Church leaders are working with the NSW government to safely reopen churches.
Kanishka Raffel, Anglican archbishop of Sydney, said he is very grateful for the work the Government has done through this “very difficult period”.
“There has been a very helpful and fruitful interaction between the Government and religious leaders and community leaders – through this whole process,” he told Hope 103.2.
“And that’s continuing and we’re very grateful for that.”
The NSW Government held an online community forum a few weeks ago, hosted by Minister for Multiculturalism Natalie Ward, with 270 people in attendance.
Religious leaders, people in the multicultural community and representatives of peak bodies were invited to attend.
“I cannot thank our religious and multicultural community leaders enough for their vital work since the start of the pandemic, and especially during this current lockdown,” Ms Ward said in a statement.
Mr Raffel said he was glad that religious leaders received an invitation and have been consulted throughout the lockdown.
“[It] has allowed… community leaders and faith leaders to feed into the Government’s concerns that people have [and] questions that need to be answered.”
Under the NSW Government’s roadmap to bring the state out of lockdown, the freedoms for vaccinated adults will come into effect the Monday after NSW hits the 70 per cent double-dose target.
Churches and places of worship will be able to open under these conditions, subject to the one person per four square metre rule with no singing.
On Friday, NSW passed the 50 per cent double-dose vaccination target, with 51.9 per cent of those aged 16 and over now fully vaccinated.
“There has been a very helpful and fruitful interaction between the Government and religious leaders and community leaders,” Kanishka Raffel, Anglican archbishop of Sydney
How are churches working through this?
The Sydney Anglican Church is complying with health orders as it plans for the reopening of its churches, Mr Raffel said.
“That means that churches will be limited to the four-square meter rule and stay at home orders will still apply to people who aren’t double vaccinated,” he said.
“So, in that setting, it will be very important for churches to continue their online services.”
Faith leaders, including the Anglican church, are currently preparing material to submit to the Government about what to do after the State hits the 80 per cent double dose vaccination target in adults.
The Reverend Dr Peter Barnes, moderator-general of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, said church leaders are currently meeting in assembly to discuss this issue.
“We’re discussing various possibilities, but one would be to open with social distancing… another possibility might be to meet outside, which makes it far less dangerous,” he told Hope 103.2
Last week, Brian Houston, founder and senior pastor of Hillsong Church, said in an email to church attendees that Hillsong, along with a combined group of churches, is working with a leading infectious diseases and risk management specialist.
The plan will be to create a process to allow governments across the country to enable churches to open in a safe environment.
“Let me be clear. Hillsong Church – since the start of this pandemic – has always adhered to government guidelines and put the strictest COVID-safe measures in place,” Mr Houston said in his email.
“The safety of those who attend our services is paramount and always will be.”
The Catholic Church of Sydney has been contacted for comment on its plans for reopening.
Faith leaders, including the Anglican church, is currently preparing material to submit to the [NSW] Government.
Should churches open to just the vaccinated?
Although churches will be able to open to the vaccinated once the state hits its 70 per cent double-dose target, most churches are uncomfortable with this, Mr Raffel said.
“I think it would be better actually if they just remained closed and continued to hold services online,” he said.
“From a Christian point of view, having a distinction in this way is very difficult; that’s not how we think of the gospel or how we think of what church is.”
“From a Christian point of view, having a distinction in this way is very difficult; that’s not how we think of the gospel or how we think of what church is,” – Kanishka Raffel, Anglican archbishop of Sydney
Mr Raffel referred to Galatians 3:28 in The Bible, which says: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female”.
“What those verses mean is that there are no barriers in Christian fellowship, that in response to the one gospel, of the one Lord Jesus Christ, we are all united in Him,” he said.
“And, so, church is a gathering of many different kinds of people who are united in Christ; it’s not a gathering that excludes anybody from participating in it.”
Reverend Barnes is also opposed to the idea of church being limited to just the vaccinated.
“The gospel is for all, the Bible makes that clear,” he said.
“It’s my view that it’s not for the government to tell us who can come to the church and who can’t.
“It’s never done that for other vaccinations before and I don’t think it’s got a right to do it here.”
Mr Houston said Hillsong and leaders of other Christian denominations and faith groups are concerned that the “governments want to limit church attendance only to the vaccinated”.
“I strongly believe that no government has any right to dictate who can attend church,” he said.
“Everyone – irrespective of their vaccination status – should be free to worship, pray and seek spiritual guidance and support.”
“It’s my view that it’s not for the government to tell us who can come to the church and who can’t,” – The Reverend Dr Peter Barnes, moderator-general of the Presbyterian Church of Australia
Addressing concerns of church members
Some church goers may be concerned about churching together with people who are unvaccinated.
This is no small matter, according to Mr Raffel, because there is indeed a health risk, especially indoors.
“It’s important that we don’t allow this kind of thing to become a reason for not treating each other as brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said.
“We need to work out how to be safe for everyone, as well as maintain fellowship and the obligation of love for one another.”
Reverend Barnes said there are many layers to this issue.
“It’s not a simple one where God has said this and therefore we obey or we don’t and it’s as clear as it can be, this is not that sort of thing,” he said.
“It’s not a simple one where God has said this and therefore we obey or we don’t and it’s as clear as it can be, this is not that sort of thing,” – The Reverend Dr Peter Barnes, moderator-general of the Presbyterian Church of Australia
Churches will take all safety precautions, but there will always be a risk, Reverend Barnes said.
“Now there are risks with doing anything, and you can’t take away all the risks in life,” he said.
Churches are eagerly waiting on the Government to inform them of what its plans are when the state hits the 80 per cent double-dose target of vaccinated adults.
Mr Raffel believes it is important that the churches can minister to all people.
“It’s important that unvaccinated people are not somehow left behind and not able to access community life,” he said.
The NSW Government told Hope 103.2 that further information will be provided as the state gets closer to the 70 per cent target.
“It’s important that unvaccinated people are not somehow left behind and not able to access community life,” – Kanishka Raffel, Anglican archbishop of Sydney