Covid Compliance

Why I’m so busy in 2020.

It’s been a while since my last blog post. Which is because I’ve not had enough time this year.

Because I’ve been working to get Wenty Anglican Church COVID Safe.


OK, you don’t really need much background to COVID-19. It’s been the dominant event of 2020.

In my part of the world in Sydney, Australia, we got off pretty lightly. We had one lock down in March through to May, which was moderately severe, but not as hard as in other parts of Australia or the world. And since then, Sydney has slowly been rolling back restrictions. And managed to avoid a second wave. (Our friends in Melbourne were not so fortunate).

From June 2020, our church started working toward being COVID Safe.

The Timeline to COVID Safe Church

Places of worship were the subject of several COVID clusters early in the pandemic, so there were some pretty strict conditions required to re-open.

Wenty Anglican had been doing online meetings since the March lock down came into effect. After a month or so, we had got into something of a new rhythm: pre-recorded talks, YouTube songs, Zoom meetings. Although it was horribly impersonal, it was as good as we could do. And meant we could continue encouraging each other to follow Jesus even when we could not meet in person.

By June, the NSW government had rolled back restrictions to the point where churches and places of worship could re-open for up to 50 people, if they had a COVID Safe plan in place. At this point we decided to wait - the online meetings were going OK and there was a lot of work required to be COVID Safe. And, the restrictions meant a) no singing and b) limited mingling. Which felt like face-to-face meetings would almost be worse than online ones.

In July, our regular Parish Council meeting spent considerable time working out what going back to face-to-face meetings would look like under the COVID Safe requirements. As a warden, my responsibility was to ensure compliance with these requirements, and the safety of people coming on our property. And we also started reaching out to church members to gauge how many people wanted to return to in-person meetings.

This was the start of crazy busy time for me. There were regular meetings between church wardens to discuss what COVID Safe would look like. And many pages of draft policy documents written.

By August things had changed significantly. In NSW, COVID was relatively under control. But the local Wentworthville area was a COVID hot-spot (our local government area had ~50 active cases and was one of the worst areas in Sydney), and the beginning of the second wave was hitting Melbourne. This gave us pause. There was no immediate need to return physical meetings, and we had to consider the possibility that Sydney could have a second wave just like Melbourne.

While we did not commit to a date to return, the wardens continued working hard to be COVID Safe.

In September, it was clear Sydney wasn’t heading to another lock down. So we committed to going back before Christmas - with an early November soft launch, followed by a few weeks online to debrief and make any changes, before a public re-launch in late November.

And that’s when the work stepped up a gear! We put together a Trello board listing off all the things we needed to do before relaunch day. There were 32 specific items on that list, ranging from moving the wooden pews, to be socially distant, to putting policies together addressing all the government requirements. The biggest single item in my orbit was training people in all the new processes.

At that point, we worked backwards from the due date. Training needed to happen in the week prior to relaunch. All the physical work needed to be completed before training (because any on-site training was effectively testing all our COVID Safe policies) - signage, moving of furniture, purchasing equipment, etc. And we needed to decide all our policies before everything. So September was mostly policy discussions and making final decisions.

In October, everyone was crazy busy implementing everything we decided for the early November relaunch date. While this is one line in a blog, remember that all the wardens are volunteers, so we were working most evenings and weekends to make it all happen. Crazy busy was an understatement!

In November, we actually launched! Our first in-person church meeting was on the 1st of November. There was a lot of nerves after we did our first live meeting since March. And plenty of awkwardness with social distancing. And way too much paperwork to ensure our compliance.

There were three weeks that we went back to online meetings. That was time where I could relax a little.

There was also some debriefing, which lead to a few tweaks and improvements to our processes and policies, which took up some time.

Finally, on 29th of November, we went back to face-to-face church meetings permanently, much to everyone’s delight! (Assuming no further COVID outbreaks occur in Sydney).

By December, we were getting back into the groove of in-person meetings. The NSW government unexpectedly relaxed the restrictions for places of worship. While this did not affect us significantly, it did require us to update our paperwork and policies. The process of these minor updates is now pretty straight forward, so the amount of work is minimal.

Which brings us to mid-December, where I have finally got enough time to write an article!

Only to have a new infection cluster emerge after 6 weeks of zero cases, and see restrictions become stricter once again!

What Does COVID Safe Look Like?

While all places of worship in NSW had to follow the same set of Covid Safe rules, we had some freedom of how to implement them. The following list is what we did (taken from our COVID Safe training slides).

  1. Don’t come if you are sick. Part of that is temperature checks on entry.
  2. Capacity limits to our buildings (main auditorium is limited to 50).
  3. 1.5m social distancing applies.
  4. No sharing - so no hand outs or Bibles; the Lords Supper is pre-packaged.
  5. Masks are recommended (but not required).
  6. No singing (this changed from 13th December).
  7. Lots of posters reminding people to stay distant, hand santise and maximum numbers allowed in a room. The government provided most of these, we just had to print them.
  8. Publish our conditions of entry via posters and online. Plus all our COVID related policies.

Those are the dot points. Plus a few more items I’ll going into more detail.

Record Attendance

Contact tracing has been a big part of the success of NSW Health’s containment of COVID - whenever a case appeared, lots of effort goes into working out where that person has been when potentially infectious and aggressively testing anyone they may have had contact with. While this isn’t so effective when there are hundreds or thousands of active cases, NSW rarely got beyond 100 active cases.

At church, we have to keep contact tracing records for 28 days. Our church database for the directory we publish for members is in MS Access. It’s not the most advanced technology, but it’s effective enough. The biggest change was to ensure the database is available on cloud storage so many people could access it, while also being secured.

We built a simple MS Access Report to produce a church roll for regular members - tick a box to indicate the person is here. Plus an A5 sheet to capture details of any vistors. These details are retained in our church safe (and hopefully never needed).

Church Roll (with privacy blur)

This was built based on my experience managing elections in Australia, which is entirely based on paper rolls and ballots (and righly so IMO). Quickly identify and mark off the majority of people, and have a mechanism for everyone else.

No “Mingling”

This was the most annoying requirement we had, because it went completely against what church meetings are about: we want to talk to people. Be they people who are regular members, who we can encourage as they walk with the Lord Jesus. Or if they are irregulars, who we want to re-connect with. Or visitors, who we want to welcome and extend the news of salvation in Jesus. Church is about people. And the no mingling rule made that really hard.

Our instructions:

Following the Premier’s advice, we should ensure that members of our congregations do not mingle before, during or after the service. Where morning tea is served after the service, provision should be made for seating persons 1.5m apart, discouraging people from mingling or walking around.

We delayed going back to face-to-face meetings because we knew this would be a) unpopular, and b) very difficult to enforce.

Our policy on this was to enforce 1.5m distancing, and to encourage people to stay in their seats before and after the meeting.

However, in practise, there are a number of people who need to be moving around (ushers, musos, leaders, techs, etc). So it becomes very difficult to enforce “stay in your seats” when half the people present have a reason (or perhaps “excuse” is a better word) to be moving around. And while the number of cases were low, the risk factors meant enforcing this would do more harm than good. (This is changing since the cases appearing in mid-December).

Online Option

The government requires churches to have an online option, so every church has (by rule of law) become tele-evangelists!!

I have been using OBS Studio quite a bit through 2020 to record training material at work. So it was my choice of streaming software. And we were doing online church via our Wenty Anglican YouTube channel, so YouTube was our broadcast platform. We did a number of tests in the lead up to our first meeting - including streaming our training material.

As of December, it’s usable, if a little unprofessional (with the powerpoint slides appearing as part of the frame). IMO the most important part is the audio feed; if the video isn’t perfect its no big deal, but if you can’t hear then you might as well not bother streaming at all.

Our very simple live stream

The main technical changes were:

  • Purchase an HDMI to USB converter so we could get video from a camera.
  • Purchase a decent camera so we could… well… have video!
  • Re-arrange our existing computers so the most powerful desktop was doing streaming.
  • Configure OBS Studio so it was easy for our regular sound operators to use it.

We have a few simple scenes: three static slides, plus the live stream itself. And there are the Start and Stop buttons. And that’s it - it’s designed to be simple.

The operators click “Start”, then just before our meeting begins they click “LIVE STREAM”. At the end they click “Thanks”, then wait a few minutes before clicking “Stop”.

OBS Studio config

Our first lesson was to both watch and listen to the live stream during the meeting to ensure it’s working as expected. There were several times when there was no audio (because of incorrect OBS config), or no stream (because the YouTube stream somehow was marked “private”).

The trickiest technical things were:

  • Making sure OBS picked up the right audio input device - it has a habit of changing back to the “default audio device”.
  • Removing background noise using appropriate filters in OBS. I’m running a noise gate for now, because the noise removal made for beautiful speech, but murdered any songs or music.
  • Getting the audio and video in sync (which still isn’t 100% right).

The main improvements we’re planning are:

  • Connect the streaming computer via wired ethernet instead of WiFi. We have had several drop outs relating to WiFi.
  • Purchase an additional HDMI to USB converter so we can run the powerpoint slides as a direct feed. The current way of framing the speaker + screen on the wall isn’t ideal.


Cleaning was one of the big COVID requirements: we need to clean any regularly touched surface after every meeting to remove the COVID virus. Again, simplicity is key to making sure this happens and is effective.

Many churches have taken to issuing alcohol wipes to each person so they can clean their seat after the meeting. We took a slightly different route: Glen 20.

Our COVID Cleaner

After the meeting, we ask a few people to spray down all the wooden pew seats with Glen 20. It takes about 5 minutes and ensures more uniform cleaning as trained people are doing it. And a few others are responsible for other parts of the building.

There is a long list of other things we need to clean as well (tables, lectern, door knobs, benches, light switches, etc), but Glen 20 is effective on almost all of them. Electrical equipment is our biggest problem - as spraying 60% alcohol into electronic devices is bound to break things.

For everything else, we quarantine for 96 hours.


My biggest time sink in the lead up to face-to-face meetings was training. We needed to get all our core members up to speed quickly, and as many other regulars as well. Although we were used to doing “COVID things” in other public places and our own homes, church counts as a “business”, so we need to be consistent and meet a higher standard.

There were two sides to this: written material, which contained extra details for specific cases and ministries. And a recording for general training. And then a summary recording so people could see exactly what to expect as they arrive.

The written material is available on our church’s website. We ended up calling it our COVID Safe Playbook, which contains all our policies and procedures required. It makes for pretty dry reading (as is the case for most compliance documents).

For a less boring approach, I recorded a screen cast summarising the playbook using powerpoint slides based on the playbook. This is similar to what I’ve done several times at work. It went for 60 minutes, and was still pretty boring (only slightly less bad than the written version). I also did the same training material as a live stream on two occasions, to give people maximum chance of hearing it - in both live stream cases, it was done to an empty auditorium!

Finally, we recorded a short what to expect video, focused on what someone just walking in the door should know. That one is under 3 minutes!

After we went back to in-person meetings, we found we needed more people trained using the sound desk and computers. So I’ve recorded a few tech training videos walking people through the minimum requirements for making church audible and broadcast in 2020. These ones were done via my phone and edited using the Windows Photos app (which is just barely suitable for the task at hand).


COVID compliance: This is where my last six months has gone.

I’ve learned many new technical things (live streaming, video editing, YouTube). I’ve applied my previous knowledge of creating policy documents. I’ve found how alcohol kills viruses. I’ve used paper to record attendance. And tried to train people how to be COVID Safe.

Hopefully, it will actually stop at least one person getting COVID, and maybe even save a life.

(But at the moment, it feels like fifty+ hours of my time wasted on bureaucracy and paperwork).