The purpose of this communication is to let you know what we are doing here at St Andrew’s in terms of reopening the church for worship on Sunday mornings.
Since the Victorian Government announced an easing in the restrictions on the number of people who could attend public worship in churches, the Churchwardens and I have been working on preparations to reopen St Andrew’s in a way that protects the safety of our parishioners and minimises the possible transmission of the Covid 19 virus. We have been following guidelines provided by the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, which in turn reflect actions recommended and/or directed by the Victorian Government Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
The Churchwardens and I have agreed that we will reopen the church for worship from Sunday 29th November. Based on feedback received from parishioners (thank you to those who have responded to my short survey on returning to church) we will be offering two services (8am and 10am) each Sunday. A number of parishioners have indicated that they don’t feel comfortable in returning for public worship just yet, and that is totally understandable. We recognise that a number of our parishioners fall into the category of ‘those most vulnerable’ to the Covid 19 virus, and there is certainly no expectation on the part of the parish leadership for people to return until they feel it is safe for them to do so. We will be live-streaming the 10am service on Facebook so that those people who choose not to come in person can still participate in the service.
Based on the latest restrictions on public gatherings announced by the Victorian Government, the maximum number of people that can be in attendance at each service is 20 (excluding the priest). The government has been very clear in its direction that people attending church services must still maintain the 1.5 metre social distancing requirement, and there are also very strict requirements in relation to the cleaning of worship spaces which must take place both BEFORE and AFTER each service in the church. Soft furnishings, such as the pew cushions, are not permitted to be used in worship as they cannot be easily cleaned and disinfected. Removing the pew cushions from the pews would obviously make it very uncomfortable for parishioners to sit in the pews for the length of the worship service. An additional consideration was whether the frequent use of detergents and disinfectants would damage the timber of the pews.
As a result of these requirements, and the consideration of possible damage to the pews, the Churchwardens and I felt that it would be best if we did not use the pews for the time being. We have therefore pushed the pews to the back of the church (in the space where Mainly Music would normally take place) and we have instead brought 20 of the white vinyl chairs from the John Steele Room into the church. These will be more comfortable to sit on than hard wooden pews, and they are much easier to clean and disinfect. In addition, it is much easier to maintain the 1.5 metre social distancing requirement with individual chairs than with pews.
The replacement of the pews with chairs is not the only difference you will notice in the church. We have removed the ‘kneelers’ from the communion rail as we will be asking people not to come in contact with the rail. We will still receive communion at the rail, but you will notice three X’s on the floor in front of the rail (1.5 metres apart from each other) where you will stand to receive communion. There are also two other X’s behind them (again 1.5 metres apart from each other) where people can stand while they wait to move forward and receive communion. You will also note arrows on the floor towards the front of the church which indicate the direction for you to take as you come up to return communion and to return to your seat.
Communion itself will be different from what we are used to as the Diocese has directed that we must only offer communion in ‘one kind’ (being the bread). I will still consecrate a small amount of wine during the ‘Thanksgiving Prayer’, but I will consume that as I have been doing during the livestream services.
We have also been directed by the Diocese not to use hard copies of materials such as orders of service, reading sheets, hymn books et cetera, but to display the liturgy on screen (which we have been doing anyway). However if there are people who have difficulty being able to read the information on screen, we can make a printed copy available specifically for those people.
The Victorian Government requires for tracing purposes, in the event a parishioner records a positive result to a Covid 19 test, that we keep an attendance register of people attending each service. We will have an attendance register in the foyer of the church and a designated person will be on hand to ‘mark’ people off the register as they enter. Hand sanitiser will be provided in the foyer and it is a requirement that people use the sanitiser before entering the church.
The parish was required by the Diocese to appoint a Covid Safe Officer who is responsible for ensuring that all of the requirements I have already outlined are being observed. Peter Brown (who is one of the Churchwardens) has graciously volunteered to take on this responsibility and I would please ask you all to support Peter by following all of the various requirements that we must adhere to for the foreseeable future.
I must emphasise that at this stage the church will be open for Sunday services of worship only. We will provide further information in due course on when (and how) we might be able to resume other church activities and social events. Unfortunately it will not be possible to leave the church open during the week (as has been the case in the past) because it is a requirement of the Diocese that someone be on hand whenever the church is open to supervise activity within the church.
I know that “doing” church in this “new” way will not necessarily be easy for people. It will be a big adjustment for all of us to make. However it means that we can gather together in person to share in worship, and we can do safely in a way that protects the most vulnerable members of our community.