permissible under the NSW Health Order provided that there are no more than one person per 4 sqm and there are no more than 10 people in attendance. Under an amendment to the Public Health order dated April 3, this number now excludes those necessary for the conduct and preparation of the service (e.g., minister, organist, funeral directors). So the total number of attendees, excluding those officiating, is still 10 persons. We also encourage you to consider relocating funeral services to crematoria chapels who will have their own procedures to ensure their premise are appropriately disinfected after use.

What do we mean by ‘Social Distancing’?

NSW health defines social distancing as follows:

Social distancing is an effective measure to reduce the potential for transmission, but it is recognised that it cannot be practised in all situations. While practising social distancing, people can travel to work, including on public transport. For non-essential activities outside the workplace or attendance at schools, universities and childcare – social distancing includes:
• avoiding crowds and mass gatherings where it is difficult to keep the appropriate distance away from others.
• attempting to keep a distance of 1.5 m2 between ourselves and other people where possible, for example when you are out and about in a public place.
• keeping a distance of 4 m2  between ourselves and other people whilst indoors.
• avoiding small gatherings in enclosed spaces, for example, family celebrations.
• avoiding shaking hands, hugging, or kissing other people avoiding visiting vulnerable people, such as those in aged care facilities or hospitals, infants, or people with compromised immune   systems due to illness or medical treatment.

Can we still run small groups – in homes? In the church/hall?

No.

Groups of no more than two people are prohibited from meeting in public or in private. The only exception is that immediate members of a household of more than two people are able to meet together. Small groups should be run online or by other means.

Is it possible for ministry staff or other parishioners to conduct pastoral visits? 

During times of illness, isolation and hardship we long to maintain the significant work of visitation.  The latest government regulations stipulate that no more than 2 people gather together either indoors or outside unless they are members of the same family.

However, the government has made provision for ministers / religious workers to provide pastoral care in people’s homes. Given this we urge you to exercise wise judgment in deciding how to conduct home visitation, ensuring any visit with a family or individual is done maintaining the appropriate social distancing. 

We recommend that all visitations by assistant ministers, lay ministers, or members of church care teams be conducted with the knowledge and permission of the Rector. We also urge you to continue to make use of other methods of care and support such as phone calls, emails and letter writing.

Guidelines about COVID-19 and Pastoral visiting are here.

Can wardens and parish council still meet? 

Yes, but not in person.

Wardens and parish council meetings will need to be conducted online or by telephone. The Meetings (Quorum, Attendance and Resolutions) Ordinance 2007 allows for meetings to be conducted by teleconference or video conference provided all members consent and can hear and be heard by each other. 

What about Youth Groups & Children’s Ministry?

Given the most recent announcements from the government, it is not possible for youth groups to continue to meet on church property. Likewise, children’s ministry on church premises is not permissible. Meeting online is one possibility. Please go to the safe ministry site for further information regarding best practice for online meetings with youth.

Youthworks Ministry Support has 7 children’s ministry and youth ministry advisors who will help you implement effective ministry practices for young people and their families in your parish during the shutdown of regular gatherings. The advisors can
•    Help you develop a plan for your ministries
•    Share resources you can use with young people and families
•    Train your leaders for ministry during the shutdown
•    Connect you with other churches who can help you

Contact your regional advisors at https://youthworks.net/meet-the-team. There are resources written to help children’s and youth ministry during the shutdown at https://youthworks.net/resources.

What about baptisms and communion?

Please contact your local bishop who can answer questions on these subjects.

How should we run staff-meetings?

Even though a staff meeting could be considered a work meeting, given the Prime Minister’s announcement we strongly recommend that staff teams no longer meet physically. Staff meetings should be conducted online or by phone. (This does not apply to the filming of videos in preparation for a Sunday service - See Livestreaming

How about meeting staff 1 to 1?

1 to 1 meetings should happen online or by phone. In exceptional circumstances, staff can still meet 1 to 1 only if the meeting involves leaving a place of residence “for work”, where proper social distancing is maintained and both staff members are willing to meet (without compulsion), Please contact your Regional Bishop if there are any further questions on this.

How about 1 to 1 discipleship or other 1 to 1 meetings?

If at all possible, our recommendation is to conduct these online or by phone. If you are to meet one to one, it is to happen with proper social distancing, and outdoors if there are other people at the premises.

What about AGMs?

There is no mechanism under our ordinances to have a “virtual” AGM. The Archbishop has extended the deadline for AGMs to 30th April 2020. However, if your parish is not able to hold an AGM, there will be no action taken against parishes which are unable to hold an AGM in the present circumstances. In this case, elected officeholders remain in office until such time as it is possible to elect their successors. 

Practically speaking this means that the current parish councillors, wardens and nominators continue in office. Note, however, that if your parish has not elected Synod Representatives for the 52nd synod, those elected for the 51st synod will NOT roll-over. In this case, the parish will need to call a special meeting to elect synod reps some time prior to the 52nd synod. 

The names of current officeholders should be submitted to the registry along with the audited financial accounts from 2019 (whether or not they have been approved by the AGM).

What about Church camps / Houseparties?

For all the reasons we are cancelling church gatherings it is also necessary to postpone or reschedule Church weekends away and houseparties. If you have a booking with Youthworks they encourage you to reschedule for a date later in the year.

How do we care for congregational members while we aren’t meeting?

Each church will need to develop its own plans to help congregation members stay in touch with one another. This may involve measures such as home groups, WhatsApp groups, email discussions etc. We strongly encourage church leaders to pay particular attention to the most vulnerable and isolated within our church communities. This could be an opportunity to revive the old telephone prayer chain method of pastoral care.

Are there guidelines for visiting those diagnosed with COVID-19?

The Book of Common Prayer services for Visitation of the Sick and Communion for the Sick provide a helpful guide for caring for housebound parishioners. Your attention is drawn to the final rubrics of the Communion for the Sick, which reminds us that we can truly feed on Christ without having to consume the bread and wine. This expresses the principle of Jesus’ teaching in John 6. Further resources on health precautions will be provided shortly.

What about giving?

The closure of our weekly gatherings will have significant financial implications for many of our churches. We encourage Rectors and wardens to communicate with their parishioners to urge them to commence online giving if they are not doing so already. For congregational members who are unable or unwilling to give electronically, we encourage you to suggest means by which these parishioners can continue to provide ongoing support for the ministry of their church. Wardens may need to consider whether there are expenses or projects which can be postponed, to ensure that it is possible to continue paying clergy and staff.

What financial assistance and flexibility is available to parishes?

Almost all parishes should receive direct financial assistance of $20,000 over the course of the year as a result of the Government’s Boosting Cash Flow for Employers measure. In addition, some parishes will be eligible for the JobKeeper Payments scheme. The Standing Committee has provided some relief and flexibility for parishes, by –

·         not requiring payment of the Church Land Acquisition Levy (2% of net operating receipts)

·         not making the April PCR charge payable in April, instead apportioning the amount across the rest of the year

·         allowing parishes in financial difficulty to move away from Direct Debit for the monthly PCR charges.

Further (and constantly updated) information on each of these matters is available when signed in on the SDS COVID-19 FAQ page.

Do parishes have any insurance that covers us if all our hall bookings are cancelled?

There is no insurance protection under the Diocesan Insurance Program to compensate parishes for loss of rental income due to their inability to lease or rent premises due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The government announced support for apprentices and trainees. Is this a benefit that our parish can access for our student ministers?

No. Students at Moore College are not apprentices or trainees for this purpose. An apprenticeship or traineeship involves entering into a Training Contract with the assistance of an Apprenticeship Network Provider and nominating a Registered Training Organisation. Parishes will be able to qualify for some other assistance under the Government’s Boosting cash flow for employers measures. See the FAQ about assistance available to parishes from the Government.

I have questions about Property use by third parties and licensing?

Visit the FAQs at sds.asn.au.

I have questions about staff leave and entitlements?

Visit the FAQs at sds.asn.au.