How the COVID outbreak is affecting southwestern Sydney parishes
The morning service at Hoxton Park Anglican was all set to start up again this Sunday. The kids’ program was ready to go, and the congregation was looking forward to meeting together in person. That was until the COVID cluster from the Crossroads Hotel in Casula came to light.
While their evening service has been meeting for the past fortnight, the leadership team has now decided to press the hold button on morning services.
Rector the Rev David Clarke acknowledges this is a hard but appropriate response, “given the very close outbreaks of COVID in our area and multiple people from our church who’ve had contact with the restaurant at Crossroads, with the Planet Fitness gym, with the local K-Mart… we’ve had multiple people put in isolation and had testing, but praise God everyone so far has returned negative results.
“We’ve chosen not to tell people a [return] date. In the past we’ve tried to be as specific as possible but, at the moment, until we’ve passed two weeks since people had [COVID-related] contact, we want to leave open the possibility that there will be ongoing changes.”
“I guess we’re a bit nervous about having it on our doorstep”.
Every parish is different, but all the local churches contacted are treading more carefully in light of the outbreak.
At South Liverpool – only a few blocks from the Crossroads Hotel – services have been running onsite for the past fortnight and that will continue.
Rector the Rev Manoj Chacko says the outbreak has resulted in changes to the operation of the Anglicare mobile pantry, with clients waiting in their cars until called and kept separate from the church volunteers.
Margaret Hall, who helps on pantry days with her husband Keith, is in the church hall while the pantry is held outside. The administration tables indoors are set up away from her and only two clients are allowed in at any time.
She is thankful for her health amid the outbreak, but says because COVID “is in the community” she now wears a mask when she visits Casula Mall and shops early in the morning.
“My way with it is I pray about it and I pray for the people doing research into a vaccine,” she says. “I don’t have any anxiety about it, and I don’t lose sleep over it.”
Adds Mr Chacko: “We will still have church but we will be careful… On the day before [Sunday] we’ll definitely put on our church WhatsApp group that if you have flu-like symptoms, please don’t come. We’d love to have you but please don’t come.
“We want to follow what the government says to do very strictly. We don’t want to be flouting those rules.”
The assistant minister at St Luke’s, Liverpool, the Rev Esmond Lau, lives in Casula – as do a number of other congregation members – and he says, “I guess we’re a bit nervous about having it on our doorstep”.
Their services are still entirely online, which makes some decisions easier. Mr Lau says there are plans for the children’s and youth ministries to return in the near future, “but we’re keeping a close eye on this Casula outbreak… it would make it much easier to know how to respond if the Government said something specific like, ‘This or that area is in lockdown’!”
At Moorebank-Hammondville Anglican, parish wardens and rector the Rev Stephen Cook have decided to suspend in-person church services and other face-to-face ministries for a fortnight. Members only began meeting onsite again late last month, but parish leaders made the decision on Thursday to wind this back in response to NSW Chief Health Officer’s recommendation that people in southwestern Sydney minimise physical contact with each other.
An email sent to MHA members by the leadership team explained they were “all of the view that the best way... to show ourselves as responsible citizens to our community is to suspend our public ministries for the next two weeks. Remember that the Lord is near (Philippians 4:5). He calls us to be people who are ‘joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer’ (Romans 12:12)”.
“We’re encouraging people to be thankful for the many answered prayers and the ways [God] has provided.”
“We need to take this seriously,” Mr Cook says. “For us, there is a real consciousness that loving our neighbour – whether in the church community or not – means playing our part in observing COVID-safe practices.”
Adds Mr Clarke: “What we’ve tried to do all along is reassure people that we know God is on his throne and sovereign over all things and we seek that he be glorified through this season and through all the ongoing changes.
“We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and, where people are feeling stressed and anxious by the uncertainty surrounding the changes, to rejoice in the fact that God is still in control. We’re encouraging people to be thankful for the many answered prayers and the ways he has provided.”
- those who are awaiting COVID test results;
- people feeling extra anxiety and stress as a result of the outbreak;
- tired ministry staff and wisdom for any decisions they need to make;
- that members would not be complacent about attending church, either online or in person;
- endurance, perseverance, patience with each other;
- trust in God during this time.