An outcry from church leaders over antivirus restrictions which churches must follow when they reopen this weekend has prompted Government to announce immediate adjustments to the protocol – allowing non-contact ministering of the communion sacrament, among other changes.
Minister of Labour Colin Jordan told journalists at a news conference today that following consultations in recent days with heads from various denominations, changes are to take place with immediate effect.
Communion – the consecration and sharing of bread and wine during Christian worship – which had been banned under the Government’s emergency order, can now be given to congregants provided there is no contact between the officiate and worshippers, Jordan said.
He said that during the discussion, church leaders put a number of options on the table to prevent contact during communion. They suggested pre-packaged communion sets, applying the bread – known as the host – to the palm of the hand without touching, the use of serving tongs, and virtual communion service where persons can take communion from their homes.
Jordan also said that ministers can remove their masks at a place of worship and congregants who are singing can also follow suit, but once the mask has been removed, an increased distance of 12 feet must be maintained.
The Minister also clarified that churchgoers 70 years or older can attend regular services. He said that there was a misunderstanding in the protocol which initially stated that churches can hold special services for people 70 years or older.
Jordan told journalists: “The misunderstanding came because we specifically identified that places of worship were free to have special services if they wanted persons only 70 years or older to attend to keep them away from the larger congregation. That suggestion actually came from a couple of church leaders in our initial consultation and I think it was founded on the same practice that was being taken when persons 70 years or older could shop.
“But it was also a separate time where those who felt uncomfortable being in spaces with persons who they may not know where they have gone could come together on their own and that was the reason why it was included. So for clarity, persons 70 years or older can attend any service and adhere to the protocols like anybody else.”
The requirement to record the temperature of each person entering the place of worship has been suspended, said Jordan. But he insisted that the taking temperatures of entrants would remain mandatory.
He also said that while it was previously announced that air-conditioners would not be allowed to run, church leaders indicated that they would leave windows opened to allow for ventilation while the AC is running.
“One leader actually spoke to having an extractor system so once the concern as it relates to airflow and the transfer of air out the place of worship is addressed then the (air-conditioning) system can be used. Air conditioning can also be used in church offices and the protocol of maintaining social distancing must be kept,” Jordan said.
It was announced last week that churches would be allowed to resume service at their places of worship from June 1.
Additionally, Jordan said while the use of paper towels in bathrooms are okay, only contactless hand dryers can be used. Hand dryers which must be touched in order to work cannot be used.
And while churches are required to record those attending services, the leaders must determine what method will be used. But Jordan explained that recording the information is necessary for the purpose of contact tracing.
“This is not a matter of surveillance. The Ministry of Health and Wellness does not want to know who goes to which congregation unless there is a case that they are investigating. Other than that investigation, there is no need for that information to be shared”. Though streaming is not mentioned in the guidelines, Jordan said it is still allowed.
Jordan who is responsible for ecclesiastical affairs during the pandemic also sought to explain that the guidelines which were issued on Saturday, June 30 in the Official Gazette received input from leaders of churches across the island.
The Minister said while he advised church leaders that the requirements in existence will expire on June 14, as accustomed, each directive has been relaxed.
“As a country, we have sought to err on the side of caution. Whenever we are dealing with the lives of people we have to err on the side of caution because one of the things that we have not learnt to do up to this point is to bring a person back to life. And so our responsibility as a Government is to preserve life, so the consultation that we had have been all about that.
“We have come to good conclusions I believe as to how we can open up some more for persons to be safe in the country. There are other matters that were raised which I would not get into now but those are the subject for further discussion,” he said.
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