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Be COVID confident despite 'long tail' ahead: Archbishop Freier

Archbishop Freier looks ahead to life after the pandemic for the Church and Diocese.

By Stephen Cauchi

The Church could look forward with “greater confidence” to withstanding COVID, even though there would be a “long tail” to the pandemic, according to Archbishop Philip Freier.

Parishes, meanwhile, are bracing for the loss of JobKeeper, which concluded at the end of March.

In a YouTube message last month, Dr Freier predicted there would be “a long tail to the COVID pandemic”.

But he added that as the inoculations rolled out and there were more vaccinations, “I think we can look forward to being able to withstand this current pandemic virus infection with greater confidence”.

Archbishop Freier said he had been in contact with a friend in South Korea, where churches have not been able to gather for six months.

“I reflect on how fortunate we are by way of contrast to live in a place where the number of infections on a daily rate is not off the scale,” he said. “How fortunate we are to be able to gather together.”

Dr Freier said he had enjoyed attending a number of parishes in recent weeks.

“Even though things are not entirely back to what they were – there are some restrictions – it is a blessing we have to be able to gather together in some way.”

At the parishes, he said he had heard “all the different ways that people have networked together to give encouragement through the difficult times that we all went through last year”.

He added that the difficult times were “not at an end, of course”.

Archbishop Freier also made reference to the sexual misconduct allegations enveloping Federal Parliament, saying there had been a “betrayal of trust”.

“Keep praying for those that have important responsibility in elected office and those who are appointed to assist them in their responsibilities,” he said.

Bishop Paul Barker told TMA that he anticipated some churches “will begin to struggle more” after the end of JobKeeper.

“A lot of churches have gone very well and JobKeeper’s actually given them more money than they anticipated,” Bishop Barker said.

“Very few churches have had massive financial problems in the last year.”

A lot of churches, although not all, had had “very good take-up in electronic giving”.

Op shops had reopened but “maybe are below their normal rates of sale”, he added.

The Diocese was “going OK”. “I think things are fairly stable. I suspect the current rules are not going to change significantly for some months other than if we go back into a lockdown at short notice.”

In his episcopate of Jumbunna in Melbourne’s south-east, only one or two churches out of 80 had not reopened, he said.

Within the diocese generally, “my guess will be less than 10 per cent have not reopened”.

“I think there are still churches experiencing fewer people coming. Quite a few churches are only doing one service, not two.”

Some churches were having fewer services as a “strategic move”. But for others, cleaning may be an issue.

“I’m wondering if they’re too anxious about the cleaning in-between (services),” he said.

“It’s a tricky thing but I think the cleaning can be quite simple in my opinion. Some are getting a bit anxious about it.”

Although masks were not mandatory indoors, they were still being used extensively in churches. “Most churches are more cautious than the government rule, so most parishes are wearing masks at least for singing, if not for the whole service.”

Bishop Barker said that from 27 March, all electronic attendance recording must be linked directly to the State Government’s visitation API (Application Programming Interface).

Parishes that use the Government’s free QR code service were automatically linked. Users of a different attendance recording app must check if it was linked.

“The private systems that some of us are using, or some churches are using, some of those systems are negotiating with the Government to interface. Which the Government wants to happen.

“What it’s trying to do is speed up the contact tracing. It will all be interfaced with the Government so they can do it quicker.”