This morning a pastoral letter was sent to all people within the Canberra Region Presbytery of the Uniting Church in Australia, as follows:
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
On Wednesday morning the leadership of the Synod of NSW and the ACT and all the Presbyteries in this Synod met to make plans for our future as the Uniting Church, in the current context of the growing COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday evening the Moderator and General Secretary issued a statement which strongly urged all Church Councils to immediately suspend worship services and any other group meetings on Uniting Church property.
We are in complete agreement with this guidance. We recognise that this is a difficult decision. This situation will remain in force for some time, over some months, until we are advised that it is again safe to hold gatherings of people.
This is essentially a pastoral decision for the well-being of people in our congregations and faith communities, and in the wider communities where we live. It is an expression of love and care for our neighbours and community, as together we try to slow the spread of infection so that our health system is able to cope.
By making this decision before our community feels the full impact of this health crisis, it is our hope that we can establish and learn new, creative, alternative ways to worship and sustain community connection from home and online.
To support us during this difficult time, Synod and Presbytery leadership is working to provide worship resources via various means including: e-mail, text messaging, Facebook and a Synod-hosted website, so that we can continue to pray, sing and reflect together. Adrian Drayton, of Synod Communications, and Matt Pulford, of Assembly Communications, are working to provide access to multiple resources.
Saltbush is offering a regular weekly “9am Sunday church with Saltbush” that will be a viable option. Project Reconnect provides weekly DVD resources, on a subscription basis. Some tech-savvy colleagues will provide online resources such as sermons and prayers, as well as reflections and devotions, for all to use.
We will send emails in the days ahead that will link you in to these resources. You do not have to do all of this by yourself.
As leaders within our local communities of faith, the highest priority we can have is to ensure that we provide meaningful pastoral care for one another during this time of physical separation. There are big challenges in this. We need, firstly, to be sure to support and encourage each other in our leadership roles.
Presbytery leadership will be looking to put in place opportunities for regular, online “check-in” opportunities for pastors, ministers, and lay leaders in each of the communities of faith across our Presbytery.
We are one body in Christ, even when that body is not together in the flesh. There are many ways to stay connected in spirit, and care for each others’ spiritual and practical needs. We trust that the people of our congregations and faith communities will reach out with hearts, words and practical compassion. We are capable, resilient people. The current situation invites us to explore new ways of connecting, supporting, and caring.
As we walk this wilderness journey, there will be real grief and loss in letting go of the things that usually bring us together. There will be real fear and anxiety that comes with physical distancing. This may take on added dimensions for people who already live with anxiety. We know that we are walking into difficult times. We know, also, the promise of God’s presence in the midst of this.
As you receive this news, and communicate it to others, we expect that you will encounter a range of responses: some may feel disappointed or frustrated by a perceived over-reaction, others may feel relief and cared for. We pray that all will know themselves to be held in love and prayer.
We want to be sure that Presbytery supports and equips you as you work with people in your community of faith to meet the challenges ahead.
Canberra Region Presbytery Leadership Team;
John Williams and Judy McKinlay (Co-chairpersons)
John Squires and Andrew Smith (Presbytery Ministers)
Elizabeth Raine (PRC Chairperson)
John Sutton (Presbytery Treasurer)
Janise Wood (Operations Manager)
The Moderator of the NSW.ACT Synod has written this pastoral letter https://nswact.uca.org.au/communications/newsroom/a-pastoral-message-from-the-moderator-about-covid-19/
The President of the National Assembly has written this pastoral message https://assembly.uca.org.au/news/item/3144-a-pastoral-response-to-the-pandemic
I have blogged on the importance o placing care for one another as a higher priority than gathering for worship, at https://johntsquires.com/2020/03/15/when-you-come-together-reflections-on-community-in-the-midst-of-a-pandemic/