The Archbishop, through his Regional Bishops, is convening a series of meetings for rectors and churchwardens to discuss plans for re-opening of churches amid uncertainty about timing and government regulation.
The COVID-19 outbreak is yet to reach its peak, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian forecasting that the worst will come in the next fortnight. Beyond that, Premiers and the Federal government are working to vaccination targets before restrictions can be eased.
New South Wales is expected to reach 70 per cent double dose vaccination by October 18 and 80 per cent by November 1.
No detailed plan for re-opening of mass gatherings has yet been announced and appears to be some weeks away.
A ‘No Entry’ sign at the door of the church is wholly inconsistent with the gospel preached inside
"Churches need to consider a number of scenarios, which is why our consultations are so important." Archbishop Kanishka Raffel said.
The Archbishop said negotiations with the government were ongoing, but that he and other religious leaders had concerns about the idea of 'vaccine passports'.
"Jesus is Lord of all, and his gospel is a gospel for all. A ‘No Entry’ sign at the door of the church is wholly inconsistent with the gospel preached inside," the Archbishop said. "Neither race, gender, ethnicity, age, nor economic or educational status – or vaccination status – are to operate as divisions within the Christian community or barriers to the fellowship we share because of Jesus."
Archbishop Raffel said churches must maintain such principles while ensuring churches are safe for all who attend.
"I support vaccination because it is the advice of Australia’s leading epidemiologists that people who are vaccinated are less likely to contract COVID-19, less likely to require hospitalisation if they do contract it, and less likely to die from it than unvaccinated people. The vast majority (over 85%) of those who were hospitalised in NSW at the beginning of August were unvaccinated. I am aware that some people have ethical and other concerns about vaccines, and they are entitled to decline vaccination while these concerns are not addressed to their satisfaction. At the same time, such concerns must be weighed against the ethics of remaining unvaccinated, including the risk of contracting the disease and requiring hospitalisation oneself, or infecting a loved one or someone who is vulnerable because they are under 12 years of age, or have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated, or are medically unable to be vaccinated, or are indigenous or immuno-compromised."
The regional meetings in late September and October will consider the theological, legal, medical, practical and pastoral dimensions of re-opening churches.
Pray, Pray, Pray
Archbishop Raffel called on churches to pray for the community, especially the LGAs hit hard by COVID, health and emergency workers, and for the Gospel witness of churches at this time.
He commended the prayer meetings being held in various churches and the diocese wide opportunity to pray at 7pm on Wednesday 22 September 2021. Churches, groups and individuals can join the ‘Lifting our Voices to God’ online event of prayer, song and word.
Registration is not necessary and further information can be found at praytogether.online. Archbishop Raffel will speak at the event.
"We need to join together to pray and stand against the mischief making of the evil one so that differences of opinion in relation to vaccination do not become a source of division or unkindness within the body of Christ,” the Archbishop said. “The Lord has used lockdown to turn the hearts of many towards him, so safely but boldly, we want to open our doors to welcome all who would hear of the excellencies of our King."