NSW churches reopen amid eased virus rules

Heather McNab

After closing to faith communities in March, some NSW churches and places of worship have re-opened amid a relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions - but others have chosen to keep their doors shut.

From Friday, the state's churches and places of worship were allowed to welcome 10 people back inside their doors.

Religious organisations 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, reopened on Friday for private prayer, confession and small-scale masses.

"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," Sydney's Archbishop Anthony Fisher said in a statement on Thursday.

Other faiths are taking a different approach with a large number of Jewish synagogues, Islamic mosques, 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."

Islamic Council of NSW chairman Khaled Sukkarieh said he was aware of just one mosque re-opening on Friday.

This mosque was due to hold Friday prayers in intervals of 10 minutes or so, with nine people and the Imam to adhere to social distancing, and with 15 minutes in between for cleaning, Mr Sukkarieh told AAP on Friday.

The easing of restrictions comes within the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan, a period that holds special significance for Muslims, with mosques normally packed at night.

"People are thirsty to actually get back ... but they are keeping their distance, they've said it's safer not to do these things - we want to make sure everybody's safe, make sure everybody is able to cope with that," he said.

"We are all in this together."

The Anglican Archdiocese of Sydney is not bringing Sunday services back yet, 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.

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.

The NSW branch of the Presbyterian Church of Australia has also recommended congregations remain online unless their leadership believes they can legally gather in person.

However, ministers are free to decide whether to re-open on Sunday and a limited number of smaller, possibly regional, congregations will likely do so, the church's general manager, Jeoffrey Falls, said in a statement on Friday.