People are asking, When do we get to gather physically as a church again? The short answer is ‘not for a while’ – and even when we do, we will be doing so outside. For the longer answer, read on.
Last week the leadership group sat down with Victoria’s COVID-19 roadmap to work things out. Currently (that is, on the Third Step), we may gather for worship outdoors in groups of ten, or indoors in a household bubble plus a faith leader. But given our size and demographics, meeting in these ways is not really feasible. We have over 50 regular attenders, and so we would need to run multiple services, each carefully booked and administered; and we do not have human resources to do this. Therefore, for now we will continue with Zoom every Sunday, and a distribution of communion to people’s doorsteps once a month.
When there are no new COVID-19 cases across Victoria for 14 days, the next step of the roadmap is slated to happen.* At this step, churches will be permitted to move public worship indoors subject to density limits, physical distancing, and rigorous cleaning. Reflecting on these requirements, the leadership team has decided we do not have the capacity to move worship indoors at this time. It would mean keeping households separate (practically impossible with children); running a bookings system with the possibility of turning people away at the door (administratively onerous and pastorally disastrous); removing all toys and prayer stations (boooring); and employing cleaners (ker-ching).
So even at this step, meeting indoors is not a good option for us: but meeting outdoors is. Therefore, whenever the next step is activated, we will worship via Zoom three times a month, and have a physical gathering in the Sanctuary carpark once a month. I am currently thinking about how this might look, liturgically speaking; if you have any thoughts or ideas, let me know. (Beyond this step, we cannot at this stage say.)
I know some of you will be disappointed to hear that Zoom will remain a big part of our common life even on the final step. Worshipping via Zoom has been strange, and we’re all continuing to learn: but it has not been all loss. As clunky as the platform is, the leadership team has noticed that gathering via Zoom has its benefits.
For example, people are attending who would not otherwise, including people who are out-of-town or in hospital; people who, for complex reasons, find entering a physical church building daunting; and people who don’t identify as churchgoers, but tune in when a household member is online. Then, when we’re gathered, everyone is part of the conversation. This inclusiveness is flattening out the differences between those who have known each other for decades and those who are relatively new. We are seeing growth in relationships, both at the Sunday event and, more importantly, at other times of the week. We are also seeing an increase in prayer for one another, which is wonderful.
There are benefits also in the reduction of commuting, and as a congregation which draws from Koroit to Camperdown this is not insignificant. Some busy families are coming to the Zoom service on days when they otherwise would not have had the time or energy to get to a physical service. And many have enjoyed glimpsing people’s homes and gardens (and koalas, frogs, cats and dogs) in the background, and have told me it has increased their sense of intimacy and joy.
Long ago, God spoke these words through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Forget the former things. Do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; don’t you see it? I am making a way in the desert, and streams in the wasteland … that my people may proclaim my praise.’ (Isaiah 43:18-21). And so we are encouraged not to dwell on how we used to meet. Instead we might ask, Is this way in the desert beneficial, fruitful, life-giving? That is, given everything, should Zoom be one aspect of our gathering even at COVID Normal? What do you think?
Alison, on behalf of the leadership team
*You can find the roadmap for reopening Victoria here. We based our decisions on the information on this website dated 29 September 2020, and checked on 12 October; if the government advice is changed, we may need to revisit. Emailed to Sanctuary 14 October 2020 © Alison Sampson, 2020. Image credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash.
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