The COVID emergency in Victoria as well as several outbreaks in Sydney, including in a Maronite congregation, has led to tighter controls on churches, including a requirement to register as COVID-safe businesses.

In a public health order issued on Thursday 23 July, church meetings are now capped at 100, regardless of the size of the building. Previously, there was no cap and the numbers were constrained only by how many could fit with 4m2 distancing. Weddings and funerals also have caps, at the general 100 person limit for religious services. This is despite the fact that weddings outside churches can have 150 people.

"The Government did not want to see churches closed, despite the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in Victoria..."

Archbishop Davies, along with the Catholic Archbishop, has been consulting with government ministers on the new measures. 

"I had two conversations with Government ministers who informed me that the Government did not want to see churches closed, despite the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in Victoria, which has now impacted parts of NSW," the Archbishop said. "However, with the increased risks in our community, the advice of the Chief Medical Officer is to limit the number of people attending church services to 100. I agreed that this was a prudent measure."

Key points

  • Church services, funerals and weddings in church capped at 100 people
  • COVID-safe registration mandatory
  • No congregational singing

Church guidelines here.

In a letter to ministers, Dr Davies outlined the measures including those relating to singing and 'mingling' after services.

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.

The Archbishop noted the Premier’s advice and said congregation members should 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.

A new measure of Friday's health order involves the registration of churches, which must be done immediately. The Archbishop has urged churches to respond quickly 'as an expression of our commitment to safe ministry for our people and our visitors'.

All places of worship must register with NSW Health as a COVID Safe business. They must also have their plan available for inspection. Details here.

"We still have a long way to go with this new way of living under the shadow of coronavirus."

"The recent outbreak in the Maronite Catholic Church in Harris Park has rightly created a greater degree of caution for the Government, so it is extremely important that our COVID safety plans are well executed when resuming physical church services." Dr Davies said.

"We still have a long way to go with this new way of living under the shadow of coronavirus. We possibly have a long way to go with changing restrictions to our way of life, as Victoria is currently experiencing," the Archbishop said. "May I also remind you to continue to pray for our nation, our Prime Minister and Premier as they navigate the ever-changing landscape of a COVID-19 world. Do pray, as I do, at 1900hrs each day for our health care workers and for those labouring to find a vaccine.

May God be pleased to answer those prayers and restore our fortunes, that we who sow in tears might reap with shouts of joy (Psalm 126:4-5)."