In Melbourne, the church is generally ready to tough it out

“People of faith have been doing it tough this year,” said Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on the weekend, departing from his script as he announced the partial loosening of his state’s tight lockdown. He was not able to give religious people much – “Recognising a number of important upcoming events for many of our religious communities, gatherings of up to five people can meet with their faith leader outdoors,” the Premier said.

So, no church. Sadness but little outrage from Melbourne Christians has been the reaction.

“The Premier’s announcement on Sunday was encouraging because it means 130,000 people are returning to work and primary aged children returning to school,” Murray Campbell pastor of Mentone Baptist told Eternity.

“While I appreciate this, most of Melbourne’s restrictions remain in place. In my view, the Government’s roadmap is treating churches fairly at the moment, although we are still a couple of months away from being allowed to gather in any sizeable number.

“Normal congregation sizes are unlikely to be permitted until 2021. I’m thankful for zoom and phones, but there is no substitute for the physical in-person gathering of God’s people. Along with many Melburnians, I cannot wait for the day when church recommences.”

The City on a Hill Church (evangelical Anglican) was reflecting on a psalm of lament. “Many of us are going through seasons of lament and grief at the moment.” they posted on Facebook, pointing out that their Sunday Pastor Andrew Grills was taking them through Psalm 88, “giving us an expression for our sadness and suffering which we hold in tension with God’s great love for us.”

“O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!” – Psalm 88:1-2

“Standing up to an earthly power is not what we are called to do” – Heather Packett

Over at the website for Crossway, Melbourne’s largest Baptist church, Teaching Pastor Heather Packett gives scriptural warrant for an irenic approach to the restrictions. Writing while the tough rules were still in place, she cites Ephesians 6:12 “Paul says categorically that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against powers, principalities and rulers in the heavenly realms …”

“Our battles should be spiritual ones.

“Standing up to an earthly power is not what we are called to do.

“Finally, can I encourage you … God is able to use what is happening globally at the moment to affect us and change us and his goal is always to use whatever situation, whether comfortable or not, to grow us and make us more like him. I’d like to think we’d cooperate with him in this time, so the work he’s doing in us has the opportunity to reach its full potential.

“Tragically, what the ‘voices and opinions’ have been doing for too many people is compounding the stress, destroying God’s peace, and keeping godly people distracted from him during this time.” (NOTE: Pastor Packett makes it clear that standing up against evils, such as domestic abuse, IS something Christians are called to do)

Philip Freier, the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne – who encouraged Melburnians to light a candle each night at 8pm, as a sign of hope during the curfew that has now been lifted – called for resilience.

“We need to be resolved that the battle against the virus is one for the long haul,” said Freier. “We must not be over-exuberant as lockdown opens up, but instead to stay measured and careful. For church people this includes the sacrifice of not gathering together in worship, which has been difficult and is likely to continue for some time. We must persist, maintaining our vigilance and our sacrifice.”

“The current restrictions in regional Victoria literally fail the ‘pub test’”

There has been a Catholic protest, led by the bishops who are led by Peter Comensoli, the Archbishop of Melbourne. “The current restrictions in regional Victoria literally fail the ‘pub test’”, they wrote to the Premier. “If people of faith can gather in a restaurant or bar catering for a particular number of patrons (and remove their face covering), they ought to be able to put on their mask, cross the road and worship in their faith community with the same numbers, provided equivalent COVID-safe practices are in place.”

But it is a mild protest – and about regional Victoria, not Melbourne. That is significant because the Melbourne restrictions, as the Premier has noted, have been hard on faith communities.

But there has been a protest movement from within Melbourne, focussed on Carnegie, in the inner South East. Pastors from six churches have signed a protest letter calling on the state government to change its COVID roadmap. They call for the government to “provide adequate funding to protect our most vulnerable in aged care centres” and “open the economy, businesses, institutions, schools, churches.”

Unlike the large Baptist church in Sydney previously reported by Eternity as leading a protest against the milder NSW lockdown, these churches are part of major denominations. The pastors are from these churches: Oakleigh Community Baptist, Melbourne Bangjoo Church and Clarinda Baptist, which are members of the Baptist Union of Victoria; Eastleigh, a member of Christian Community Churches; Carnegie Church of Christ, a member of the Churches of Christ; and Compass Church, an ACC Church.