Thank you for your patience in waiting for a fuller communication from me outlining the next stage in our application of the Victorian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. You will see that this pastoral letter is accompanied by an attachment setting out what we can move to in our various ministries.
The first thing I want to acknowledge is how good it feels for us to be a little more free to relate in face to face (or at least mask to mask) groups. I hope that you will join me in giving thanks to God for this renewed opportunity. Being able to move more freely and gather in small groups is a precious thing made more so by our experience of not being able to for some time. My conviction is that this should turn our hearts in three ways. First it should be a spur to gratitude that our lives are usually so unfettered. We do live amazingly free lives and for this we should never stop giving God thanks. The second is that it should give us new insight into the reality of life for others around the world who do not share our freedoms. Whether Christian sisters and brothers who are constrained because of their faith, or whether the regime does not discriminate and oppresses all perhaps this recent experience will be a spur to interceding on their behalf. The third is remember our fellow Victorians still in lockdown in Melbourne. The increasing disparity between them, us and the rest of Australia is (I think) a cause for distress and disappointment. Please be praying for the health and wellbeing of Melbourne’s people.
In many ways the degree of our thankfulness is good litmus test of the health of our faith. Please do not forget to give thanks to God for these cautious steps.
One reason why we must begin with thanksgiving is that the unenviable task of charting the ‘roadmap’ to whatever normal looks like has thrown up a number of frustrating anomalies or lack of clarity. The reopening of various aspects of community life in regional Victoria has exposed a variety of competing priorities which can appear at face value to be inconsistent. An example of this is the provision of capacity for restaurants and other venues to open with quite a significant number of patrons, but a continuation of the strict limitations on church (or other) worship facilities. This is a frustration and the thinking behind the apparent inconsistency is not easily discerned.
In this context I am reminded of the complexity of leading a response which must be carried through a complex group of interests, needs and capacities. My view is that it is not surprising that there are inconsistencies, as no one group of people is able to fully see the whole web of complex needs. Indeed, it speaks to the diligent work done by many that we are neither living with anarchy nor experiencing an utterly frozen and immobile state. While frustrations exist it is vital that we recognise and applaud these elected leaders and public servants who are working to grasp this intricate situation.
One blessing we do have is that within our civil society there is mechanism for advocacy and the peaceful presentation of claims for the fair application of law. Please be assured that the inconsistency in application of the capacity to reopen is being raised with senior members of the government and public service. This is being done through the Victorian Council of Churches, the Multifaith Leaders Forum and, individually by the Archbishops of Melbourne (both ours and Roman Catholic). I am also making attempts to speak with our local members with my Roman Catholic counterpart Bishop Shane Mackinley. In all of this it would be wrong to press some sort of special or exceptional claim, but my goal is to see a consistent application of safe practise.
Finally, I have been reflecting quite intensely on what it means to ‘uphold our leaders’ (see Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:14). Scripture urges us to acknowledge those who lead as they exercise their responsibility as ones answerable to God. I have been proud of your practical and caring approach to this whole pandemic. The heart that looks first for the best way to serve our neighbour, and respectfully uphold those who lead is consistent with faith in God who is determined to care for his people and shows grace even through difficulty.
As we cautiously take these next steps be assured of my prayers for you as we embrace the renewed opportunities to express our common Christian life.
Your servant in Christ,