COVID-19 Church Worker Frequently Asked Questions

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

Latest changes:

(December 1 2020)

Return to Gathering
Enabling local decisions for local communities

The latest COVID-19 hotspots are listed here.

As of 28th September, a new Public Health Order covering gatherings is in force. Details are here.

See a complete listing of Public Health Orders here.

On November 19, the Premier made an announcement regarding the lifting of restrictions in the lead up to Christmas. The Public Health Order has now been gazetted

     From November 23

  • Up to 3000 will be able to attend outdoor events, as long as they meet specific COVID guidelines
  • Events with allocated seating will allow one person per 2 square metres, while events, where people are sitting on picnic rugs, will require 4 square metres 
  • Choirs of up to 30 people will be allowed to perform outdoors. Anyone singing in the audience will be required to wear a mask.
  • Outdoor church services will be allowed up to 500 people

From December 1

  • Funerals will increase to 300 people

As an overview - the Health Department has established a one-stop web page outlining what you can and can't do under the rules.

If you have any questions please send your enquiries to this email address.

It is essential that churches register as COVID-Safe businesses immediately. The process can be done here.

In addition, the COVID-19 Safety Plans for Places of Worship, Funerals, Memorial Services and Wakes, and Wedding Ceremonies and Receptions have all been updated. You can find the overall advice here.

or individually 

Services - here

Weddings - here

Funerals - here

With regards to the latest Public Health Orders, the following points are worth noting:

  • Numbers at church services are restricted to 300 people per building (including children), even where the 4m2 rule might have accommodated a greater number. The restriction of 100 persons for weddings at places of public worship has now been lifted to 150 subject to the 4m2 rule to bring it into line with weddings at secular locations, with the limit set at 300 from Dec 1.
  • Where separate buildings are used for gatherings on the same site, this order applies. Note - each building must have a separate ingress and egress and staggered meeting times. You must keep a COVID-19 Safety Plan for each of the separate areas on the premises. 
  • Following the Premier’s advice, we should ensure that members of our congregations do not mingle before, during or after the service. Where morning tea is served after the service, provision should be made for seating persons 1.5m apart, discouraging people from mingling or walking around.
  • Congregational singing is still not allowed. Recent health advice has indicated that while droplets quickly fall to the ground, the aerosol emissions during singing promote too great a risk even for those adhering to the specified 1.5m physical distancing requirement.
  • You’ll find advice from Youthworks in the FAQ section below.
  • You’ll find advice on singing in the FAQ section below.

In the case of a COVID incident in your parish, please refer to the COVID Incident Plan for Parishes which can be downloaded here.

A COVID-19 Safety Plan is a mandatory requirement for all services and gatherings at a place of public worship as well as registration as a COVID-safe business.

Please note that according to the COVID-19 Safety Plan for Places of Worship developed by NSW Health congregational singing is to be avoided and solo singers are to maintain at least 3m physical distance. Singing with facemasks is not a current alternative.

All the resources for developing a COVID-19 Safety Plan are here. You can download a template for a wedding safety plan here and for a funeral here.

The order requires all churches to have a COVID-19 safety plan for Places of Worship (whether they are holding services or not) and a separate plan for Funerals, Memorial Services and Wakes and Wedding Ceremonies and Receptions, whether they conduct these events on their own premises or at a public park, a reserve or a public garden. An entirely new plan is not necessary for each wedding or funeral, but churches should be assessing the particular risks posed by each event and managing them accordingly.

Use of church premises for purposes other than services and by other groups

External groups can use places of worship for other activities as long as they are approved by the Rector and Wardens and they comply with the 4m2 rule and have a COVID-19 safety plan.

There are some exemptions to the 4m2 rule including:
•    Services to assist vulnerable members of the public 
•    Early education and care facilities

Visits to households

Gatherings in homes with up to 20 visitors are now permitted. Since the Premier recommended no more than 10, it would be prudent to encourage our home Bible study groups to limit the number to 10, excluding the hosts, as a model of good citizenship. There is no 4m2 rule applicable to gatherings in homes. However, we continue to encourage people to practice 1.5m social distancing and good hygiene in home group gatherings.

What hasn’t changed?

  • 1.5m physical distancing is expected outside of those from the same household.
  • Good hygiene and handwashing are to continue to be encouraged.
  • Communal areas are to be cleaned and disinfected regularly.
  • People who are unwell should be instructed to stay home and be tested if appropriate.
  • All those who attend our gatherings must provide their name and contact details, including a telephone number or email address. This is to be recorded and kept for 28 days.

What should we do if we want to commence gatherings?

  • You are required to register as a COVID-safe business. Details here.
  • You are required to read and comply with the COVID-19 Safety Plan for Places of Worship produced by NSW Health. A copy needs to be kept on the premises and be made available for inspection by an authorised officer as requested. The Safety Plan is here.
  • Think through how to apply this in your particular context.
  • Have the Rector and wardens document the decision to recommence gatherings.

In addition, it may be helpful -

  • To develop a communication plan (for our people and the public) outlining what our gatherings will be like and the conditions of entry.
  • To visualise what systems will need to be developed as a person enters the building, has their details recorded, participates in the gathering and then leaves the site e.g. How will we do welcoming and ushering? How will we record contact details? Who will oversee the cleaning? Who will be responsible for ensuring we do not exceed the maximum number of people allowed to meet?
  • To provide training for staff and volunteers in advance of gathering to ensure a clear understanding of the systems and guidelines in place.
  • To engage with the members of your church via things such as focus groups or surveys to inform your thinking about the next steps for church.

Outdoor gatherings for Musical Rehearsals and Performances

On the 12th of October, an exemption was issued allowing up to 500 at an outdoor gathering for musical rehearsals and performances.

This is subject to the conditions of a COVID-19 safety plan, which includes the 4sqm rule, physical distancing and contact gatherings, but may allow churches to conduct larger music-based Christmas events.

More information can be found here and here.

FAQs

GENERAL

GATHERINGS

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.

How do I calculate the maximum capacity of a room?

The maximum number of people allowed to attend a religious service has been lifted as of Oct 23 – the number is calculated by ensuring at least 4m2 of space for each person on the premises, with a maximum of 300 for services. The limit is now 150 in the case of weddings that are held in a place of public worship.

In calculating the space available for each person under the 4m2 rule, the following areas are to be included in the calculations: 

(a)     if the size of the premises is not more than 200 square metres of floor space, the entire premises;

(b)    if the size of the premises is more than 200 square metres of floor space, only those areas that are open to the public.

This will probably mean an increase in capacity for small church buildings (i.e., less than 200m2).

Those “engaged in work on the premises” are not included in the calculations of the space available for each person on any premises and the number of persons on the premises. 

Can we hold a church service?

Yes, as long as we observe the NSW Government’s requirements. However, this is a decision for the Rector and the Wardens (you are not required to do so) and we still need to be mindful of those in our churches in the high-risk category (e.g. those over 70).

Can we have multiple groups meeting on our property in different spaces?

Yes, the limitations apply per gathering on the premises. You can have 2 or more such gatherings simultaneously, provided they are kept totally separate and you keep separate records for each and apply the 4m2 rule. Each building must have a separate ingress and egress and staggered meeting times. Details of the limitations here.

How can I use a QR Code to collect contact details?

As part of the Covid-Safe registration, each Parish has been allocated a unique QR Code for the purpose of collecting contact details.  Information about how to access or retrieve your Service NSW QR Code can be found here.  Visitors will need to have the Service NSW app installed on their mobile phone to record their visit.  It is recommended that a Covid Marshall oversee the process.

What if I don’t want to use the NSW Health’s QR System?

If you do not wish to utilise NSW Health’s QR Code system, you are permitted to set up your own QR Code system but this will be at your own expense. You will need to store contact details and provide them to NSW Health upon request.

What if visitors don’t have mobile phones?

If someone cannot scan a QR Code, their details will need to be manually collected and stored in line with previous requirements.

Is the requirement for QR Codes mandatory?

Contact collection via QR Codes is not mandatory at this stage. However, it is a hygienic and effective way to collect contact details.

Can we sing?

Although congregational singing is still not permitted, NSW Health has updated its advice regarding singing and chanting for places of worship here -

In accordance with advice from the Chief Health Officer, NSW Health recommends the following measures for singing and chanting.

A small group of up to 5 people may sing together in a large well-ventilated (preferably outdoor) area if:

  • all singers face forwards and not towards each other 
  • have physical distancing of 1.5 metres between each other and any other performers, and 5 metres from all other people including the audience and conductor.

Ensembles and other musical groups should rehearse and perform outdoors or in large, well-ventilated indoor spaces.

This advice allows worship services to now have up to 5 singers as long as they are distanced by 1.5 metres and 5 metres as outlined above.  It is anticipated this advice will assist parishes as they plan for Carols services and other Christmas musical recitals.

Up to 30 singers will be permitted outdoors, subject to COVID-safe requirements (the limit of 5 remains for indoor venues). The audience or congregation may participate in the singing, but anyone 12 years or older must wear a mask.

Can we sing with masks?

As of the 23rd of November, singing with masks is possible when a gathering is outdoors. Those under the age of 12 can sing without masks. This does not apply to indoor gatherings.

 

Can we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?

Yes. If you decide to conduct a service of the Lord’s Supper you may do so as long as you do not use the common cup and you observe appropriate hygiene measures e.g. consider using tongs and pre-filled individual common cups.

Can we conduct baptisms?

Yes. Churches can conduct baptisms as long as appropriate measures are taken to conduct these services in a COVID-safe way. Such things as washing/sanitising hands, social distancing, having the parent hold the child during infant baptisms and having a parent or appropriate person support the candidate in the water during full immersion baptisms should be considered. If there are multiple baptisms - it is recommended that different water be used - perhaps by pouring water from a jug. If you are uncertain whether your measures go far enough, please contact Parish HR Partner Vikki Napier. Vikki’s email is here.

Can we gather after church meetings? What is mingling?

To mingle is to move among and engage with others at a gathering. This is seen as a possible way of spreading the coronavirus. As a result, the Premier has advised members of a congregation not to mingle, before, during or after a service.

What does this mean for our gatherings?

It means that while we still want to encourage people to interact during and after church, we should do it in a way that minimises mingling.

Clear encouragement and guidelines from service leaders will help to do that. This includes encouraging people to talk to the people near them rather than getting up and moving to another area of the building.

Encouraging people to stand or sit in pre-allocated, socially distanced areas after church will also be helpful, as will having morning tea served to those areas rather than having people line up.

For those who want to talk to people they are not sitting next to in church, one idea that has been found to be helpful is to have designated areas with seating for people to move to that will allow them to catch up with others. An announcement explaining the function of these ‘breakout’ spaces will help people to do this.

What about gatherings in households?

Up to 20 people are permitted to visit a household at any one time (outside of the exceptions mentioned above). This provides many different opportunities for gathering and ministry. Since the Premier has recommended no more than 10, it would be prudent to encourage our home Bible study groups to limit the number to 10, excluding the hosts, as a model of good citizenship.

If you decide to host a gathering in a house, it would be good to consider the following things 

  • Requiring people not attend if they are feeling unwell or exhibit any COVID related symptoms
  • Encourage people not to attend if they are in a high-risk category (e.g. over the age of 70 or with a pre-existing medical condition)
  • Encourage good hygiene and reduce the chance of infection by
    • Providing access to hand-washing and/or hand sanitiser.
    • Minimising the need to open doors and touch surfaces.
    • Having one person allocated to serve food and drinks with appropriate precautions (e.g. gloves and tongs).
    • Encouraging people to bring their own water bottle.
    • Setting up the room to allow 1.5m between people.
    • Having clear signage for areas of the house you don’t wish people to enter (to minimise the need for cleaning after the meeting).
    • Cleaning frequently touched areas and surfaces before and after the gathering.

What is Contact Recording?

The NSW Government requires the recording of contact details of those who attend a religious service, wedding or funeral that we conduct. These details, a person’s name and their telephone number or email address, are to be kept for 28 days. If people arrive in a discrete group, then only the details for one adult member of that group is required.
 

Can wardens and parish council meet in person?

Yes, but the NSW Government’s advice is to use telephone or video for essential meetings where practical.

Can we conduct an AGM in person?

The NSW Government’s advice is to use telephone or video for essential meetings where practical. The Standing Committee has provided the following guidelines in a circular that you may wish to follow with regards to the options available for an AGM. Link via the SDS Parish Portal.

One such option is to allow an AGM to be held remotely through the use of technology. A special guide has been prepared to assist parishes to use Zoom to hold their Parish AGM in compliance with the requirements of the ordinance. The guide is here. There is also a template of Powerpoint slides here.

Can we recommence our Youth & Children’s Ministry?

Yes. The following guidelines have been supplied by Youthworks on November 3. For more information please contact Ed Springer (email).

Youth and children’s gatherings can be run on church property in multiple groups of up to 300 people, or one person per 4 square metres of space, whichever is the lesser, from October 23. 

A maximum of 5 leaders/staff can be designated as ‘staff’ necessary for the conduct of, or assisting in the conduct of, the service. All other leaders required to meet the minimum ratios for children’s and youth ministry must be included in the 300-person or 4m2 limit. 

For multi-age gatherings where children and youth are present (e.g., regular Sunday services with children’s programs), young people aged 0-18 and their leaders are included in the 300 person/4m2 limit.

Physical distancing and young people

All regular children’s and youth ministries are considered education programs for physical distancing requirements. This includes creche, preschool groups, playgroups, children’s groups, youth groups and small groups. Young people aged 0-18 do not need to follow strict adult physical distancing guidelines but should follow good hygiene practices. Staff (leaders) should continue to maintain 1.5m physical distancing from students where practical.

The 4m2/300 person limit and physical distancing guidelines determine how spaces can be used. Let’s say your church building has 400m2 of publicly accessible space. That means that up to  100 people can be in any room in the building as long as they are 1.5m from each other. This requirement for physical distancing doesn’t apply to children or youth. What this means that if you have 70 adults in your main hall (physically distanced), you could fit up to 30 children or youth in other rooms in the building, as long as the leaders remain physically distanced. Or you could fit up to 100 children or youth in rooms in the building, as long as the leaders remain physically distant. All rooms utilised should be well ventilated.

For multi-age gatherings where adults, children and/or youth are present in the same space, everyone should physically distance in households. Having children seated at the front of church (not physically distant) whilst adults are physically distant is not an option at this time.

Singing

In relation to children’s ministry to primary school and preschool-aged groups, from September 24, singing, group repetition, and recitation may occur. This advice follows the advice of NSW Health for education on September 24 2020 (read here). One adult leader can lead the singing as long as they are 3-5 metres from children and other adults. 

A group of 5 can sing at youth group (high school) following the NSW Health guidelines for singing.

Further Advice:

All youth and children’s gatherings should follow the COVID Safety Plan for places of worship and follow the guidelines below.

  • Adopt good hygiene practices. 
  • Designate the internal and external spaces that each gathering will use.
  • Record and store the contact details of those who attend.
  • Clean the surfaces of the defined space after each gathering.
  • Communicate the arrangements and guidelines with Parents/Caregivers.
  • Set up spaces and activities that enable 1.5m physical distancing to occur between adults, and between children and adults. For example, games involving physical contact between adults and children should be avoided. Games involving physical contact between young people are allowed. Enforce 1.5m distancing for leaders’ meetings.
  • Implement drop-off and pick up procedures that minimise the opportunity for adults to congregate together.
  • Wipe down all balls, equipment and toys used at the end of the gathering. You may choose to rotate equipment when running consecutive gatherings. Toys that cannot be cleaned and sanitized should not be used. (eg. Play-doh).
  • Children’s books, like other paper-based materials such as mail or envelopes, are not considered a high risk for transmission and do not need additional cleaning or disinfection procedures. Handouts and worksheets can be used. You may choose to have a set of Bibles for each youth/children’s group.
  • Restrict the swapping of phones and devices between all participants.
  • Distribute food hygienically, maintaining social distancing. 
  • Masks are not recommended/required for children, youth and leaders in age-specific ministries. This follows the current advice for Government schools.

Children’s and Youth gatherings run in households are limited to 20 young people and leaders from July 24.  While there is no 4m2 rule for gatherings in homes, 1.5m social distancing should be practised between adults. There should be a minimum of 2 adults present at all times and record and store the contact details of those who attend.   

Children’s and Youth social activities run offsite in outdoor environments are limited to 30 young people and leaders from October 23.

Can we continue SRE?

Yes. The NSW Department of Education Covid-19 advice for families (updated August 17) state that SRE lessons can continue with restrictions. Guidelines for SRE including current restrictions can be found here.

Can camps happen?

Yes. Church camps, including youth and children’s camps, can resume from September 3. This follows the advice from NSW Health to Christian Venue Association on September 2, 2020. All camps should develop a covid safety plan(s) for their event with the conference centre being used.

 

I have another question that isn’t in these FAQs?

For any further enquiries please contact Vikki Napier, our Parish HR Partner via email.

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, most parishes will be eligible for the JobKeeper Payments scheme for their eligible employees. On 24th April, the Federal Treasurer issued this statement regarding clergy and JobKeeper -

"Religious practitioners: Changes will allow JobKeeper Payments to be made to religious institutions in respect of religious practitioners (with the exception of those that are students only), recognising that many religious practitioners are not ‘employees’ of their religious institutions."

There is further information at this SDS page (sign in required).

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.