St Paul’s Cathedral will remain closed until public assembly restrictions are lifted to 50 worshippers, Dean of Melbourne, Dr Andreas Loewe, said on 14 May 2020. “Some of our congregants will be disappointed to hear that we have decided not to open again until the number of people allowed to gather has increased to 50. We also would like to return back to our usual programs as soon as possible, but here at St Paul’s we are first and foremost committed to ensuring that our worshippers, visitors and staff are kept safe and healthy”.
Although recent Victorian Health Directives currently permit gatherings of ten congregants, Dean Andreas said that the Cathedral would remain closed to the public for the time being. “We have excellent plans and practises in place to allow surface-cleaning after larger groups of people. However, if we were to admit a series of small groups of people for prayer and worship to the Cathedral across each day, our staff simply would not be able to maintain the stringent level of cleaning required for safe operation”.
“We give thanks to God that the curve tracing Covid19 infections is flattening in our state and nation”, Dean Andreas said. The Cathedral’s worship leaders have modelled strict distancing in order to reduce potential airborne transmissions by asymptomatic carriers of Covid-19. “We all can play our part in contributing that our Cathedral members and members of the general public are kept safe from infection, and so we will maintain our strict sanitising and distancing regime at St Paul’s”, the Dean said.
Instead of admitting members of the public to its worship, the Cathedral will extend the number of musicians leading live-streamed worship. Dean Andreas explained: “Thanks to the lifted restrictions we will be seeing up to ten participants leading our services. Our Director of Music Philip Nicholls and Lead Musician Kristy Biber have done a tremendous job in sustaining our music-making through their wonderful solo singing. From next week we will have other adult choir members join more regularly in leading our singing and enriching our worship”. Like other worship leaders, Cathedral musicians will maintain strict distancing as they perform.
Dean Andreas said that even though St Paul’s is closed, the Cathedral staff are kept busy: “While the building remains closed, the Cathedral’s ministry continues, as do Cathedral operations. Staff are busy making sure the Cathedral is prepared up for any next stages of restrictions easing: they have cleaned and disinfected the Cathedral’s pews and surface areas, and washed and cleaned all seat coverings”. While the Cathedral normally seats up to 1,200 people, seating capacity that maintains strict social distancing will be significantly reduced. “We are currently planning for what it will look like when we are permitted to admit 50 people to our live-streamed services”, the Dean said. “We anticipate that until the introduction of a vaccine we will continue to maintain distancing, which will restrict the Cathedral’s seating to about a quarter of its normal capacity”. Live-streaming of services will continue as well for those unable to attended in person.
In order to cap numbers effectively and equitably, and to capture the details of all would want to attend Cathedral worship in line with health directives, St Paul’s has set up a booking system which will open once restrictions are lifted to 50 people gathering. Dean Andreas explained: “When we open to the public again we will need to capture the names and contact numbers of each worshipper and visitor to the Cathedral, in case we need to trace a local outbreak of the virus at St Paul’s – which we hope and pray will not be necessary. Our booking system will gather that information and keep it secure and confidential”.
Dean Andreas Loewe said he was looking forward to the day when the Cathedral could open again to the public in a way that is safe and sustainable for the many people who look to St Paul’s as their spiritual home: “The Cathedral ministry and operational staff are in good health and heart, as are our congregants. We are delighted that we can maintain a ministry of prayer, worship and pastoral care for our City through our online presence, and we are very much looking forward to opening again to the people of Melbourne when restrictions are further scaled back.”