Churches can now open to up to 300 people, subject to the 4m2 rule and masks are no longer needed in services after talks with the State government on COVID safety.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard met with Archbishop Davies on Monday for talks Dr Davies described as 'cordial, but candid'.
The Archbishop had written to the Premier in early October pointing out that the 100 person cap on churches was far fewer than the numbers allowed to gather in a pub, club, casino, restaurant or conference venue.
Mr Hazzard has now announced that numbers will be raised to 300 for churches from the 23rd October, bringing them into line with other venues.
"The churches have been fantastic, the congregations across the state have been fantastic but they have expressed concern and frustration that more people would like to come to services so the 300 (cap) now will make a big difference but can I stress ....it is subject to the 4m² rule." Mr Hazzard said.
"I have heard in the media that there were some churches who thought they weren't being listened to. I heard those messages through the media, I didn't get them through my office. Where we have messages come to us through my office we have tried to respond through exemption processes for example, we have already granted exemptions over the last couple of months to St Mary's Cathedral, Saint Andrews Cathedral, the Auburn mosque and the Central Synagogue. There have been a number of larger facilities that were arguing that in their houses of worship that they could actually cope safely with more people."
Ministers need no longer recommend the wearing of masks in church. This will be a relief to so many of our people. Yet some may wish to continue wearing masks for abundant caution…
Good news for churches preparing for Christmas carol services
In discussion with the Health Minister, Dr Davies also raised the issue of singing in church, and the wearing of masks. Dr Davies said the advice given by the Health Department "continues to be cautious and so congregational singing is still prohibited, though we are allowed up to five singers from the front, appropriately spaced, to sing God’s praise on our behalf, while we make melody to the Lord in our hearts. However, I posed the question as to why we could not sing softly with masks. The Minister recognised the possibility of this and has referred this question to Dr Kerry Chant, the Chief Medical Officer. Humming, with lips closed, of course, is permissible."
On the question of masks, however, Dr Davies said they are no longer recommended since social distancing is in place and congregational singing is not currently occurring. "I argued that our churches practise social distancing, hand sanitation, contact record-keeping, cleansing of pews between services and even temperature checks in some churches, The Minister and his medical advisor both agreed that if congregational members were physically spaced at 1.5m2, then the risk of infection is so minimal that the wearing of masks need no longer apply." Dr Davies said in an email to ministry staff in Sydney.
"Accordingly, ministers need no longer recommend the wearing of masks in church. This will be a relief to so many of our people. Yet some may wish to continue wearing masks for abundant caution, and of course, we should not discourage them."
Continue to pray for vaccine research, for our political leaders and for the further relaxation of restrictions upon the preaching of God’s word for the glory of our Saviour.
Dr Davies also said there was good news for churches preparing for Christmas carol services. Carol services indoors (up to 300 people) and outdoors (up to 500 people) are permissible, with an appropriate COVID-19 Safety Plan for each space. There is also the possibility of an easing in distancing restrictions before Christmas, from the 4m2 rule to 2m2.
In his earlier communication with the Premier and with the Health Minister, Dr Davies assured them of the continued prayers of Christians across New South Wales.
Today, he called on churches to "continue to pray for vaccine research, for our political leaders and for the further relaxation of restrictions upon the preaching of God’s word for the glory of our Saviour."