(This letter was sent before the Omicron wave began, last year. But its call to respect the government regulations, care for the vulnerable and avoid division remains relevant. It was written for the December Eternity print edition)
I write at a time when our nation is moving quickly towards ending painful lockdowns and gradually easing the awful restrictions we have endured with great patience!
I am praying and believing the Holy Spirit will give us the wisdom, sensitivity and courage to guide the leaders and church boards of our congregations to follow these evolving mandates in the coming weeks.
Its looking like some of our governments will (and have mandated) vaccinations for all religious workers because they run public church services with vulnerable people, conduct weddings, funerals, visit hospitals, prisons, schools etc. They may also restrict unvaccinated people from attending some of our religious services.
The implications for pastors and religious workers who choose not to be vaccinated (unless they have a medical exemption) is becoming clearer as each State/Territory government releases their roadmap.
My CRC Churches National Executive Team met recently to talk through the implications of all this and to pray for our wonderful nation. We resolved to strongly appeal to all our pastors and church boards, to adhere to the regulations for the jurisdiction they are under. As law abiding and peace loving citizens we submit to our government, even if we disagree with them at times regarding some of their decisions.
I’d like to now share my personal reflections as a local church pastor, which is my primary ministry role in life, rather than a denominational head. I am a shepherd at heart and have been happily leading my church the Christian Family Centre for 43 years, and I cherish my people.
I’ve been greatly exercised on how Jesus’ law of love is to be outworked in this most unique ministry season. I have come to the place where I will consider the medically vulnerable in my church as of the highest priority.
I feel a huge spiritual responsibility to protect people in my church and the wider community, whose immune systems are compromised due to life saving chemotherapies, or who have a diseased immune system and other illnesses that have proved especially dangerous with COVID.
In a large church like the Christian Family Centre, we have a host of people in this position, and everything within compels me to cover the most vulnerable people in my sphere of ministry. I am not referring only to the elderly who may have co-morbidity factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and lung problems etc. Even if the immunocompromised (whether they are young or old) are double vaccinated, the awful evidence is, they will face a huge life battle if infected by the COVID virus. This was confirmed to me by two of Adelaide’s top medical specialists I consulted about this over the past week
I have commenced conversations with these folks in my church about the implications for them, as our State is opening up in the next few weeks. As a church community my pastors and I are committed to helping them traverse this, and we will do everything in our power to connect them more deeply in the fellowship of our church.
Legendary American leader, General Colin Powell, died recently of COVID, and even though he was double vaccinated, his immune system was compromised due to chemotherapy for his cancer treatment.
Victoria and New South Wales have sadly experienced the majority of deaths. As of October 28th, this figure is 1669 people Australia-wide. In South Australia we are so thankful only four people have died of COVID over the past two years. As our nation opens right up to travel and trade, this small figure will only increase.
My Pastors and I are examining how we can make our facilities, our Services and all the ministries we run, safe environments for the vulnerable. I encourage all lead pastors of churches to consult with their denominational leaders on this. For independent churches, I encourage you to seek counsel from a denominational leader you know to draw from their movements collective wisdom. Let’s be careful and caring as COVID restrictions are gradually lifted across Australia.
Let’s also continue to lovingly connect and shepherd the people in our churches who choose not to be vaccinated, even though this may be a small number. It’s estimated that 95+% of our fellow Aussies will be vaccinated by early 2022.
I’m deeply saddened when good people (and some are family and friends who I love dearly), see vaccination and restrictions as a religious freedom issue, and not as a temporary public health emergency that falls under the prerogative of our governments and their public health officials.
After all, this is part of our many reasonable mandated laws on health safety like wearing seat belts, using baby capsules, wearing helmets or following a myriad of traffic laws.
It’s heartbreaking to see this happening, even over wearing masks, which is such a simple request from our health officials.
I conclude with an appeal.
Let’s not allow this socially divisive issue across our land to divert us from the church’s primary role. Fellow soldiers of the Cross, we are called to preach the gospel about God’s free saving grace available for allpeople; to reach out with Christ’s love to people in our personal world of influence; to plant new churches that authentically engage with our local communities; to produce biblically grounded disciples who sacrificially serve others like our Master; to train people for all types of ministry and service expressions to meet the felt needs of people; and to facilitate our people’s hearts towards fulfilling our world missions vision across the nations.
Pastor Bill Vasilakis
Senior Minister, Christian Family Centre Churches Ltd
National Chairman, CRC Churches International
Chairman, Australian Pentecostal Ministers Fellowship (APMF)