After closing to faith communities in March, some NSW churches and places of worship in NSW have re-opened amid a relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions – but others have chosen to keep their doors shut.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Sunday announced an easing of coronavirus-prompted restrictions on Friday, including allowing churches and places of worship to welcome 10 people back inside their doors.
Religious organisations had moved services and mass online following the introduction of restrictions in NSW almost eight weeks ago.
But in a small step forward, Catholic churches across NSW, including Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral, could re-open on Friday for private prayer, confession and small-scale masses.
“The celebration of mass is the highest form of Catholic worship and to not be able to physically gather these past two months has been very difficult for Catholics,” Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher said in a statement on Thursday.
“While it will take some time to return to larger celebrations, this first step will offer comfort to many Catholics who have been deeply missing attending mass.”
A national website has been established for Catholic worshippers to register their church attendance, simplifying contact tracing in the event of a COVID-19 infection.
Other faith communities across the state are taking a different approach with a large number of Jewish synagogues, Sydney’s Anglican diocese and the NSW/ACT Uniting Church all deciding to keep their doors closed.
“Some NSW synagogues will reopen their doors for services tonight, although they will of course restrict numbers so as to comply with government restrictions and ensure that congregants maintain the requisite social distancing,” NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said in a statement on Friday.
“However, a significant number of synagogues are not reopening their doors yet and prefer to wait longer.”
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The Anglican Archdiocese of Sydney has decided not to bring back Sunday services as NSW enters the first of a three-stage national road map for lifting restrictions.
“Our strong advice is that Step One is not the time to re-introduce Sunday public worship, especially for senior members of our community who are among the most vulnerable,” Archbishop Glenn Davies said in a statement this week.
“We should not be expecting to return to ‘2019 normality’ any time soon.”
Dr Davies said it was unlikely many churches would return to Sunday public worship even under the third stage of the national plan due to seating limits and physical distancing requirements.
The Uniting Church’s NSW/ACT synod this week made a similar decision, agreeing on a “strong recommendation” that church members should not meet in person for worship or face-to-face church meetings.
“It is anticipated that the effects of COVID-19 will continue to impact our lives for the foreseeable future,” a guidance note signed by general secretary Reverend Jane Fry and moderator Reverend Simon Hansford said.
“We must avoid framing our situation in terms of a false choice between reviving the economy – or our churches – and saving lives.”