Guidance on Church practices and the Novel Coronavirus

Posted in Leadership

Whilst the situation regarding the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is concerning, there are some simple and sensible actions that can be taken to help reduce the spread and to help allay fears in our community. This is also an opportunity to take a fresh look at some of our practices and consider if there are more suitable alternatives that will help to maintain a safe church.

The Synod's WHS Coordinator Wayne Booth has prepared a fairly comprehensive document on the topic that was sent to Presbyteries and Ministry leaders last week, Friday 13 March. It can also be accessed here.

Additionally, Rev Sue Page delivered a video message via Facebook Live which is well worth a look (it would take you less than 9 minutes to view here).

The following is an extract from Wayne's document and offers practical advice that churches and faith communities can immediately put into practice:

Passing the Peace

Consider facing the person with hands pressed together (as in prayer) or over the heart and acknowledge each other with a slight bow of the head. You can still use the same words ‘Peace be with you; and also with you.’ Another alternate is to simply use eye contact with a slight bow of the head without any touch.

Holy Communion

For the sake of allaying fear, we recommend:

  • not using intincture until the virus transmission has been halted thanks to vaccination and herd immunity. Small glasses and pre-torn or cut bread may help some people feel safer.
    Please ensure those preparing use the appropriate gloves and hygienic food handling procedures.
  • Should you continue with your usual celebration of Communion, perhaps station a couple of hand sanitizer dispensers so that people can sanitize their own hands before they
    receive the elements. This could be announced in such a way as to demonstrate care for one another.
  • Some members of the congregation may refrain from Communion. Another option is to use the Communion of the Empty Hands. There are many versions of the origin of the
    practice– one can be found here.
  • By standing in solidarity with those who live with real fear, deprivation, war, poverty, famine – we also witness that Jesus Christ is also present. While we have no formal church liturgy, a simple service could be crafted from the story above. Should any of you know of a liturgy, please share it with your presbytery for distribution to others.

Pastoral Care

A general request for people not to shake hands can be offered as a form of pastoral care for everyone. Having a conversation with the congregation or at Church Council might help prepare the people for ‘what happens if…?’

If someone within the congregation gets the virus (and this is more likely than not) or is required to isolate, letting people know sooner rather than later that the Minister or Pastoral Care team will not visit face to face, but will phone or skype if appropriate, can maintain a sense of community.

Additionally, checking with your local hospital, retirement/aged care facilities, setting up this arrangement before it is required, will also ensure less frustration and hurt by someone wanting a visit but unable to see the potential risk.

Creating your process and then clearly communicating it to your people will help everyone respond calmly and wisely in the face of unprecedented events.

Social events/ Morning Tea

While there is no need to cancel all events, seek to limit risk for those who may be vulnerable to the virus. Weigh up what would best serve the congregation and wider community. Should food be shared, extra vigilance should be given to all food preparation and handling. Please ensure hand sanitizer is clearly available at multiple locations where possible.


Practising and promoting good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene and limiting opportunities for direct physical contact between people is the best defence against most viruses.

We recommend:

  • ensuring hand washing facilities are kept well stocked with good quality soap and hygienic drying facilities, in toilets and kitchen areas
  • frequently touched areas such as counter surfaces, door handles (particularly in toilet areas), shared office equipment and microphones are cleaned more regularly.
  • hand washing is promoted with reminder posters about how and when (before/after eating, using the toilet), along with a gentle and possibly fun reminder at the beginning of
    services and meetings.
  • reminders to cover coughs and sneezes, dispose of tissues, and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser
  • discouraging direct contact with others (hand-shaking, touching, kissing, hugging, and other intimate contact). It could be fun and interesting to see just how imaginative you
    can be with greeting one another. Politely nodding, bowing and curtseying were all social norms in the past.

Children’s ministries

The effects of the virus on children and young people appears at this stage to be much lower than with more vulnerable age groups. However, children are also less likely to understand the risks and are therefore more prone to inadvertently helping to spread viruses. Please ensure that children’s and youth ministry teams are also acting accordingly.


We recommend the practice of passing the offering plate between members is discontinued at this time in favour of a collection box being placed in a suitable location instead. Whilst we
understand that giving in this way is important to many members, it may be another opportunity to inform members of the benefits that regular e-giving brings.

Those counting the offering should ensure they take reasonable precautions by washing or sanitising their hands afterwards and should be reminded not to touch their face until after they have done so.

Closure of Worship

This would only happen should the authorities advise or a congregation determines prior to this that it is appropriate to do so.

Ensuring you have up to date email addresses and phone numbers can still help people feel connected even if they can’t be physically in the same location. Should a service not go ahead, the liturgy could still be shared in other ways.

In all things, please follow the directives of SA Health and the Department of Health.

Keep Calm but don’t soldier on

Please take every sensible precaution to care for yourself at this time. Remember to also self-isolate as needed.


The Synod leadership is praying for presbyteries and congregations and we encourage you to pray for each other as we journey through this together.

If you missed the letter and prayer provided by Uniting Church in Australia Assembly President regarding the coronavirus, you can access this here.


More from Leadership

Subscribe to receive Leadership articles by email >


Towards 2027: taking the DeLorean out for a spin

Assembly General Secretary Colleen Geyer has delivered a wide-ranging reflection on the future of the Church at the Uniting Leadership and Theology Symposium in Adelaide. In a speech traversing sustainability, diversity, structure and identity Colleen asks can we as the Uniting Church be bold enough to listen to our history, step away from what has always been, be open to where God is leading us and step aside for the leaders who'll take us there?


Why establish multiple Presbyteries in SA?

In less than three weeks the Uniting Church SA will split the title Presbytery and Synod and just become ‘a’ Synod with multiple Presbyteries. But why is this happening?


Comments (3)