Uniting In Adversity
Uniting Churches around the country will either close their doors or hold limited worship this Sunday, as we adapt to life in the global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
Australian people, governments, companies and institutions have struggled through a tumultuous and occasionally chaotic few weeks, during which the virus has continued to spread locally, sparking panic buying in supermarkets.
Football codes are now playing to empty stadiums, live entertainment productions are all being cancelled, as are major events like Sydney’s Royal Easter Show and ANZAC Day services.
For Churches, many practical and pastoral challenges lie ahead, not the least of which are the expected toll of the virus, particularly among older Australians, and the economic hardship borne of the containment measures.
“Now, more than ever, as followers of Jesus, we are called to embody God’s love and compassion in our world,” said President Dr Deidre Palmer in her Pastoral Letter to the Church of 18 March.
In a time when many Australians are feeling frightened and alone, Dr Palmer and other Uniting Church leaders are urging members to respond compassionately and creatively to our changed circumstances.
On 18 March, the Uniting Church Synods of Queensland, and NSW and the ACT advised their congregations to suspend worship and all other activities.
In a message to church members, Qld Moderator Rev. David Baker said:
“As members of the wider community, and as the body of Christ called to exercise love for our neighbours, we are committed to participating in our society in wise, faithful and responsible manner.”
“We have our part to play both in limiting the spread of the disease itself, and in helping our wider community learn new ways of caring for one another in a time of emotional, physical and financial stress,” said Rev. Baker.
On the same day, NSW/ACT Moderator Rev. Simon Hansford and General Secretary Rev. Jane Fry wrote to Presbyteries and Congregations with a “very strong recommendation” that we should not be meeting in person in any gathering.
“We note the clear advice that has been provided by government health authorities, about the importance of acting early for the benefit of the whole society,” said the NSW/ACT leadership team.
“Early action will minimise the likelihood of becoming infected, slow the rate at which the virus spreads, flatten the curve of the incidence of serious cases, and assist the medical and hospital systems in responding to seriously increased demands. Our commitment to the common good mandates that we proceed in this direction.”
The advice to cancel worship was taken on the same day the Federal Government announced new guidelines for public gatherings, limiting indoor meetings to less than 100 and outdoor meetings to less than 500.
On 20 March, the Federal Government increased this recommendation for social distancing for indoor gatherings to four square metres per person.
The Synods of Victoria and Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Synod have indicated that Congregations can proceed with worship services and gathered activities with strict hygiene measures and social distancing, working within state and federal government guidelines.
Some congregations within these Synods have moved to cancel their worship services and other activities in response to local circumstances.
In response to the need to avoid public gathering, the Assembly published a list of livestreaming congregations and some ministry resources.
These are now collated on the Assembly website for universal access. Contributions are welcome and encouraged.
Worship leaders are also urged to share their material via the Assembly’s Transforming Worship Facebook page.
Several Synods are also publishing ministry resources and sharing tips for livestreaming.
The Assembly Resourcing Unit is working with the Transforming Worship Circle to livestream one Sunday service a week via the Uniting Church in Australia Facebook page.
The following events in the life of the Uniting Church have been postponed or cancelled.
Kids Camp Out
Victor Harbour, SA
Presbytery of WA meeting
Palm Sunday Rally for Refugees
29 Apr-3 May
UCAF National Gathering
School of Discipleship
Northern Synod meeting
Where gatherings are continuing Synods are implementing a range of measures to prevent transmission of the virus, over and above measures such as hand-washing and maintaining social distancing of 1.5 metres between people.
The Synods of Queensland and South Australia will require all UCA facilities to be cleaned between users.
Further measures by governments and churches are likely, so UCA members are encouraged to check official Church websites regularly about changed arrangements.
For the full list of health advice about coronavirus COVID-19: please refer to the Federal Health Department web page “How to Protect Yourself and Others.”
Synods and the Assembly have activated emergency response and business continuity groups.
Many Church staff and members are now working remotely at home to limit contact with colleagues to slow the spread of the virus.
Synods and the Assembly have suspended staff travel, both interstate and overseas.
This week’s meeting of UCA justice staff, hosted by the Assembly Resourcing Unit was held using a videoconferencing platform.
Staff are working through the challenges of connectivity and unfamiliar technology.
Community service agencies are implementing strict new guidelines for access to aged care facilities and other services.
The new guidelines mandate short visits to aged care residents limited to a maximum of two people, w that must be not with meetings banned in communal areas All visitors will also need a health screening ahead of a visit and practise social distancing. Full details are on the Federal Health Department website.
Aged care workers are being told not to go to work if they have a fever or symptoms of a respiratory illness, and from 1 May, you must have your influenza vaccination to work in or visit an aged care facility.
UnitingCare Australia has joined with other major community providers and aged care peak bodies to advocate for the people they serve, many of whom are vulnerable to the virus.
“We have detailed measures that we think will ensure sustainability through the pandemic, so that those most vulnerable receive the care that they need,” said National Director Claerwen Little.
The President and Moderators will meet via videoconference next week to reflect on the life of our Church and review the pastoral challenges ahead.
Dr Palmer is urging Church members to get in touch directly.
“I invite you to send through to us, your requests for prayer, your stories of hope, the particular challenges you are facing in your regions, so that we can focus our time together and pastorally support you, as you faithfully serve Christ through the life and witness of the Uniting Church across Australia,” said Dr Palmer.
“I am very conscious that many of you continue to be deeply affected by drought, the aftermath of bushfires and flooding, as well as the impacts of the global pandemic.
“The ways we celebrate Easter will be significantly affected, and you will know the best ways for your local communities to observe Easter.
“The message of Easter speaks into all of our contexts. God’s grace poured out into our world, through the Risen Christ brings hope and love into the deepest corners of despair and suffering, and brings transformation and new life, through the steadfast love of God for every one and the whole creation.
“May God sustain you with love and strength, as you serve Christ in these rapidly changing and challenging times,” said Dr Palmer.