Here is updated guidance for faith communities on how we will worship under the New Zealand COVID-19 Protection Framework (Traffic Lights). We have updated this on 06 June 2022 with some more advice around mask wearing.
Have a look at the Diocese of Dunedin: Response to the New Zealand COVID-19 Protection Framework (“Traffic Lights”), also attached below.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should our main default setting be for offering worship services and for other groups?
We are now suggesting that Mixed Services (no vaccine pass required) should be the default, but faith communities can choose if they want to maintain vaccine pass only services.
What about wearing a mask in church?
Medical-grade masks are to be worn by public facing workers/volunteers in indoor gatherings and events in Orange and Red. Presiders can remove these provided they are 2 meters physically distanced from others. Attendees at worship are not required to wear face masks, but are strongly encouraged to do so. Facemasks can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and are particularly useful in poorly ventilated indoor areas and when you are around people you do not know.
What about handshakes and hugs at the Peace?
We are still recommending that people give each other plenty of room, especially if they are not from the same household and to use non-contact ways of sharing the Peace.
One good way to do this is using the "namaste" gesture of bringing palms and fingertips together in front of the chest with a slight bowing of the head to one another. It is a time-honoured, socially distanced and respectful greeting of peace and goodwill. It is also very similar to the NZ Sign Language gesture for Peace.
Other options include:
- Saying “Peace” to someone
- Waving hello
- Putting our hand on chest
- The East Coast Wave (a slight lift of the head)
In all Christian liturgical practices - like offering a sign of peace - we need to respect the needs of the other person and not presume they want a handshake, hug, kiss or hongi: they may be medically vulnerable or simply prefer to maintain some physical distance. Please remember that we look out for others in all aspects of our worship.
What about hospitality - can we bring home baking or organise a pot luck meal?
In our guidelines-response document we say: "If you are operating a gathering, you can serve food and drink at Green, Orange or Red. We are not recommending offering of indoor hospitality at Level Red if there is active transmission in the community."
We are recommending that you take things carefully at Orange and Red, especially as local transmission may be taking place. We recommend that areas where refreshments are served are well ventilated.
The advice to use only commercially prepared food gives an extra safety net (and is actually better from a food safety perspective i.e. there is a risk in serving food that may or may not have been handled and cooked appropriately). We will leave this up to each faith community to do a risk assessment on this and decide whether they feel they can safely serve "homemade food". The Diocese of Dunedin Hospitality Checklist has advice around proper food handling, storage, heating and so on that should ensure an unwanted virus or worse is accidently transmitted via food. If anything changes in the future i.e. community transmission is increasing, faith communities may want to revisit if they continue to offer hospitality or not.
What about offering eucharist in two kinds at Level Orange or Red?
Our Guidelines outline the following:
- All presiders and servers must practice good hand hygiene. This means washing or sanitising hands before ablutions (ritual purification) and handling/distributing any sacraments.
- Eucharist can take place in two kinds from Easter 2022. Make sure that when communion is offered that people are under no compulsion to take it – some may be more comfortable with receiving in one kind only or requesting a blessing.
- Any president at Eucharist/Communion can restrict communion to one kind only if there are any concerns about the presence of COVID-19 in the community.
- We recommend people receive the Eucharist while standing. This avoids any contact with altar rails.
Is it safe to share from the common cup?
“The common cup might seem just as unsanitary, but there is some research backing the idea that it’s safer. Logue points to two peer-reviewed studies, published in the American Journal of Infection Control in 1988 and 1998, which found that the common cup was not a significant transmitter of disease. In these studies, scientists took a cup straight from the altar after communion to test whether disease-causing bacteria or viruses were present, and found there were such trace amounts as to not be dangerous to those who drank from the cup." (See first citation below)
"In conclusion, there is experimental evidence suggesting that sharing a communion cup contaminates the wine and cup. However, there has never been a documented case of illness caused by sharing a chalice reported in the literature.” (See second citation below)
Citation 1: https://www.vox.com/2020/3/12/21172458/church-coronavirus-pandemic-communion-wine-common-cup-easter accessed 8 June 2020.
Citation 2: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1201971213001872, accessed 8 June 2020.
Would it be safer for us to use individual cups for serving communion?
This was covered in our original Pandemic Response Framework, from page 18-19: We don't recommend using individual cups when the virus is spreading in the community, but that communion be in one-kind only if you have particular concerns around the risk of transmission.
What about our home group or youth group or Vestry meeting?
These are OK to have in person, but you may want to take extra care around health precautions, or even consider going back to meeting virtually if there is a surge in community transmission. It makes sense to follow general public health precautions. If you meet in spaces outside a church (such as a private home), you can provide your own QR code for people who want to scan in for their own records, have sanitiser available for people and have a conversation about wearing a face mask. The best way to handle this is if one (or more) person prefers to keep a mask in place, then others should do this as well to ensure everyone feels safe. We recommend that any space you use is well ventilated - open a door or window and crank the heating up if you need to!
The Notices for Open- Closed Churches template is a revamp of what we provided earlier and can be used by Faith Communities who want to leave their buildings open for people to visit for prayer and quiet reflection, or indicate that they are closed.
Full range of posters you can download and display
Latest Information Around Isolation and Testing
Have a look at our Resources for Isolating and Managing At Home page. We have attached extra information in that page from the Government about how this all works as the situation changes (COVID Message Grid, FAQ's Omicron response, RATs guide and Testing Guidance). There is also Close Contact Advice from Ministry of Health.
What happens if we are exposed to the virus at Church?
Public Health South are also able to provide support and guidance for churches about what to do when there have been cases present at worship settings. Contact PHS EOC Operations on PHSOPS@southerndhb.govt.nz and then someone will phone back to assist 7 days per week. See also a separate article on this.
Participating in the Protection Framework
Previously each faith community had indicated if they are operating under Option 1 – Vaccine Pass Only services or Option 2 – Mixed Services. From 5 April vaccine passes are no longer required, but some faith communities may choose to operate with these for a further time period. Information on this is noted on our website so that everyone's arrangements is noted in one place.
Government Advice for Places of Worship
- Some religious rituals or practices need people to be close to each other — for example, a christening. Try to keep the time spent in close contact to a minimum.
- Encourage contactless donations instead of a cash collection box.
- You can have refreshments after a service, but people should not share drinks, cups, plates, cutlery or other items. Face masks can be removed while eating and drinking. You do not have to follow the advice for (commercial) hospitality at any traffic light setting (but we expect you to follow standard infection control precautions as per our Hospitality Checklist).
- Children under the age of 12 are not required to follow face masks rules at gatherings.
- Medical-grade masks are to be worn by public facing workers/volunteers in indoor gatherings and events in Orange and Red. Presiders can remove these provided they are 2 meters physically distanced from others.
- Attendees at worship are not required to wear face masks, but are strongly encouraged to do so. Facemasks can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and are particularly useful in poorly ventilated indoor areas and when you are around peple you do not know.
- Places of worship should display posters or signage indicating they will be asking people to show their My Vaccine Pass to enter if this is a local requirement.
- Consider offering online services so people who cannot attend in person can participate. This could be suitable for faith-based gatherings.
- Singing, for example, church choirs and other types of performance, can go ahead. Performers do not need to wear a face covering. Clean and sanitise musical instruments thoroughly before and after use.
Guidelines for places of worship [PDF, 698 KB] Please note: these Government guidelines offer minimum settings that need to be applied. Our Diocese of Dunedin Traffic Light Guidance indicates our local guidance, we will review this in the light of any new information from the Government.