The COVIDSAFE website which Synod is maintaining is regularly being updated.
This week, some important updates have included:
Q: Given the Synod’s position regarding actively discouraging vulnerable from gathering (at this time) for worship, how should we respond - should we turn them away, should we seek a waiver re liability?
A: Congregations should not open for worship unless they are able to ensure the safety of all who worship. Those who are vulnerable and high risk in our communities should be made aware of the risks of physical gathering and make their decisions accordingly. The government continues to advise that, vulnerable people should limit physical gathering, see website for more information.
Q: Why is the Synod’s position around vulnerable people gathering more restrictive than the Government?
A: Synod has taken a conservative and cautious position in the interest of the common good and so as not to create undue pressure on ministers or their congregations to re-gather until such time as it can be done safely.
Q: Can we sing when we get together?
A: Singing has been identified as a high-risk activity – almost as effective as coughing and sneezing at transmitting disease – so we cannot sing together at the moment.
Q: How will children, young people and families participate?
A: Activities for children need to be set up to be COVID safe. It is recommended that children participate in normal worship although Sunday School can operate subject to maintaining Safe Church/Covid requirements, incl. avoiding sharing of toys, pencils, materials etc. Please note children are counted toward the maximum amount of people permitted in a place at any one time.
Q: What if our COVID-19 Safe Plan fails and we are in breach of restrictions?
A: You should cease all gatherings immediately and review your plan. Immediately notify email@example.com.
We realise that despite the best of intentions, plans can sometimes go askew. The Property Trust will continue to indemnify Church Councils who act in good faith, exercising both care and due diligence in the completion of the required COVID-19 Safe Plan. This is one of the main reasons Synod has requested a copy.
Should a congregation refuse to complete a COVID-19 Safe Plan, any resulting fines, penalties or subsequent legal action will be the sole responsibility of the local Church Council/Congregation and will not be met by Synod or Presbytery under Regulation 4.11.2. (a)(b).
The Government has said a risk management plan for any gathering is essential. Failure to comply brings heavy penalties. For example in NSW, the initial fine is $11,000.00 and/or six months imprisonment, with possible further fines of $5,500.00 for each day the offence continues. The NSW Police may also issue on-the-spot fines of $1,000.00 for any infringement. In the ACT people can be fined $8,000 individually, or for a body corporate it is $40,500 for failure to comply with the Health Order. Any fines or legal costs will be the responsibility of the local Church Council/Congregation and will not be paid by Synod or Presbytery, so we urge you to be thorough.
Q: Does every activity need a specific plan and if so can the worship gathering safety planning template be used/adapted for use?
A: Yes, every activity needs a plan. In the absence of a specific activity plan (as per the links provided) the generic gathering template should be used. It is recommended that the specific templates provided are used. These address the relevant Government criteria and enable consistency.
Q: Given that churches are multi-purpose venues what is the difference between religious activities and community activities and what are the implications for Covid Safe planning?
A: The Government has outlined specific restrictions pertaining different activities, Church Councils and leaders should review the Synod website and links to regulated restrictions for each activity. You should not proceed with an activity unless you are aware of the restrictions and have a plan for doing so in accordance with the specified requirements.
Q: Does submission of a Covid Safe Plan replace the previous requirement to register activities (when lock down first commenced)?
Changes to Government restrictions in the ACT come into effect this coming weekend. See https://www.covid19.act.gov.au/faqs/faqs-changes-to-restrictions/weddings-funeral-worship
The restrictions relating to Places of Worship in the ACT are:
For Congregations in NSW, guidelines for operating under the restrictions can be found at https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/industry-guidelines/places-of-worship
To take a different approach to the matter, you might like to read this blog by John Squires about “going back to church”:
Rev Dr John Squires
Canberra Region Presbytery
Uniting Church in Australia
0408 024 642
blogs on ‘An Informed Faith’