COVID-19 restrictions end small-group gatherings

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The children’s story via livestream from Canberra National Seventh-day Adventist Church, March 21.

Adventists around the South Pacific region and the world are being confronted with the reality that weekly congregational worship probably won’t be happening for at least the next few months due to tightening COVID-19 government restrictions. Last Sabbath, March 21, saw dozens of churches switching to worship services streamed via the internet and members meeting in small groups in one another’s homes.

A March 23 press release from the Australian prime minister’s office included the following in its list of venues and events required to close: “Religious gatherings, places of worship or funerals (in enclosed spaces and other than very small groups and where the one person per four square metre rule applies). . . . Australians should expect these measures to be in place for at least six months.”

In making the announcement verbally, however, PM Scott Morrison’s language was much stronger, making it clear that even small worship gatherings in homes are now not recommended: “. . . stay at home unless absolutely necessary. . . . Visits to our houses should be kept to a minimum and with a very small number of guests.” This stronger stance was echoed by the national health authority, which made a “strong recommendation to limit unnecessary visitors to private homes, including private events in homes”.

“What was a great idea last week is different this week,” said Pastor Brendan Pratt, ministerial association secretary for the Adventist Church in Australia (AUC) in an email to those sharing his portfolio in conference offices. The email included a list of typical pastoral activities, including baptisms, anointings and hospital visits, which will now have to be deferred or conducted remotely. “Small groups will now need to be online. Gatherings are not to take place in homes,” is the clear line from Pastor Pratt’s office.

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