COVID-19 Alert Level Two discriminates against churches

little churches

A Wellington parish priest is calling into question the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s decision to limit the number of people in churches to ten people.

“It is strange that bars and restaurants can open but churches are limited to just ten people”, said Fr Pete Roe the Parish Administrator of St Francis of Assisi parish of Ohariu, Wellington.

Roe says the thriving parish normally has over 1,000 attendees and was already struggling with how to cater for congregations of what it thought would be one hundred.

“But now it’s just ten, and it’s the limit the Government has put on one table in a restaurant”, Roe said.

He observed that Churches generally have more space than restaurants.

With no projection on when Churches might be allowed even one hundred Roe says that Churches are left in limbo.

“Do we have to wait for Level One?” he asked.

Roe is sensitive to those who at this point may feel uncomfortable about coming out of lockup straight back to church but says it is ultimately about people’s choice.

He admits that some parish procedures will need to change. For example, contact tracing would be a little strange for parishioners but said that it is not an impossibility.

“We know it’s not business as usual and there’s an element of new wine and new wineskins in these times”, Roe said, referring to Matthew 9:17.

Last evening the New Zealand Catholic Bishops also expressed surprise at Jacinda Ardern’s decision.

“Many people will be disappointed in this news of more restricted gatherings than expected but others will be grateful for more time to prepare safely,” the bishops commented on Facebook.

The bishops are inviting on the faithful to reflect on Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer”.

They say they are looking at the details of the announcement with urgency.

Little churches

The decision to limit church congregations to ten means the Wellington Ohariu parish will further its investigation into a concept it is calling Little Churches.

“Normally Churches are the opposite of little; they are for all-comers, yet we’re being limited to in effect minister to the few,” said Roe.

Roe acknowledges that not everyone will be comfortable with the Little Churches concept.

Little churches is an alternative way of gathering for worship based on the practice of the early Christians as recorded in The Acts of Apostles.

As part of a parish survey, the leadership team in St Francis of Assisi parish of Ohariu, Wellington is asking for parishioners for feedback on a proposal to establish little churches.

The little churches concept is a limited assembly of up to 10 of parishioners gathering in a home for worship that includes prayer and possibly to receive the Eucharist.

In support of the idea the parish notes The Acts of Apostles records:

  • “Every day, they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people”.  (Acts 2:46 -47).
  • “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah”. (Acts 5:42)

“The model of Little Churches can be considered as being akin to a parish ecclesia (assembly) in which the gathering happens in many different rooms,” the parish says in its newsletter.

The parish has identified several practical issues that need to be  resolved, including:

  • Identification of leaders
  • Identification of participants
  • Protocols around people meeting safely in homes
  • Protocols around the safe distribution of the communion hosts
  • Preparation of a worship outline that will give facilitators some direction and
    confidence in running such a group.

The St Francis of Assisi leaderships hopes that in facilitating the establishment of Little Churches, they will become like living cells, both nurturing and being sustained by the body as a whole.

The team say they realise that the implementation of the concept of Little Churches will need to develop.

They also acknowledge there are some whom it may pose too high a risk, and there will be some to whom the idea will not appeal.


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