With restrictions easing in NSW and the ACT, congregations are outlining their plans to resume in-person worship. Insights spoke to ministry agents from three churches that were closed during the lockdown about their future plans, what lockdown was like, and the lessons they were taking away from the pandemic.

With stay-at-home orders recently relaxing, Springwood Uniting Church is taking a cautious approach to meeting.

Rev. Graeme Gardiner is one of Springwood’s ministers. He told Insights that many of the congregation’s members fall into the high risk category.

“We will not return to public worship services until December, when we will have the joy of being able to meet and sing without masks and share food,” Rev. Gardiner said.

“We plan to have that first Sunday as a time to also acknowledge the many significant moments of life that have been missed….  anniversaries, big birthdays, deaths, etc. But we are also realistic to not expect that everyone will feel safe to return to public gatherings at that time.”

Springwood aims to maintain a ‘hybrid’ online and face-to-face service as a long-term practice.

“In the meantime we will have mid-week outdoor gatherings for people to catch-up face-to-face in the park next to our Church site,” Rev. Gardiner said.

“The last few months have been taxing for many members. While last year’s lockdown had an element of adrenaline-inducing and energising novelty to its anxiety, this year’s lockdown felt a little heavier and more fatiguing second time round. It has been particularly difficult for school-aged young people with schools shut down for such an extended period – a time in their lives when friendships and social connection are so critical for their human development.”

“We know that while some things will appear to rebound back to how they once were, many things will not. While we do not yet understand how the world has changed for ever as a consequence of pandemic, we do know it has shifted. And we as a church community will have changed along with the wider community around us.”

“For some, deeply-ingrained patterns and habits of life will have been altered – some for the better and some for the worse. It feels like we will be starting again from scratch – particularly when it comes to outreach and mission into our wider community. Nigh on two years’ effective break is a very significant interruption.”

“Such disruption has both a positive and negative impact. It may shake us out of patterns and activity that are fruitless. But it also means loss of connections that may have taken years to begin to establish. As we move towards the end of 2021 and with what we trust will be a fresh start of 2022 we will be entering into intentional conversation with our congregation over a number of weeks (by online means) as we seek to ‘hit the resent button’ and start over missionally. We will be posing the question “what now?”  What directions do we need to now take if we are to flourish in God’s service?”

In Sydney’s inner west, Rev. Andrew Johnston is the minister at Newtown Mission. He told Insights that Newtown is taking “a cautious approach” to public gatherings out of consideration for vulnerable members of the community.

“The Jordan Café will continue its food supply program on King St, and the Annandale Creative Arts Centre will slowly begin with small groups again,” Rev. Johnson said.

“However for public worship we will look towards the beginning of December and potentially a Carols service on King Street.”

“The lockdown has meant that our emergency food service has been busier than ever. The number of take away meals and bags of fruit and veg has tripled in 2021. So our congregational members have been busy preparing, serving and cleaning. For most of us small groups and worship have continued online. And the parks around Newtown, Petersham, and Annandale have been wonderful meeting points for people.”

“The overwhelming lesson (aside from people’s exhaustion) is that as God’s people we belong to one another. Not that our experiences of lockdown have all been the same, far from it. But our commitment to come through it together has been strengthened.”

“A comment from one of our church members has stuck with me. He said “this whole lockdown restriction and isolation experience that so many people in the relative mainstream are still coming to terms with…..is actually the normal everyday lived experience of so many who are already usually overlooked on guest lists and social calendars for most of their lives anyway….”

“What has been an emergency and unprecedented for me is in fact closer to the everyday lived experience of many others.”

Matt Kang is the English Pastor at Sydney Cheil Church. He said that Cheil Church planned on resuming physical gatherings in mid-November.

“We are fortunate to have a (large-ish) church building, so we aren’t worried about capacity issues,” Mr Kang said.

“All ministry teams, small groups, and prayer meetings are now beginning to transition to physical gatherings!”

Similarly to the other ministry agents Insights spoke to, Mr Kang said that the congregation had varying reactions, including “lethargy, confusion, restful, anxious, disappointed, lonely.”

However, he said that the pandemic and the lockdowns should serve to remind the church of the shortness of life, “the need to develop humility,” “develop a vibrant prayer life,” and “evangelise with great urgency.”

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