Read earlier letters from the Bishop here.

Letter from Bishop Mark about supension of public worship services.

From the website of the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn.

Dear sisters and brothers,

I am writing to share some important news concerning our life together in the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn.

Following the Prime Minister's announcement of further measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, including limiting gatherings in buildings to groups of no more than 100 people, the Anglican Bishops of NSW/ACT consulted with each other about the wisest way to reflect the care and compassion of Christ for all people in these challenging times.

As a result, it has been agreed that public gatherings in the following Dioceses with substantial metropolitan areas will cease on March 22, i.e., there will be no public services this Sunday [22 March] in: Sydney, Newcastle, and Canberra and Goulburn. Services in the following predominantly rural Dioceses will cease one week later: Riverina, Bathurst, Grafton, and Armidale.

This means that no public church worship services will be held in the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn this weekend and until further notice.

Although these measures may not strictly be required by the Prime Minister's announcement, especially in smaller Parishes, they have been taken in recognition that our congregations contain significant numbers of people who are vulnerable to the virus, particularly the elderly. Moving together will also avoid unhelpful confusion at the local level.

I want to emphasise that the temporary cessation of public worship services does not means the end of ministry by Anglican Christians in our Diocese. This is the beginning of a season to show Christ-like care for our neighbours and develop new ways of connecting with each other. In the days ahead we will be posting ministry resources, including online services, on our Diocesan website at https://anglicancg.org.au/keep-connected/>. Please share this link widely and feel welcome to suggest resources or links which might helpfully be added to it.

In our gospel reading for this Sunday Jesus proclaims "I am the light of the world". Please join with me in praying that the light of Jesus might shine in and through us, for the glory of God and the good of God's world.

Yours in the Risen Jesus,

+Mark Short
18 March 2020


Responses to Frequently Asked Questions

Circulated by the Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn

1. What if my church is less than 100 people?

The ban from the Prime Minister includes all non-essential enclosed gatherings of more than 100 people. Although there will be congregations in our diocese who fall below this threshold it is important for us to model to our community the highest level of care for the vulnerable. Bishop Mark has announced that all public gatherings will cease and it is his expectation that all ministry units will comply. Therefore all public gatherings, including Sunday services, are to cease immediately, including this Sunday. You should plan for the possibility of this restriction lasting several months. The Prime Minister indicated this could be up to six (6) months.

2. Can we meet outside as an alternative?

While it is permissible under the regulations for groups to gather outside we do not encourage you to pursue this option. It will be difficult to ensure appropriate social distancing.

3. What do we mean by 'Social Distancing'?

'Social distancing', which is really 'Physical distancing' is described as follows:

Social distancing is an effective measure to reduce the potential for transmission, but it is recognised that it cannot be practised in all situations. While practising social distancing, people can travel to work, including on public transport. For non-essential activities outside the workplace or attendance at schools, universities and childcare—social distancing includes:

  • avoiding crowds and mass gatherings where it is difficult to keep the appropriate distance away from others.
  • attempting to keep a distance of 1.5 metres between ourselves and other people where possible, for example when you are out and about in a public place.
  • avoiding small gatherings in enclosed spaces, for example family celebrations.
  • avoiding shaking hands, hugging, or kissing other people avoiding visiting vulnerable people, such as those in aged care facilities or hospitals, infants, or people with compromised immune systems due to illness or medical treatment.

4. What about Home Groups / Youth Groups / Children’s Ministry / other mid-week meetings?

If you can ensure that non-public groups meeting in homes are able to operate with appropriate social distancing (e.g. in a large space maintaining a 1.5 metre distance between people) then it may be possible to continue to meet in this way. We consider youth groups, children’s ministries and other mid-week meetings, to be public gatherings and therefore they ought to cease. Given the definition of social distancing, as described by the authorities, we encourage Rectors/Priests-in-Charge to exercise discretion in deciding which small groups continue to meet.

5. What about Weddings?

Weddings in churches & chapels are included in the ban of more than 100 people. While highly disruptive and understandably distressing for all involved, weddings may only proceed with the bridal party and their families and the minister officiating.

6. What about Funerals?

Unfortunately funerals held in crematoriums, chapels or church buildings can only include immediate family members. This is the most practical way to ensure that funerals do not exceed the limit of 100 people in enclosed gatherings. You may want to suggest to the family to hold a more public thanksgiving (i.e. a memorial service) at a later time, when it is possible to gather. If funerals are conducted at a graveside it is possible to include more people, as long as they maintain appropriate social distancing.

7. What about AGMs?

We have no mechanism to have a "virtual" AGM. If your church is not able to hold an AGM then elected office holders remain in office until such time as it is possible to elect their successors. Practically speaking this means that the current parish councillors, wardens, clergy appointment board members and Synod representatives continue in office until further advice is provided.

8. What about Church camps / House parties?

For the same reasons we are cancelling church gatherings it is also necessary to postpone or reschedule Church weekends away and house parties. Given there is the possibility of rescheduling, it is not appropriate at this time to take large groups of people into environments where we cannot guarantee appropriate social distancing.

9. How do we care for congregational members while we aren’t meeting?

Each church will need to develop its own plans to help congregation members stay in touch with one another. This may involve measures such as home groups, WhatsApp groups, email discussions etc. We strongly encourage church leaders to pay particular attention to the most vulnerable and isolated within our church communities. This could be an opportunity to revive the old telephone prayer chain method of pastoral care.

10. Are there guidelines for visiting those diagnosed with COVID-19?

The Book of Common Prayer services for Visitation of the Sick and Communion for the Sick provide a helpful guide for caring for housebound parishioners. Your attention is drawn to the final rubrics of the Communion for the Sick, which reminds us that we can truly feed on Christ without having to consume the bread and wine. This expresses the principle of Jesus’ teaching in John 6. Further resources on health precautions will be provided shortly.

11. What about giving?

The closure of our weekly gatherings will have significant financial implications for many of our churches. We encourage Rectors/Priests-in-Charge and wardens to communicate with their parishioners to urge them to commence online giving, if they are not doing so already. For congregational members who are unable or unwilling to give electronically, we encourage you to suggest means by which these parishioners can continue to provide ongoing support for the ministry of their church. Wardens may need to consider whether there are expenses or projects which can be postponed, to ensure that it is possible to continue paying clergy and staff.

12. Where will I find ongoing information and updates?

The situation continues to change on a daily, if not hourly, basis. We encourage you to check the information from the Australian Department of Health and from A.C.T. Health.

If you have further questions, please contact the Bishop's office on 02 6232 3612 or email: bev.forbes@anglicancg.org.au


St Philip's Anglican Church, corner Moorhouse and Macpherson Streets, O'Connor, ACT 2602
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