Dear Friends,

“Be not afraid” – Church in a time of Contagion

On Thursday last (19th March 2020) I travelled back from Canberra to Townsville. Normally Canberra Airport would be quite busy at 11 am on a weekday morning. But it was empty; there was a surreal atmosphere of disquiet. Cancelled flights, and airline staff talking quietly but fearfully about being stood down at the end of their shift. We have all seen the news: national and state borders are shut, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands communities in lockdown, irrational panic buying. We can all sense the anxiety and fear. How do we as Christians respond in this time of contagion?

 This is not a new challenge. Previous generations were well aware of the terrors of plague. In 1919 at the end of the Great War the Spanish Influenza killed millions across the globe. What we are seeing now – the wearing of facemasks, the prohibition of gatherings, the closure of borders – was last seen in Australia at that time.

 But we must not be afraid. As Christians we are people of hope: we know that bad things happen and people suffer but in the end salvation is assured. Whatever the circumstances we must always live to the Lord (Romans 14.8). In remaining people of hope we give hope and light to others. By not being afraid, we calm our neighbours.

 This does not mean that we do not take precautions. The Bible is clear about the value of medicine (e.g. Ezekiel 47.12) and physicians (e.g. Colossians 4.14). We must be sensible and follow the recommendations of the doctors and public health officials. We are not called to fear: but prudence and caution are essential in these times.

 It is important that we remain together as the Body of Christ. I am therefore reluctant to just shut churches: being together is really important for Christians. However at some stage soon this will happen and we need to prepare for it. While we conduct services we must observe public health requirements; instructions have already been sent out and will continue to be sent on how to do this. But when we no longer are holding regular worship, we still need to maintain that strong sense of community that we are called to as the Body of Christ.

 Unlike the last time this happened in 1919 we have the benefits of modern technology. Live streaming of services, messages on YouTube, e-mails and telephones can all be used to keep in touch. Instead of offertory bowls, the work of the church can now be supported by direct deposit. You are strongly encouraged to make use of these technologies: be church using the various tools at your disposal.

 However there are people who are particularly vulnerable – the elderly and chronically ill, and others who can be shut in and lonely. Make a special effort to look after them. If pastoral visits in person are not possible, use the internet or telephone. As people of the community of Christ, we must stay connected. This will be a big challenge at this time of trial but we must not lose contact with our neighbours and our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must make sure that the love of Christ is manifest in all we do. At this time, we best show this love by not being afraid. This time of contagion and fear will come to an end, but in the love of God we will endure and we will still be one in Him.

May God bless you and keep you all at this time. Amen.

The Right Reverend Dr Keith Joseph
Bishop of North Queensland

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