The Head of the COVID-19 Task Force for the Sydney Diocese, Bishop Gary Koo, says churches should continue to be 'good citizens' during the return to in-person services, which he says is happening more quickly than most people expected.
Over the weekend, the State government announced that gatherings in homes with up to 20 visitors (not including the residents of the household) are now permitted.
Churches which hire buildings such as schools and community centres can return if allowed. Restrictions on funerals are also eased.
We really want to move back to our churches as soon as possible but things are moving so rapidly that we don't want to put plans into place that we have to change almost immediately.
"I think churches should be thankful for the lifting of restrictions and the way God has been very kind in limiting the impact of coronavirus on our community," Bishop Koo said. "It has had an impact but it's not been as bad as we had expected."
He adds that making the person limit “per gathering” rather than 50 people “per place of public worship” is a significant change.
"This means that two concurrent but independent gatherings in different parts of a church site can each have 50 persons. For example, church in the main building for 50 people, and kids church or a 'watch party' in the hall." he said.
July deadline looms
The Premier also foreshadowed that July 1 was a key date for a further easing of restrictions, and Bishop Koo was cautious in response.
"While we are delighted by the lifting of restrictions, things are moving so fast that I wonder if churches should just pause for a moment, analyse where we are at and wait for a couple of more weeks to see what happens as we approach July 1,” he says. “We can then make more meaningful plans when we get to that point.
"From July 1, the Premier was saying that there would be no upper limit on events but the 4m2 rule would apply. There are a lot of other details that go with that - such as - what does that mean for outdoor venues? What are the implications for social distancing for youth and children, will that still be there when we get to that point? It is not happening for schools at the moment, what does that mean for churches? So there are lots of things that we haven't heard about yet.
"I think we really want to move back to our churches as soon as possible but things are moving so rapidly that we don't want to put plans into place that we just have to change almost immediately. So a little bit of patience for in the next week or so￼ might be helpful."
Main photo: Premier's Facebook page