How do we behave as the restrictions are gradually eased?

24 May 2020 by Rev Dr John Squires in: Formation and Discipleship Resources

How do we behave as the restrictions are gradually eased?

With state and territory governments relaxing COVID-19 restrictions, leaders of the Synod of NSW.ACT and all fourteen Presbyteries in the Synod have issued COVID-19 Guidance Note (GN-10) on Use of Church Buildings. Leaders from every Presbytery, including our own, were consulted closely in preparing this document.

The guidance addresses the use of a church property for a service of worship (funeral, wedding, or regular Sunday service), small group (Bible Study, prayer gathering, meeting) or in hiring the hall to the wider community.

The overarching advice provided is clear: “With the safety and well-being of our community in mind, Presbytery and Synod leaders agreed on 11 May 2020 that Uniting Churches should not open for public worship or meet face to face in church buildings.”
The original note issued on 18th May 2020 has been amended by Synod, and the most recent notice can be found here:
https://nswact.uca.org.au/media/8714/covid19-guidance-note-10-use-of-premises-amended-19-may-2020.pdf

The amended Guidance Note explicitly states that “Bible studies, small groups, meetings, and other church-related groups, regardless of size, should continue to meet online and not face to face.“

The exceptions, as noted in the Guidance Note, are only for these activities:
Funerals and Weddings may continue to be held, with strict adherence to the current Government advice.
Service ministries (food banks, emergency services, and similar services) may continue to operate, providing that they are strictly adhering to safety protocols and only addressing essential needs of the clients who present.
Minimal on-site staffing can be put into place in the church building, sufficient that is required for essential operations.

It is important that we adhere carefully to these guidelines, by not using the church building to hold any activities or meetings on site, and not making the church building available for hire to hall users or for other public purposes.

This position remains the case at the current time, even though governments are beginning to ease some of the restrictions. Simply opening up our buildings without putting into place careful protocols to reduce risk of infection would be irresponsible.

We anticipate that further information will be coming out later this week or early next week that will help prepare us for what will need to be done to safely reuse our buildings when the time comes for re-entry. This information will assist your congregations in their planning for the future.

Supporting evidence about the importance of maintaining good practices in our daily lives can be seen in two short videos.

This short (6 minute) video explores the latest research into infection mechanisms—reinforcing the importance of maintaining social distance, not gathering in closed spaces without ventilation (such as many church buildings), covering our mouths and noses, and not touching our faces.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=H2azcn7MqOU&feature=share

A second short video offers a simple, clear, compelling explanation about how the virus spreads — telling us to stay at home when we are even slightly ill, cover our mouth when we cough or nose when we sneeze, do not ever touch our face, maintain social distancing, avoid handshakes, wash our hands carefully and regularly, clean our mobile phones regularly, and clean and disinfect hard surfaces regularly. And do not yet start to gather in church buildings!!
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=I5-dI74zxPg&feature=youtu.be

There has been much discussion about the way that singing contributes to the spread of infectious diseases. Singing spreads droplets in aerosols which are expelled from a person’s mouth as they sing. They can carry the virus a significant distance and remain suspended in the air for some time after they have been expelled from a person’s mouth. A cloth mask is unlikely to be enough to protect you or your neighbour as you sing together. This article canvasses the issues.
https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/does-singing-spread-coronavirus-choir-outbreaks-raise-concerns-1.4943265

Scientific American magazine, a reputable publication, has recently offered this long survey of the technical scientific studies being undertaken as we deepen our understanding of how the coronavirus spreads.
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-coronavirus-spreads-through-the-air-what-we-know-so-far1/

The ACT government has a set of printable posters advising people how to maintain good safe practices once we gather again in person. See https://www.covid19.act.gov.au/resources

The NSW Government has a larger set of printable resources available for downloading. See
https://www.nsw.gov.au/resources-for-your-community/english-and-easy-english