Church in a time of coronavirus in Australia

Sunday in the heart of Melbourne suburb Glen Waverley is usually full of people in restaurants and cafes, with no car spots to be seen.

Last Sunday, Adam Ch’ng and a group of new members at his church, Cross and Crown, found a car park easily. And they sat wherever they wanted in an otherwise empty café.

“People are feeling on edge, which is why we put in the self-quarantine request.” – Adam Ch’ng

Glen Waverley has become a “ghost town” since a case of coronavirus was confirmed there on January 30. This was the third of four confirmed cases in Victoria, with the national total at 14, according to Australia’s Department of Health.

“Glen Waverley is pretty deserted now; it’s a bit of a ghost town,” says Ch’ng, who planted Cross and Crown church last year. “People are quite afraid of going near the area where it was reported that the virus had broken out.”

“We feel sorry for the small business owners there, because they are bearing the brunt of it.”

Cross and Crown’s congregation is predominantly Asian-Australian, representative of Glen Waverley having 34 per cent of residents with Chinese ancestry. Some church members left China at the beginning of the outbreak, while one member remains there, about five hours from Wuhan – the epicentre of the deadly virus.

A wedding this month of a church couple is being impacted by the Federal Government’s ban on tourist travel from China, with family members unable to attend.

As soon as the Glen Waverley coronavirus case was announced, Cross and Crown followed government advice on 14 day self-quarantine periods for anyone who has (or lives with someone who has) been to mainland China during the past two months.

“People are feeling on edge, which is why we put in the self-quarantine request,” explains Ch’ng about Cross and Crown’s suggestion to some to stay away. “In part, this was to ensure church is a safe place for people to attend … to worship God and hear about Jesus.”

Ch’ng says his church considered whether the self-quarantine request could increase anxiety in their community but “the feedback has been that, rather than fuelling the alarm, it’s been a cause of greater assurance”.

Ch’ng notes that just as other Australian churches have done, Cross and Crown livestreams its Sunday services on Facebook so that any self-quarantined members will not feel “disconnected”.

The church member remaining in China has been uplifted by contact with her church family, as well as knowing they are praying for her health and an end to the spread of coronavirus.

“Praying for her on Sunday [at church] gives her a lot of comfort to know that not only is Christ king and in control of all things, her church family on the other side of the world is deeply connected with her by praying for her,” says Ch’ng.

Recognising people are fearful of the spread of coronavirus, Ch’ng believes Christians need to keep praying. He also hopes they demonstrate where “trust and confidence” is located, when we are all confronted by how helpless humans can be.

“Everyone in the world right now is anxious because there is no known cure but … it really just shows we are helpless to save ourselves and we need a saviour,” says Ch’ng.

“We do have an answer and a hope, in that … Jesus will make all things new. He hasn’t lost control of this world.”

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