This week Churches in Victoria have to decide whether to hold larger services for the vaccinated only, small services capped at 30 people that all – vaxxed and unvaxxed – can attend, or both. Or perhaps stay online a little longer
A prediction by the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews that the unvaccinated could be excluded from venues until 2023 has increased concerns for some people. The “30 person rule” for church meetings without checking vaccination status is a concession that applies to places of worship only, not other venues. Victoria’s vaccinated-only services are subject to a 4sq metre rule at present.
Victoria is following a very different path from the other states. In NSW to delay re-opening a church until the unvaccinated could join in required only two weeks, making it a non-issue for many churches which might have needed that time to organise themselves. And Queensland has announced there will be no segregation – which is likely to be the pattern for the other “non-lockdown” states.
“Christians say no to segregated services” is a campaign by some churches opposed to the Victorian rules. It is organised by a group of Presbyterians, and at the time of writing, they had been joined by some Catholics, and independent and reformed churches.
But seems that many, perhaps most Victorian churches will hold separate services, for vaxxed only, and vaxxed status unknown groups, but expressing disappointment at the rules.
“We are anxious that in society – not just in churches – we don’t create a division or an underclass of the unvaccinated,” Bishop Paul Barker, of the Anglican diocese (region) of Melbourne told The Age.
A check of some key churches in Melbourne indicates that planning for separate services is common.
The Anglican’s St Paul’s Cathedral will reopen this weekend with all services requiring vaccination for 16 and over except for one. “To ensure everyone can have the opportunity to come to the Cathedral for worship, our Sunday 1 pm Bi-lingual Eucharist will be open for everyone regardless of their vaccination status. Please note this service is capped at 30 people.”
City on a Hill, whose Hoyts Melbourne Central meeting is in a cinema complex will hold vaccine passport required services there, with alternative “no passport required services” in a building in the next city block.
Crossway Baptist’s staged re-opening says in the middle weeks of November
- “Crossway people are encouraged to regather in groups of 30 people (with no reference to vaccination status) to worship outdoors around the city” with
- “an opportunity for 500 people who are fully vaccinated to gather on” their campus, with
- their kids’ ministry “with a capacity for 150 people indoors who will need to be fully vaccinated if of age.”
By November 27, they plan for 1,000 vaccinated people in their building.
Another large Baptist church, New Hope, plans to have live worship at Blackburn North with start dates of Nov 7 (morning) and Nov 14 (evening) for fully-vacced people and hosted “Sunday Picnics in the Park” of up to 30 with no vaccination requirement.
Last week Eternity featured the detailed plan for Bundoora Presbyterian, one of that denomination’s larger churches to re-open with separate services.
Other churches such as Hillsong Melbourne, Planetshakers and Scots’ Church have not detailed their re-opening plans on their websites.
One key leader in the “Christians say no to segregated services” campaign, Daren Middleton of North Geelong Presbyterian, tells Eternity, “While NGPC takes public health seriously and will continue to do all we can to minimise risk, we are unwilling to separate ourselves from healthy brothers and sisters in Christ based on unknown vaccination status. Indeed, the elders believe even a temporary segregation based on a private medical decision is an anathema to the gospel.”
Middleton says that his church is practising “All the usual measures” to minimise risk” in their non-segregated services.
The “no segregation” campaigners petition says “If we participate in vaccinated-only services now, this will send the signal to Daniel Andrews and the Premiers that churches are not opposed to segregated services and it could become a permanent part of the landscape (whether continually or on an ad hoc basis).”
It’s already clear that while some churches will agree with the campaigners, many other churches simply plan to live within the government rules holding larger services for the fully vaxxed and smaller gatherings where vaccination status does not have to be declared.
“Probably the bulk of our churches will be offering services for the vaccinated and a separate service for a mixed congregation,” Bishop Barker told The Age, speaking for the Anglicans. It is likely other denominations will follow the same pattern.
The Age article finished with a summary of the gospel – an bonus outcome of the re-opening churches discussion.