From Rev Dr John Squires
Presbytery Minister - Wellbeing
Last week, the Prime Minister indicated that, because of the good response across society to observe the restrictions on social gatherings and the limitations on moving around, there is now a plan for a three-stage move away from the current restrictions, towards a society where more mobility and more interaction in person will be possible.
This has, unsurprisingly, raised expectations amongst Congregations, that various activities might recommence. These activities include small groups, business meetings, hall rentals by local business or community groups, and, of course, Sunday worship.
In response to the statement by the Prime Minister, leaders of the 14 Presbyteries across the Synod met on Monday with the Synod leadership team. As a result, this leadership group has issued a clear statement, strongly recommending that we should not be meeting in person for services of worship or face to face meeting in our churches. You can read this at https://nswact.uca.org.au/media/8680/covid19-information-guide-gathering-12-may-2020v2.pdf
In the weeks to come, as the stages of easing restrictions come into play, there will undoubtedly be conversations about “can we meet together again, now?”. We will need to be prepared for such conversations.
In making decisions about these matters, we need to be sure that we are not simply rushed along with the excitement and anticipation that life will soon be “back to normal”. Life will return, step-by-step, to a situation that will be more like “normal” than the last few weeks have been. However, it is abundantly clear that life will not, indeed, be “back to normal”, as many are anticipating.
Life will change. Life will be different. Gathering-together, after a period of gathering-apart, will necessarily be different. Familiar customs and practices will not be able to be followed unthinkingly. Beloved institutions—shaking hands or hugging during the passing of the peace, the handshaking-line at the end of worship, the passing of the offering plate, even the lovely home-made delights offered during the after-worship fellowship time—these, and other things, will need to be radically altered, or, indeed, ceased entirely.
There are a number of practical matters to be considered in relation to each activity that could re-commence with in-person gatherings. At the moment, the advice of our leadership is that we should not be meeting in person for services of worship or face to face meeting in our churches. Alongside that, there is a set of questions that we perhaps could explore in a fruitful way—questions which consider how we make decisions, how we undertake discussions, and who we are considering in the process of these discussions and decisions. And, from my perspective, reflecting on relevant biblical passages that can inform the way that we operate, can be helpful and fruitful.
Ministry leaders will be catapulted into such discussions (if we have not, already, found ourselves there). If you click the link below, it will take you to my blog, where I have reflected in more detail about how we will need to go about considering these matters. In the blog, I offer some key principles, along with some associated biblical passages that, in my thinking, shape our ethos and inform how we make ethical decisions about regathering as church.