‘We can’t turn people back’: Religious services wait until all can attend
By Josh Dye
Anglican churches are keen to avoid “uncomfortable situations” around vaccination status, Archbishop of Sydney Kanishka Raffel says.CREDIT:JAMES BRICKWOOD
Most religious services in Sydney will remain online-only for another two weeks as faith leaders grapple with the state’s public health orders regarding coronavirus that exclude unvaccinated people.
Churches, mosques and synagogues can now open and hold services under the NSW road map out of lockdown, but only those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are meant to attend. Once the 80 per cent Sydney target is reached – likely by October 18 or 25 – then anyone can attend places of worship regardless of their choice to have a vaccine.
Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Kanishka Raffel said the majority of the city’s 400 churches would wait until then to reopen.
“Some churches will be opening [this Sunday] but I think a number are waiting until 80 per cent for a variety of reasons,” he said. “I think people want to be able to treat everybody the same when they come to church, and they don’t want confusion when they come.”
The vexed issue of vaccination status stands as the main barrier for places of worship to reopen this weekend.
Churches, mosques and synagogues are run mostly by volunteers and faith leaders and are keen to avoid awkward encounters at the door where members and believers have to potentially be turned away.
“We’re trying not to put volunteers in uncomfortable situations,” Archbishop Raffel said.
“From a Christian point of view we want to be able to relate with respect with people who may not have the same views as us.”
A spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said Archbishop Anthony Fisher has decided to wait because he believes “churches should be open to all”.
“He wanted to ensure that everyone can attend mass in person,” the spokesman said. “He didn’t want to discriminate against anyone based on whether they are fully vaccinated or not.”
The majority of Sydney’s synagogues are returning to in-person services this Saturday, Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Darren Bark said.
He said orthodox synagogues will have a process in place to verify vaccination status in advance because their beliefs prohibit the use of technology on the Sabbath.
Lakemba and Cabramatta mosques will open as soon as NSW hits 80 per cent, Lebanese Muslim Association general manager Khaled Alameddine said.
“It’s really important at this time that we reopen,” he said. “The people need it especially after the three months of lockdown.”
Mosque leaders have decided to wait to avoid shutting anyone out who hasn’t chosen or been able to get vaccinated.
“We don’t want to discriminate. We can’t just turn people back, especially after this lockdown. It’s better to keep waiting,” Mr Alameddine said.
Once it does open, Lakemba mosque will initially be limited to about 600 people under density rules, instead of 3000 people. There will be multiple prayer sessions to allow everyone to attend.
Alban Matohiti, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sydney, said the decision to open this Saturday is up to each local church, but most ministers have indicated they will wait a couple more weeks until everyone can attend because it is “more practical” than potentially having to turn people away.
Until December 1, places of worship are subject to density caps of one person per four-square-metres and singing is limited to 10 people in a choir. After that date, all congregants will be permitted to sing and capacity limits will double.
Hillsong Church was contacted for comment.