Greetings to the GUC Community.
There have been a number of questions recently about how the church will respond to COVID-19, people wanting specifics re cleaning hands, distancing at worship etc.
While we have been setting up some processes for this over the last couple of weeks (limiting contact points, sanitising all surfaces, encouraging social distancing, encouraging people to stay clear if unwell, keeping in contact with people who are self isolating) but these are only small technical responses to a very complex situation. And so we have been waiting for clear instruction on this from Government, Synod and Presbytery.
As we’ve not had clear communication from the government we have had much conversation between ministers in the Canberra Region and other councils of the church about making a decisive and regional response. Last night we received clear advice that we are to suspend worship services altogether. The letter from Synod, and cosigned by the presbyteries of the NSW ACT Synod is provided below.
Please understand, none of us have ever lead or pastored a community through a pandemic before, please be patient and understanding. Also, we are not the medical specialists, nor are we the government, for information on health, policy and ways to self isolate or practice social distance please refer to the government health information.
Worship and Community.
*much of this is in the video on our GUC Facebook Page.
A few years ago a friend of mine, Steve Taylor wrote a book exploring how people had created communities of faith, he interviewed and met with leaders from a number of community that had created a variety of different forms of church and offered some reflections on how we could learn from these experimental communities.
The biggest takeaway from the book for me was a reflection on how people worshipped in the Hebrew Scriptures, and how we might learn from their experience. Steve suggested there were
- Temple (worship in the church building)
- Festival (large gatherings at special times)
- Pilgrimage (often pilgrimage was made on the way to a festival gathering)
- Table (home, around the table, with family and friends)
- Sacred Site (the Hebrew Scriptures are fill of sacred places, we also have many around where we live, The War Memorial, The Botanical Garden, Mount Ainslie, Kosciuszko)
For the most part Christianity has focussed on the Temple and Festival, on gathered corporate worship and on certain festivals (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, Harvest to name a few) we’ve even created our own festivals where we may camp, sing, hear speakers.
What we’ve not traditionally spent much time on are the areas of Pilgrimage, Table or Sacred Site, and so practices in these areas have dropped off our radar, we are not as practiced and confident in them.
So, how would we worship if the Temple, or the Festival were not available to us? I think it’s about time for us to find out.
I said yesterday that things can and will likely change. Yesterday the Presbyteries of the NSW/ACT Synod met and a decision was relayed to the congregations of the UCA in the Canberra Region.
It was agreed to provide the following guidance to Presbyteries, Congregations and Faith Communities across the Synod.
“We note the clear advice that has been provided by government health authorities, about the importance of acting early for the benefit of the whole society. Early action will minimise the likelihood of becoming infected, slow the rate at which the virus spreads, flatten the curve of the incidence of serious cases, and assist the medical and hospital systems in responding to seriously increased demands.”
“The very strong recommendation is that we should not be meeting in person in any gathering.”
Full text: COVID-19 Information Update
We are taking this recommendation to heart and will be suspending gathered worship until which time it is deemed safer to do so. We had already suspended Playgroup and will be moving to do the same for other gatherings and programs in the building. Boys Brigade and Girls Brigade have also suspended their meetings and will be working through how to support their ministry over the coming weeks.
Church Council will also be moving to electronic communication.
We will also be needing to discuss this with people who currently hire our facilities.
This will mean that we will get to explore what it might mean for us to worship, pray, be disciples and care for each other without the Temple or the Festival as our primary focus. Please see this as an opportunity, some of our experiments will work really well, others will die a thousand deaths, but we will try to be creative and resourceful in giving everyone opportunities to pray, read the scriptures, sing, worship and make space for God in their every day life. I will update you with plans for Sunday and for this week later, as you may guess we’ve now got a couple of days to figure out what we may be able to pull off this weekend.
This will also mean that we will not be gathering for Palm Sunday, Holy Week or Easter Sunday, if you’d like to be involved in thinking how we might help people hear the story, be changed by the story and celebrate the story this easter please let me know, creativity and vulnerability will help.
We will be putting plans together asap to ensure pastoral care is available and that we can continue to support and care for each other at this time, reciprocal care has been a huge part of this community and we will need to be aware of each other’s needs, many of us have already started to self isolate due to many reasons.
Some things that may help you stay connected (not all of them are online):
- I don’t personally like Facebook, but it’s easy, accessible and user friendly. We will likely be relying on it in the next few months, please consider getting an account and, you only need to follow the GUC community and perhaps join a group. Consider getting Instagram, I’m not sure if we’ll be using it much this month but it’s a un way of sharing with others beautiful photography. https://www.facebook.com/GungahlinUniting/
- Zoom is a platform that we can use for group conversation and meeting together, again it’s fairly simple to use and would be advisable to install on your tablet or computer. In the future we may try to run a prayer group or bible study or support groups via Zoom.
- Australia Post, let’s embrace the snail mail again. If you’d like a pen pal or three send a written letter to PO Box 84, Gungahlin 2912. We will try and connect you with others who would also like to write. Consider writing letters that include prayers, conversations of faith, but also share your own story with each other.
- Mobile phones, emails, smoke signals, morse code. We will be trying a number of different ways to connect with each other, please make sure we have your details so we can best make contact.
- Shoes, Bikes, Scooters and Skateboards. A few of you will still like to get together in households small groups in outdoor places, pilgrimage is one of the oldest forms of church, consider hitting a walking track together, going for a ride, practicing yoga or even go fishing, but don’t share water bottles, and practice socially distancing yourselves.
- Coffee Mugs and plungers. Consider making a brew and meeting another coffee lover with their own brew somewhere for a chat, I’m sure Lonsdale Coffee, Ona Coffee or any other Canberra roaster would love the business.
- A shovel, the community garden and the space out back of the church building really needs some love and care. It’d be awesome if anyone would like to plant some natives out back, create a space for some bees to feed, grow some food in the community garden or build something beautiful. Some of you will need wide open space to get your energy out, feel free to use our land to do that.
Have any other ideas? Let me know, we’ll see this as an invitation into creativity, an invitation towards life and an invitation to become disciples of Jesus.
We know this season will bring anxiety, fear, loss and grief for many, if you would like to talk please contact me on the church phone, or mobile or email and we can talk and pray for each other.
Above all, love your neighbour, look after yourselves and be prepared for a season where the Holy Spirit will be on the move and anything could happen. I thank God for this community and pray that we will be able to enter this new season with hope and open hearts to what may come.
- A Pastoral message from the Rev Simon Hansford, Moderator of the Synod of NSW & ACT
- Response from the Canberra Region Presbytery re the recommendation by the Synod of NSW & ACT
- Uniting Churches Say “Don’t Meet In Person”
Gungahlin Uniting Church