COVID-19 – Restrictions tightened 24 July

Dear Pastor and Church Leaders, 

We are again facing an increase in COVID-19 transmission within our communities in NSW & ACT with some of our churches being located in the increasing number of ‘COVID-19 hotspots’. We are also seeing that some places of worship (from other denominations) are becoming areas of transmission. The NSW Government has imposed greater restrictions on Weddings, Funerals and Places of Public Worship and has released amendments to the current Public Health Order overnight which begin today, Friday 24 July 2020.  

There are a couple of key changes that have been reflected on our FAQ page here and a summary has been outlined below. Please note that some of these changes will affect your gatherings this Sunday.  

Places of Public Worship 
Can have a maximum number of 100 people on the premises, subject to the 4sqm rule. This means that the maximum number for your premises might be lower than 100, but 100 is the maximum number even if the premises is large enough to provide 4m2 for a larger number. This rules means that staff and volunteers working on the premises are excluded from the total number, but the total number includes children. Please note there are now strict guidelines on no mingling of people before, during and after the service and a ‘COVID-Safe business’ registration is now mandatory. 

COVID-19 Safety Plan
Places of Public Worship must now register as ‘COVID-19 Safe business’ and you must complete a COVID-19 Safety Plan. Please note that the required template has been amended. While the Public Health Order is effective today, it is imperative that you register your COVID-19 Safety Plans as soon as possible. The Minister of Health has given us until tomorrow, 25 July 2020, to have your church premises registered with as a ‘COVID-19 Safe business’. If you do not have this in place by tomorrow, you should not be holding any church services on your premises this coming Sunday, 26 July 2020.  

Funerals 
Can have a maximum number of 100 people, subject to the 4sqm rule. A ‘COVID-Safe business’ registration is now mandatory. 

Weddings 
Can have a maximum of 150 people, subject to the 4sqm rule. A ‘COVID-Safe business’ registration is now mandatory. 

Contact details 
Must still be collected from all persons (including staff and volunteers) who enter the premises and kept for a minimum of 4 weeks. The required details include the name, telephone number or email address and the time at which the person entered the premises. The need to record time is a new requirement. It is still acceptable to record one set of contact details for each discrete family group.  

Congregation singing 
Is still prohibited in Places of Public Worship, Funerals and Weddings. Solo singers and wind instruments must be at least 3m distance from the audience. We continue to encourage you to think creatively about how your church congregation can engage in worship at this time. 

As churches, we also need to strive to be a strong witness to the vulnerable within our community and consider some of the following: 

  • Consider suspending services if you are in one of the ‘COVID-19 hot-spots’. A live list can be found here.  
  • Encourage the wearing of face masks as recommended by the NSW Government. Masks are not required but the science shows they are effective in helping reduce COVID-19 transmission and are a great witness to the community. 
  • Ensure that you have a COVID-19 Safety Plan for your church and any additional plans for each ministry activity your church is conducting. Details on COVID-19 Safety Plans can be found on our website and on the NSW Government here. Please note that the completion of a COVID-19 Safety Plan and a ‘COVID-Safe business’ registration is NOW MANDATORY. The implementation of these plans are crucial when arranging face to face gatherings. The plans should include:
    • Physical distancing requirements; 
    • Cleaning, recording of contact details (including time) and communication processes; 
    • Encouraging people with flu like symptoms to remain at home and upon arrival at the church to be tested for COVID-19;  
    • Reinforcing that there is no congregational singing allowed and noting this from the platform if you are meeting together, 
    • Strategies to manage gatherings that may occur immediately outside the premises, such as at the conclusion of services. This may involve suspending or adjusting the practice of greeting congregants as they arrive or depart to ensure appropriate physical distancing. 
    • Suspending activities that include food service (morning tea, supper, meals etc) or ensuring stringent guidelines are followed:
      • All food provided is individually pre-packaged; 
      • Avoiding homemade goods as the risk of transmitting the virus when wrapping servings is higher than pre-packaged goods;  
      • Ensuring all people wash their hands thoroughly, as recommended by the World Health Organisation; 
      • Ensuring that one person is responsible for serving food and drinks only and safe food practices are followed at all times. 

Pastoral and Mental Health
With the constant changes and the requirements for churches, there is an ever-increasing risk of burnout and fatigue for those in leadership within our family of churches.   We encourage everyone (including Pastors and Leaders) to:  

  • Be aware of their own stress and energy levels in the midst of these unprecedented times that our churches and communities are facing.    
  • Take appropriate time off and maintain good boundaries between work life and home life.  
  • Get help or speak to a professional if feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed at this time. 
  • Ensure that you are speaking with an external supervisor, mentor, coach or spiritual advisor regularly.  
  • Recognise the risk of burnout, anxiety and fatigue amongst others and help to generate awareness around this and connection to appropriate support services. 

Our next Live Q&A session will be held on Wednesday 29 July from 1-2pm. Please register here and be sure to join us at this session as we will be discussing issues relating to mental health and highlighting a number of helpful resources. 

Update on JobKeeper  
The Australian government has announced an extension to the JobKeeper Payments to 28 March 2021. The existing JobKeeper Payment will remain in place until 27 September 2020 with no changes to the requirements. 

The payment rate of $1,500 per fortnight for eligible employees and business participants will be reduced to $1,200 per fortnight from 28 September 2020 and to $1,000 per fortnight from 4 January 2021. From 28 September 2020, lower payment rates will apply for employees and business participants that worked fewer than 20 hours per week. Employers will be required to reassess their eligibility with reference to actual turnover instead of projected turnover. For further information refer to the Treasury website

A paper on the JobKeeper Payment Extension for Baptist Churches in NSW and ACT can be found here.   

We pray that you and your church communities will have wisdom, strength and protection during this time. 

In Christ,  

Ian Altman 
Acting Director of Ministries 
NSW & ACT Baptist Association