For those interested, here is a copy of a letter that I have sent to several Victorian MPs in the last few weeks. Note, the actual letter varies slightly depending on the recipient. I’ve also made one change here in light of Victoria reaching the target of 90% fully vaccinated today.
I am writing to express concern about the rules governing who can attend religious worship services in Victoria.
Throughout the pandemic, almost all churches have closely followed the health directives and we continue to do so. Like other religious leaders, I am persuaded by medical professionals that the vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and efficacious, and I have encouraged others to follow this advice. This public stance has come at some cost to me personally.
I am grateful for the availability of the vaccines. My entire family is fully vaccinated, including our 3 children. In my church, we anticipate that the overwhelming majority of members will be vaccinated, indeed at a higher percentage than the Victorian population. I am also heartened by the fact that over 93% of Victorians have already received at least the first dose of a vaccine.
While our State needed to increase vaccination rates, certain restrictions on Churches were understandable. However, in light of the new targets, it is no longer reasonable for unvaccinated Victorians to be separated in Church.
On September 19th, Premier Daniel Andrews announced Victoria’s Roadmap. This document stated that once Victoria reaches 80% of 12+ fully vaccinated, all settings will “align with National Plan to transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response”. It was expected that when Victoria reached this target, any Victorians who remained unvaccinated would return to normal worship services alongside those who are fully vaccinated. We are now in a much better position than was anticipated. This is encouraging news. It, therefore, makes no sense to further exclude from worship services those who remain unvaccinated. Fully vaccinated people have no need to fear those who are unvaccinated.
I acknowledge that the Government has made provision for churches to hold services for people with unknown vaccination status. For a few short weeks, this is possible, but it is not a long term solution. First, a church is one community and it is wrong and harmful to divide it, especially after almost 2 years of lockdowns and hard restrictions. Second, Churches have a responsibility to welcome and minister to all kinds of people including the vulnerable. And it is among this demographic that we find many who are unvaccinated. Third, churches are largely run by volunteers. Forcing churches to organise additional services is not sustainable for an already exhausted community.
For almost two years Churches have chosen to comply with Victoria’s health directives because we have believed that they were reasonable, fair, and temporary. However, to separate church attendees further is neither, reasonable, fair or temporary.
I note that Churches in NSW have returned to normal worship services (as of October 24th) and so there is no division between those vaccinated and those with unknown vaccination status. If NSW can implement this positive step safely and equitably, surely Victoria can do so as well.
Apart from the health issues, this pandemic has created significant social tensions and has brought harm to the mental and spiritual well-being of countless Victorians. It is now time for our State to heal and move on. I am therefore requesting that the vaccination status mandate be removed from churches now that we have reached the target of 90%.
Your advocacy for local religious communities will be much appreciated.
I look forward to hearing from you shortly,
Unfortunately, during the course of the year, some letters have been sent to MPs by some religious quarters containing misinformation, negative messaging toward vaccinations, and a tone lacking any semblance of grace. In contrast, the approach that has proven constructive (ie leading to favourable arrangements for NSW Churches, and even the Victorian Government giving some special consideration to Church) is one where church leaders have advocated responsibly and positively with consideration of society’s overall wellbeing.