Churches call for equal treatment in COVID rules, as frustration shows

Queensland pastor and Vision radio host Matt Prater facebooked a pic of  a 37,112 strong NRL crowd at Suncorp game this week and added this text “Hey Annastacia Palaszczuk MP & the QLD Chief Health officer, can you explain how Churches can’t have a full crowd? Also dance floors & other venues can’t be full, and singing apparently spreads COVID-19, but this event doesn’t?”

That’s a pretty good crowd for Suncorp, capacity 52000 – so not a lot of social distancing.

It’s time church leaders unite

Down in Melbourne, Baptist bigger Murray Campbell is polite but frustrated ” As of today (October 19), in regional Victoria pubs and restaurants can now have 40 patrons indoors and 70 patrons seated outdoors. Churches, however, can only have 20 people gathered outside and no church of any size is permitted indoors. At the moment all churches in Melbourne are closed and so we are watching with interest the roadmap in regional Victoria. The disparity between churches and pubs is unfortunate. I trust this is nothing more than an oversight which will be quickly resolved, rather than the beginning of a longer term trend.”

And Brian Houston the Global pastor of Hillsong Church is feeling it too: “It’s time church leaders unite to take. Stand. We are all committed to keeping people safe, but it seems churches are not even being considered for steadily relaxing restrictions.” This facebook statement followed up an  earlier tweet:

Houston tweets

Church responses are a bit of a jigsaw in COVID times, reflecting the various state rules, building sizes, and how churches fit in them.

This week St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney re-opened, worshipping for the first time in seven months with their choir. This writer happened to visit there on Friday as part of a Mr Eternity tour which took a groups to the sites where Arthur Stace began the Eternity legend, and heard Dean (head pastor) Kanishka Raffel explain that the choir rules had changed and after months of not being able even to rehearse the children’s choir with five adults was able to sing in the Cathedral. It felt strange to be part of only the second public group to enter the building in that time. “Our first live 8.30am Communion Service for 7 months!” the cathedral posted on Sunday. “God is faithful.”

This writer returned to his church for the first time since lockdown, the traditional church building stripped of its pews and carefully social distancing under NSW’s four metre rule on plastic chairs.

In Victoria, the rules for churches are particularly tight compared to virtually any other human activity. Their church buildings are closed. The official reason given is that unlike pubs, churches are unregulated, so so presumably harder to manage. In the first stage of the emergency, this may well have been a reasonable improvisation of a rule, but it is clear from the petitions Eternity has reported on that it is wearing thin.

Even in the states with the least Cor0navirus, churches are not getting the same treatment as similar venues. An announcement today by the WA government frees some public meeting venues but not others:

“Effective from Saturday, October 24 (or 11.59pm, Friday, October 23) selected venues that predominantly hold seated events are exempt from the 2 square metre rule, and will be permitted to reach up to 60 per cent of their usual maximum capacity for seated and ticketed performances.

“Venues that are now exempt include theatres, concert halls, auditoriums/amphitheatres, cinemas, comedy lounges, and performing arts centres. These venues are deemed ‘low risk’ as they are seated and ticketed.”

Eternity understands that some WA churches that “ticket” their congregation, are seeking to see if the exemption can be broadened.

 

 

 

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