2020-05-15 COVID-19 Regarding Easing of Restrictions
COVID-19: EASING RESTRICTIONS
As you would be aware, the Federal Governments has begun easing restrictions around COVID-19 according to a ‘3-Step Framework’ (document attached). Our own state government has likewise released its own ‘Roadmap’ (document attached). The documents describe how the limitations around social and other gatherings will be lifted progressively over the coming months. The Uniting Church SA Synod has been considering these easing of restrictions and how they impact upon church and related activities. The Synod General Secretary has issued a letter advising the Synod position (see link: http://createsend.com/t/j-A91E0DF1A4C99CDD2540EF23F30FEDED). The contents of the letter are appended below:-
Christian greetings to everyone as we negotiate the restoration of activity through congregations and other ministries in the Uniting Church here in South Australia. On Monday a communication was sent following the meeting of the Crisis Management Team (CMT). Many people have contacted the office with questions for clarification and I am sorry if the communication was unclear. Your questions have prompted me to re-issue the letter in the hope we can clarify your concerns.
Excitingly, congregations and other ministries are involved in a huge variety of missional activities which make it difficult to provide clear guidelines to cover all scenarios. Because the church ministers to and cares for a significant number of vulnerable people we are seeking to offer a cautious approach to the Government’s road map for lifting restrictions. We know and appreciate that Church Councils and Leadership Teams will be exercising great wisdom and some common sense when making decisions for their congregations. Presbyteries are also involved in assisting congregations to discern how they might respond to the advice.
What does this mean for UCA congregations and other ministries in SA?
Step 1 of the recovery package tells us that;
- places of worship are allowed to openfor small religious gatherings, private worship, small group activities and small meetings, provided that the government requirements and recommendations around physical distancing and hygiene are strictly observed.
- public worship and other larger servicesare not permitted but allows for and encourages the ongoing recording and live streaming for these events.
- A maximum of 10 peopleare able to be onsite at any one time and Congregations must limit the number of people onsite to 1 person per 4 square metres.
The Crisis Management Team is requesting that Congregations keep records of attendance, including names and contact details with people signing in and out of Church buildings. These lists need to be kept in a private but accessible place. The CMT is strongly encouraging this practice, recognising that if someone enters your buildings and tests positive to the virus then people who may have been in contact can be contacted quickly and easily. The Synod has prepared a ‘sign in sheet’ which can be adapted for your congregation’s purposes.
As we continue to care for older members of our congregations and communities, there has been a growing desire for people in the 70-80 age bracket who are active and well, to be able to participate in ministry and missional activities. If people in this age bracket wish to attend the church for such activities we are strongly encouraging that they seek medical advice to determine if it is safe to do so. If their doctor’s support such activity we are requesting that attendance records indicate that permission has been granted. While some have suggested that this is ‘draconian’ advice, it is designed to keep people safe during this time of transition.
What does it mean for Op Shops and the hiring of hall spaces by groups not connected to the church?
The Synod is keen to see congregational Op Shops open. There will be further information and guidelines regarding Op Shops later in the week. While we are preparing a checklist to provide assistance to management teams, we encourage congregations to start thinking about how you might practice physical distancing and strict hygiene practices in order to keep staff and patrons safe. We know that all changing rooms will need to remain closed and no sit down food and beverage offered. Special attention needs to be paid to bathroom facilities at the location.
In relation to groups not connected with the church who hire your facilities, (such as music, dancing, language classes), the CMT is concerned that it is much more difficult to monitor restrictions. Defining what is a church related activity is also complex. Our general advice is to continue to restrict this activity. However where congregations can show that the groups do not increase the number of people in your building beyond 10 people at any one time, and they are able to record attendance, practice physical distancing and a high levels of hygiene, then such activity maybe possible. Clearly as the Steps 2 and 3 of the recovery package unfold the numbers will increase alongside our responsibility to keep people safe. Church Councils and Leadership Teams may wish to enquire about the cost of deep cleaning the church facilities (in the event of someone with the virus attending the church facilities) as part of your risk assessment.
What does it mean for outdoor activities?
While the weather is not always conducive to outdoor activity at the moment, it is clearly safer for everyone when we gather for activity outdoors. Restrictions around numbers of people and the type of activities kids clubs and youth groups love to be part of, mean it remains difficult for such groups to gather. Activities that clearly display attention to physical distancing and strong attention to hygiene can be considered. Again the CMT would encourage congregations to be cautious around such decisions.
Thank you again for the great way everyone is seeking to care for each other, stay connected and worshipping God in new and different ways. It is wonderful to see emerging expressions of being church not imagined possible two months ago.
Continue to pray for our church, for Synod, Presbytery and Congregational leaders and staff, for the Government, community decision makers, front line workers and health professionals as they continue to serve and seek to keep our communities safe.
Blackwood Uniting Church response
At this present phase of the eased restrictions:-
- Community Classes will remain suspended
- We need to limit to a maximum of 10 the number of people in the church building at any one time. There is now a check-in/check-out sheet at the back door, together with hand sanitiser dispenser.
- Pre-recording of worship with online viewing of the service will continue.
- Provided that the maximum of 10 is not exceeded, it is possible for small church groups, such as Bible Study Groups, to meet at the church, provided that spatial distancing and good personal hygiene is employed. It will be necessary to book via the church office. Also please note that the kitchen facilities are not to be used.
We will continue to keep you updated as things progress.
Chris Bray, Chair of Council
Michael Dowling, Minister