Some churches to reopen as restrictions ease

Stringent requirements will force many to remain closed for time being though as Victoria tentatively begins to reopen

By Stephen Cauchi

June 7 2020 

A number of Anglican churches – including St Paul’s Cathedral – are expected to reopen for worship in Victoria following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, although stringent requirements for physical distancing and cleaning mean that many will remain closed.

The Diocese of Melbourne has also received its first payments under the Federal Government’s JobKeeper scheme and is preparing a financial assistance plan for parishes.

From 1 June, in line with State Government regulations, the size limit on gatherings for worship will move from 10 to 20 people. From 22 June, that is expected to move to 50 people.

Bishop Paul Barker, whose episcopate of Jumbunna covers Melbourne’s southern and eastern suburbs, told TMA that some churches had already reopened in May.

“A handful of churches have started services on Sundays, and maybe a few more midweek. More will start after June 1 when the limit is lifted to 20,” he said. “Perhaps, in my area, only four to six churches have already had some sort of service.”

But Bishop Barker said that even if the limit was raised to 50 as expected, many churches would still not reopen.

“Some church buildings are small, so for some they cannot fit in 20 with social distancing anyway. Bigger churches are going to find it hard for a long time with social distancing expected until the end of the year, maybe.

“Most seem to be taking very seriously the requirements on numbers, space, cleaning, and several say it is too onerous for such small services.”

Small groups were also beginning to resume, he said. “I am not yet aware of Bible study groups meeting in churches or homes on a large scale but I expect that will begin throughout June to a degree.”

The diocese released a Business Services Bulletin in May with an extensive list of the safety and cleaning requirements that must be carried out if worship services are to resume.

The Bulletin also advised congregations to “consider continuing your livestreaming and/or broadcasting where possible. 

“This has been an important point of contact and a valuable spiritual resource for many people, and will continue to assist the housebound, vulnerable and those who do not feel comfortable in returning to public spaces at the current time.”

The Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, told TMA that St Paul’s Cathedral would reopen to the public on 28 June. The Cathedral will be releasing a plan on how it reopens on Friday 5 June, he said. 

The chief executive of the Melbourne Anglican Diocesan Corporation, Mr Ken Spackman, said the reopening of the Diocesan Centre at St Paul’s would depend on the State Government’s stance on working from home. “(It’s) likely to be August at the earliest,” he said.

A printed version of TMA is scheduled to resume with the July edition.

In a COVID-19 update message in May, Archbishop Philip Freier confirmed that the diocese had received its first payment under the JobKeeper scheme, “which is good news indeed … the Diocese will provide a full account to parishes which will ultimately fully benefit from this most welcome scheme”.

The Archbishop also stated that the crisis management committee within the Diocese’s finance committee “is finalising a strategic policy for financial support for parishes … and will announce this as soon as possible”.

The Diocesan Registrar, Mr Malcolm Tadgell, told TMA that the Diocesan Synod scheduled for October was unlikely to take place. Under church law, it could be held as late as mid-April 2021, he said. Online Synods are not possible.

General Synod, which had been scheduled for this month, is now planned for 30 May to 4 June 2021 in Maroochydore. The Anglican Primate, Archbishop Geoffrey Smith, “will issue a new mandate at the beginning of December 2020 for a date for General Synod next year”.