28 September 2023

No jab, no stigma? Churches face vaccine divide

Churches contemplate life with vaccination split congregations, with some services saying “no jab, no praise”

Christ Church Dingley associate minister Tanya Cummings knows of strong feelings on both side of the vaccination debate within her congregation. Picture: supplied

By Stephen Cauchi

1 October 2021

CHURCHES fear creating divisions among their flocks as they prepare to introduce separate services for unvaccinated parishioners.

Several plan to scrap their early morning traditional service to make way for meeting times which accommodate members who have not received their COVID-19 jab.

But jab or no jab, ministers say parishioners are “raring” to get back into churches.

Christ Church Dingley associate minister Reverend Tanya Cummings said her church was preparing to offer as many as three weekly services for unvaccinated people.

Ms Cummings said Christ Church had around 160 members and there was strong feeling within the church on both sides of the vaccination debate. She said she knew of at least 20 congregants who would not be getting vaccinated, but she was sure there were more.

She said currently, the church offered an 8.30am traditional service and a 10.30am modern service but this distinction would be scrapped.

“Now it’s going to be a divide between vaccinated and unvaccinated,” Ms Cumming said.

She said the limit of 20 people for unvaccinated services was annoying, as it would force the introduction of multiple meeting times.

Ms Cummings said she would enforce the rules as much as she could, but there would be no stigma for congregation-members who chose to remain unvaccinated.

“I’ll definitely be moving towards a spirit of acceptance and love to be the banner over it all. I really hope it won’t cause much division,” she said.

“Love is more important than anything else. We’re all the body of Christ and everyone needs to play their part in the body of Christ.”

Under the Victorian Government’s reopening roadmap, indoor church services can resume when 80 per cent of people over 16s have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, expected by 5 November.

However, parishioners who have not been double vaccinated must meet in a separate service capped at 20 people.

St Aidan’s Noble Park locum minister Reverend Ian Savage said the 8am traditional service was likely to be scrapped in favour of an unvaccinated service. He said all members of the 8am service were vaccinated and quite happy to move to 9.30am.

“It seemed kind of sensible to suggest that we’d have an 8am service for the unvaccinated and the 9.30am service for the vaccinated, as a kind of starting point,” Mr Savage said.

Mr Savage said he was unsure how many members of the church would be unvaccinated come 5 November. However, he said, there was strong feeling on either side of the debate.

“I’ve spoken to a couple of [anti-vaccination] people who were very, very upset about the whole thing and feel it’s a matter of civil rights,” he said.

But people feel very strongly the other way as well. Mr Savage recalled one text that read “No jab, no praise”.

Despite the division of services, “people were raring to go back to church”, he said.

One minister who asked not to be named said that both she and her husband were medically vulnerable, despite being vaccinated.

As a result, it was not possible for her church to offer unvaccinated services and it was working through options.

She said a nearby church was offering unvaccinated service and was hosting her congregants if they wanted to attend. Otherwise, her church was streaming its services.

She said a vicar at another church had also offered to come up to her church and run the unvaccinated service.

The minister said that because of her health other vicars needed to do jobs such as visiting nursing homes or hospitals in her place. But she said apart from that it didn’t affect her ministry.

Berwick Anglican Church senior minister Reverend Wayne Schuller said he was heartbroken to have to separate his church, even temporarily.

Mr Schuller said there was no distinction between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated in NSW church services under its reopening roadmap.

Reverend Dianne Sharrock, priest at the Anglican parish of St Stephen and St Mary in Mt Waverley, said her church had not yet decided on an appropriate course of action.

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