Saturday, December 4

Churches Reflect on Covid-19 Vaccine Certificates and Balancing Safety and Values

Many churches in Auckland are already preparing to offer Christmas services online as church leaders weigh whether they will reopen only to vaccinated people when the traffic light system kicks in.

A lady singing a hymnal at the Samoan Methodist Church in Levin.

File photo.
Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

What do road signs mean for churches?

Churches with more than 100 people can only meet under the unrestricted orange setting if vaccination certificates are used. Without a vaccine mandate, only 50 people can gather within a meter of each other, which is not feasible for larger churches.

Green allows the same numbers as orange for vaccine certificate meetings and up to 100 people within one meter of distance for meetings without the mandate.

Under the red setting, churches using vaccination certificates can have 100 people gathered within one meter of each other, or alternatively, without vaccination certificates, only 10 people can meet with social distancing.

Ongoing discussions on traffic light operation

Grant Harris is the senior pastor of Windsor Park Baptist, a church of 1,500 people on the North Shore, of whom he estimates 150 may be unvaccinated.

“Who’s going to be that person at the door who checks the certificates and turns people away? It’s a really tough position for the churches, I mean the gorillas at the door.”

He said that churches were open to all, but they should also be safe places, and this weighed on the minds of the leaders.

Harris is part of a Covid-19 response team created by Baptist churches in Auckland to discuss the ethics and practicalities of the traffic light system for churches.

“As for our freedom of religion which is not restricted at all, the government has not said anything about it and rightly so. We are still free to worship, we are still free to be the church, we just have to be creative about how we do it. at this particular time. “

RNZ contacted different denominations to find out their position on the vaccine. Most were actively encouraging their parishes to support the government’s vaccination program, but they were also discussing whether to use vaccination certificates.

The Auckland Church Leaders Group brings together 45 churches of all denominations and is convened by Jonathan Dove.

He is senior pastor of GraceCity Church and said leaders supported the vaccine program and wanted to keep those who attended safe.

“Certainly, the vast majority of churches throughout this pandemic have supported and cooperated with government health measures and will continue to do so,” said Dove.

“Science is showing that churches are really in a challenging situation, because we tend to gather inside and we love to sing and hug and these are the things that science shows us that we spread the virus,” he said.

“We are doing everything we can to take it seriously and proactively assist with health measures.

“At the same time, we want to make a place available to all and welcome all, regardless of their views and perspectives or political allegiances, so this is an incredibly difficult time for leaders.”

‘Ethical dilemmas’ for church leaders

The group of church leaders has a lot to discuss.

“It is a clash of our values, since we really identify ourselves in the way of Jesus, which is to love our neighbor, be inclusive with everyone and provide security to people, particularly those who are most at risk. So these They are the things that church leaders have to deal with, “said Dove.

One of Auckland’s largest churches, Life, has around 10,000 people attending its services, now online, every weekend.

The church declined an interview, but in a statement on its website, Senior Pastor Paul de Jong said they “strongly oppose any legislation or government restrictions that would limit in-person church attendance based on vaccination status.”

He said the church “has always been open to all, without discrimination.”

Destiny Church did not respond to RNZ’s request for comment.

The director of the New Zealand Catholic Center for Bioethics, John Kleinsman, said churches were generally safe places, open to all without prejudice, but that was far from clear during a pandemic.

“It is complicated and we have never been in this place before. Churches must be safe places and, at the same time, they must also be places open to all without prejudice or discrimination.”

Kleinsman said some people would feel unsafe and would not want to go to church if unvaccinated people were present, while some would feel left out if unvaccinated people were unable to attend.

“Ethical dilemmas inevitably involve the balance of competing values ​​and rights and this is an example of this, the ability and autonomy of people to choose and, of course, we respect the conscience of the people,” said Kleinsman.

“How are competing rights balanced, is that what we are debating, fighting and reflecting on right now?”

Christmas greeting online

Some churches abroad had offered separate services for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.

The Nathaniel Center offers advice to bishops ahead of this week’s meeting.

Dr. Kleinsman said they would lean on important values ​​to guide parishes.

“Within our own Catholic social teaching, we have principles to help with those dilemmas,” he said.

“In this case, I would say that the key principles applied would be the principle of the common good, the principle of the option for the most vulnerable, the principle of solidarity and also the dignity of the person, which for me includes the right to be protected from harm by other people. “

GraceCity Church will continue to offer online services through the new year, with smaller gatherings in homes when the traffic light system allows.

“For large churches like ours, the red zone is problematic even with vaccination certificates, it is limited to 100 people in a meeting, so at this stage we will focus more on house churches and church in line and we’ll be really innovative in how we do it. That, “said Senior Pastor Jonathan Dove.

And Windsor Park Baptist pastor Grant Harris said they would usher in Christmas online as well.

“We are planning a digital Christmas and we are putting a little more creativity around that, due to the size of our church, I think others will still have that problem around vax and no vax if they decide to do the Christmas services.”

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