A worker cleans up Santo Yakobus Catholic Church at Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta, on Tuesday (23/12/2019). (SP Photo/ Carlos)

Churches Prepare Strict Health Protocol for Reopening in July

BY :TARA MARCHELIN

JUNE 19, 2020

Jakarta. Catholic and protestant churches are preparing strict service protocols and infrastructure for the "new normal" to prevent Covid-19 transmission.

"We don't rush to reopen the church, but we are preparing service protocol, infrastructure, and liturgy following the 'new normal.' If possible, we plan to reopen in July. Still, we don't want the church to be a new cluster of Covid-19 transmission," Agustinus Heri Wibowo, interfaith relations chairman of Indonesian Bishops' Conference (KWI), said on Friday.

Heri said the regional diocese would prepare the church service protocol due to the different conditions in every region.

"The regional dioceses know their region's condition very well; thus, they will arrange the protocol. Then, they pass on the protocol to the parishes to be implemented," Heri said in a virtual press conference.

Based on the report received by KWI, he said, the parishes will limit the number of the congregation in the service to only 20 percent to 40 percent of the church capacity and require them to wear face masks or face shield and apply physical distancing. The service liturgy will also be adjusted, Heri said.

"Worships songs will be reduced to avoid droplets. The 'greeting of peace' will be replaced with a bowing gesture, and the communion minister has to wash their hands before and after delivering the communion. We plan to provide a health clinic as well," he added.

Currently, Heri said there are 37 dioceses throughout Indonesia, 57 percent of which are still holding streaming services. Meanwhile, the other 43 percent have held face-to-face service.

However, he reassured not all parishes in a diocese allowed to hold face-to-face service because it depends on their area condition and requires a permit from the government. 

"In the 'green zone' [areas with a low number of Covid-19 cases], some parishes have held face-to-face service, but it's only a few. We remain disciplined and obey the government's policy and health protocol," Heri said.

Paulus Kariso Rumambi, Western Indonesian Protestant Church (GPIB) Synod Assembly chairman, said they had issued guidance for the service in new normal.

Before entering the service, he said, the church will check the congregation's body temperature, distribute face masks, then ask them to wash hands and use hand sanitizer.

"The congregation will take a seat number before entering the praying, fill in an attendance list that will be used for contact tracing if there is a transmission, and sit according to their seat number. During the service, the congregation must wear masks," Paulus said.

The congregation will not be allowed to sing to avoid producing droplets.

The worship leader who wears a face shield will sing the song alone.

Moreover, he said, GPIB Synod Assembly will divide the service into the socialization stage, adaptation stage, and stabilization stage.

The socialization stage will be in the first and second week of July, and the service will be limited only for the congregation council members and commissions, said Paulus.

"The adaptation stage will last for four weeks, and the number of the congregation in the service will be only 25 percent of the church's capacity. Meanwhile, in the stabilization stage, the number of the congregation will increase to 50 percent of the church's capacity, and people above 50 years old will be allowed to come. However, this also depends on the zone status of the church's area," he said.

Religious Affairs Ministry's director-general for the Christian community, Thomas Pentury, said the ministry had released a circular letter earlier this year on health protocol requirements to reopen places of worship.

According to the circular letter, a religious place must obtain a permit from the regional Covid-19 Task Force or the provincial government if its congregation comes from other areas. The permit will be revoked if there is a Covid-19 transmission after the places of worship reopens.

"A religious place will only be allowed to reopen if it is located in a secure area. It's regional Covid-19 Task Force's authority to determine whether a religious place is in a secure area or not," Thomas said.

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