In New South Wales, pubs and clubs will soon be allowed to open for 50 people but churches will still be restricted to 10. I guess that’s because having a beer and playing the pokies is an “essential” service, whereas worshipping God and having a cup of tea or coffee with a small group of people is just too dangerous? At least churchgoers don’t need to be breathalysed after they leave.
But to comprehend just how ridiculous this particular policy is, let’s put it to a literal pub test: only 10 people can attend a funeral, or up to 30 if it’s held outdoors. And yet, 50 of them can go down to their local pub or club for the wake. At this point, I’m thinking that maybe more churches should start meeting in their local RSL, or at least hold their funerals there.
COVID-19 has not only destroyed the economy, but is also having a devastating effect upon the psychological health and emotional well-being of millions of Australians. Why would the government then not want churches to re-open?
One of the most basic and practical opportunities this would provide, is to be able to ask each other, RUOK?, a public health strategy which has already proven to be highly effective. And this is all the more pertinent when one considers that in northern California there have been more attempted suicides in the past four weeks then would normally occur over the course of an entire year.
As a Christian pastor, I would argue that at the heart of Christian worship is the acknowledgement that we are not OK. And because of that, it’s a cry to God for wisdom and strength. Ultimately, that’s at the very heart of the Gospel. To provide hope in the midst of our despair, especially with the threat of sickness and death.
In short, there are needs in the community that are just as important as rebuilding the economy. It could even be argued that by offering people the opportunity to gamble and consume alcohol, especially when they are emotionally vulnerable could actually create more social problems than it solves.
I’m not suggesting that we throw out the window all forms of social distancing, or that we don’t care for those whose immune systems are severely compromised. But surely this is a moment for the governing authorities to do what’s best for the health and well-being of its people.
I mean, if it’s safe for people to gamble and consume alcohol in a public setting, then surely churches can be trusted to operate in a safe and responsible way.
Mark Powell is Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
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