Message from the Bishop

Dear Friends,

What a week!

I begin with congratulations to Thomas Brauer, Vicar of Sumner-Redcliffs, who has been awarded his doctorate from the University of St Andrews on the topic “From Portraits of Absence to Analogies of Resurrection: A Theological Engagement with Photographic Phenomenology.” Congratulations Reverend Doctor Thomas on behalf of the Diocese of Christchurch!

Then, some condolences: to the family of the late Bev Hunter, a longstanding parishioner of Christchurch St Luke’s and widow of the late Reverend Don Hunter; and to the family of the late Horace Longson, longstanding parishioner of the Parish of Riccarton-Spreydon. Horace died a few days ago in his 102nd year.

I remind you of the Induction of Ben Randall as Vicar of St Mary’s Timaru, 7 pm this Friday evening 20 March in St Mary’s Church (max seating capacity, 299) and of the Open Day this Saturday, 21 March, at Springfield in connection with this year’s Lenten Studies.

Last week we issued an open invitation to the Site Blessing at 7:45 am, Friday 3 April, as work begins on the Cathedral in the Square. That open invitation is now rescinded. In keeping with the new situation we are in, we are now working on a much smaller group, by direct invitation only, gathering for the occasion.

On Sunday morning it was a pleasure for Teresa and I to worship with the Christchurch St Luke’s congregation which meets at the Community of the Sacred Name in Tuam Street, Christchurch.

On Saturday there was another valuable day conference for Wardens and Treasurers, hosted in Temuka. Thank you again to Edwin and the team who organised and contributed to the conference and to all participants. Meanwhile, in the Anglican Centre two national meetings took place: for the national executive of the AAW and for the national secretariat for Cursillo. I was at the latter meeting in my capacity as National Episcopal Overseer for Cursillo.

As Saturday unfolded we all became aware of the impact of Coronavirus/COVID-19 on our lives. First we heard news of the cancellation of the National Remembrance Service, then news of travel restrictions on all travellers to NZ from 1 am Monday morning.

At a stroke our lives have irrevocably changed for the short and medium but hopefully not long term future. While for many of us the ability to travel internationally is a luxury, for hundreds of thousands of NZ businesses, their owners and staff, international travel brings necessary income. And that income cycles through our economy for the benefit of all. That benefit is now suspended.

Other matters of business – trading internationally, events involving crowds of people – are also in suspension as nations elsewhere shut down and as we follow them in containment measures. The government announcement yesterday of $12+ billion borrowing to financially assist citizens and businesses in hardship due the impact of the virus underlines the severity of the situation we are in as a nation. We should not underestimate the pain we are going to go through. Some sober estimates of the global situation predict at least 18 months of restrictions on travel and meeting together in the likes of restaurants, stadiums and concert halls.

I applaud Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson for their leadership at this time. I am sure they will be well aware of what they do not yet know about the course the next few months will take and what further measures may need to be announced to help us survive this “perfect storm.”

My understanding is that measures re travel and large gatherings over the past for days seek to contain the spread of the virus, if possible restricting it to those who have recently travelled. If these measures succeed we will be blessed but let’s be frank it is likely – as many other nations are finding – that the virus will begin “community spread” beyond the ranks of recent travellers.

If that happens, I expect all church services and all gatherings of people in groups above, say, 10 people to be prohibited by the government. We are not there yet – only meetings 500+ are prohibited – but we are at the following stage (as outlined in this policy document posted yesterday including,

  • Communion is to be shared in one kind only (bread not wine);
  • Physical contact with each other should not take place during The Peace and other occasions of greeting one another;
  • Extra care should be taken in respect of hygiene including cleaning of parts of churches and halls not normally cleaned (e.g. door handles, communion rails);
  • Home communions to only take place in special circumstances;
  • Offertories should be collected via a stationary plate accessible as people enter or leave the church building. (This is a very good time to switch to giving via automatic payments!)
  • On these and other matters in the document, please read my associated message.

Clergy are already working on plans for the connecting of people in worship, teaching and pastoral care via means that do not involve meeting in one physical space: live streaming, google hang-outs, emails and txt messaging, etc. Within the Diocese we are beginning a process of addressing financial and other challenges as we move forward into the unknown. Nationally conversations are taking place about whether planned events such as General Synod proceed.

Unfortunately the current situation also means that Eastercamp is cancelled for this year. Popular with thousands of young Cantabrians and hundreds of young people from throughout the Diocese, it may help to read this article which makes the simple point that we sacrifice meeting together (if that is asked of us) not because we are unwilling to sacrifice our own lives but because we care too much for others to be part of visiting this modern plague on them.

There is much to pray about and many people to pray for – all world leaders, for instance, as well as our Prime Minister and her government. Would you consider, with my encouragement, that every daily and Sunday service include prayer for all affected by Coronavirus and for those working in response to this pandemic; and that remaining Fridays in Lent be a day of prayer and fasting for the victims of Coronavirus?

Finally, this is a good time to be a good neighbour. If you have not yet done so this week, how about checking in on your neighbours? There is a lot of anxiety about. May we be agents of God’s peace.