Listen: Wayne Alcorn speaks to Hope 103.2 journalist Clare Bruce
Churches across Australia are gearing up to meet, pray and worship in homes or stream their Sunday services online, to comply with the new Coronavirus-related social distancing rules — including a limit of 100 people at indoor gatherings .
Thousands of churches across the denominations including Pentecostal, Anglican, Catholic, Baptist and others, have cancelled public Sunday gatherings – with many directing members to connect with their online streaming services. The Catholic Church is encouraging people to pray and read Scriptures at home and watch mass online or on TV, and is posting regular updates to parishioners, along video addresses by Archbishop Anthony Fisher. Anglican cathedrals in Sydney, Parramatta and Wollongong will revive an old tradition and ring bells on Sundays, with ministers leading prayer on the front steps of the churches, for the first time since World War II.
Wayne Alcorn, head of the Australian Christian Churches which takes in around 400,000 people in 1000 Pentecostal churches nationwide, said the vast majority of his network would have to cancel services due to the restrictions. He is directing his pastors to continue caring for their people throughout the week, and remind them that “the building’s not the church; they are the church”.
Churches are being equipped and encouraged to use technology such as Facebook Live and other platforms, to stream their Sunday worship at the same time they are used to meeting.
“[I’m telling] pastors, speak to your people, get your leadership looking out for everybody, use social media wisely, don’t ramp up fear, ramp up faith,” Wayne said, “and find some way for people to receive the word and worship in their homes on Sunday.”
‘This Too Will Pass’, ‘The Church Will Grow Stronger’
A pastor of his own church, Hope Centre in Brisbane, Wayne (pictured) said connection through the week and corporate worship were both equally important, and that fellowship one-on-one will help keep community alive until the Coronavirus threat passes.
“The reality is, ‘this too will pass’,” he said. “We will come to a day when this virus has run its course and we’ve seen God intervene and life comes back to normal.
“I don’t think we should break the habit [of gathering] when we are allowed to again gather. There’s something powerful, there always has been, from the Old Testament through the New, and right through church history, [in] the church gathering together for corporate worship. But, [in] places around the world where that is banned, the church is still prevailing, the church is still strong.
“In the Book of Acts [in the Bible], they met in the temple, and they met in houses. I think sometimes we get into arguments [about] ‘is it the temple, or is it houses?’ I think it’s meant to be both.
“What I think this is going to do, is recalibrate things, where people don’t just rely on the Sunday service, but we realise that our faith must live 24-7, and that we need to personally take more responsibility for our own personal devotion, and not just rely on some pastor or priest to bring us the word of God – and that real true, rich fellowship and friendship and communion and community, actually takes even more importance in our life.
“I think true, rich friendship and community will take even more importance in our life. Then, when we’re allowed to regather, I think we can come back stronger, spiritually healthier than ever.”
“Then, when we’re allowed to regather, I think we can come back stronger, spiritually healthier than ever.”
While some smaller churches are calling for support with using technology to connect online, pastors across the ACC network are remaining positive and faith-filled.
“They’re all believing that God is bigger than this, we will get through this,” Wayne said. “We’re going to have to care for people that are feeling the burden of this. Every day we hear more and more people [being] made redundant or unemployed, at the moment. So they’re just taking on their shoulders the responsibility of helping and caring for people. But there’s not panic.”
Find Creative Ways to Connect and Encourage
Wayne, who was himself in the process of setting up an ipad for his 92-year-old father so he can learn how to talk on Facetime, urged people to find creative ways to connect with each other and with their neighbours – and to be a voice of calm and hope in their community.
“I think this is going to change the way we see and value each other,” he said.
“We might not be able to go into each other’s homes, but we can slip a note under each other’s door, we could leave a note in the letterbox, [saying] ‘can I go to the shop for you, if you’re confined to your house,’ ‘do you need your yard mowed’, simple things like that.
“My message to Christians is, we may not be gathering in large groups, but we can still have a big heart. The Lord will show you day by day, [how to] be kind, ask people how they’re doing, find out how you can practically help.
“We used to listen to each other’s voice instead of text and email. This is a time to hear each other’s voice and hear each other’s heart.”