Category Archives: News

COVID-19 & Tasmania — Update

Yesterday was a really joyful day for our congregation. After over a year of disruption — a time during which we had suspended worship services or worship services where only part of the congregation could gather — finally we were able to gather together twice with the whole church. For this blessing, we praise God!

Things are now basically back to normal in Tasmania. There’s still hand sanitizer everywhere, of course. The odd time you’ll see someone wearing a mask (they’ve never been mandatory here). At the moment, there are some concerns about a few COVID cases in Brisbane. Brisbane is locked down for three days and there are restrictions on travel to Tassie from there. Aside from that, life goes on as usual. There hasn’t been a case of community transmission here for well over 300 days.

As I’ve said before, there were measures taken early on in the pandemic which put us in this good position. The state and federal governments put in hard border closures and aggressive lockdowns. There’s a rigorous system of hotel quarantine for incoming international travellers. This system hasn’t been foolproof, but it’s worked well enough to catch most cases. Here in Tasmania a state election has just been called for May 1. Premier Peter Gutwein is banking on his pandemic success to lead his party to another majority. The polls show that the odds are in his favour.

What about vaccinations? The urgency isn’t here that you find in other parts of the world. At the moment, just over 12,500 Tasmanians have received at least one dose — 2.3% of the population.

I still think of how things are so different elsewhere. Almost every day I watch the news from Canada and I feel for my native land. I especially think of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I noticed that in my old stomping grounds of Hamilton the city has just gone into another lockdown where churches can only have 15% of capacity. How frustrating that must be. We’re praying for you! May God soon grant everyone the kind of normalcy we’re blessed with here already.


Letter to the Editor

I submitted the following letter to the Examiner (our local Launceston newspaper) in response to their February 22 article, “A Tasmanian survivor’s story on conversion practices.”

Dear editor,

In the February 22 article, “A Tasmanian survivor’s story on conversion practices,” our church was referenced as a body that admits to having “carried out SOGI conversion practices.”  To clarify, our church does not provide exorcisms, electroshock therapy, or aversion therapy. We only hold out the same hope God offers to all people:  forgiveness through Jesus Christ and grace to change.  Let me further clarify by quoting my submission to the Tasmania Law Reform Institute:  “…our church preaches and teaches what the Bible says, including what it says about sexual orientation and gender identity. We do this out of our ultimate commitment to God, our love for him, and out of love for the people around us. We counsel accordingly. We pray publicly and privately accordingly. According to the working definition the Issues Paper provides, we are involved in SOGI conversion practices. We make no apologies for that. Moreover, as stated above, this is non-negotiable for our church since we believe what the Bible says. For us to do otherwise would be unloving and disingenuous.”

Rev. Dr. Wes Bredenhof

Free Reformed Church of Launceston


Preview of FRCA Synod 2021

It’s another exciting synod year for the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  This year’s synod is scheduled to be held starting on June 14 in Albany, Western Australia.  The reports for this synod are now publicly available here and I imagine other material will soon follow.  Let’s review some of the noteworthy items on the agenda for Synod Albany 2021 so far.  Since I’m delegated to this synod, I’m not going to be offering my views or opinions — what follows are just the facts, presented as objectively as possible.

Website

Synod 2018 mandated the Website Committee to design a new website for the FRCA.  This has been done and it just remains for Synod 2021 to give the green light.  In the meantime, you can find a preview of the new website at this link. 

Book of Praise

Our last synod also mandated the development of an Australian Book of Praise and, to that end, a Standing Committee for the Australian Book of Praise was appointed.  The Aussie church book is apparently at Premier Printing in Canada, but should be available by the time of Synod 2021.  It will officially be called Australian Book of Praise:  Anglo-Genevan Psalter.

Training for the Ministry

This is a significant report because these deputies were asked to develop a strategic long-term plan for an accredited Australian seminary.  The plan proposes to explore the possibility of an Australian affiliate of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary. There are many unanswered questions about this route, but the deputies are asking for a new mandate which will see them finding the answers. 

The report also proposes that deputies be mandated to develop guidelines for a vicariate system in the FRCA.  This would see seminary graduates who originated in the FRCA being given the opportunity to have a one-year internship/vicariate in a local FRC congregation with an experienced pastor.  The proposed model is based on the practice of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand.

Ecumenical Relations

As happens at every synod, a lot of time is going to be spent on relationships with other churches.  Especially noteworthy at this synod will be a proposal from Classis North (originating from Launceston) to send observers to the next International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC).  The FRCA was part of the founding of the ICRC.  We left the ICRC in 1996, but this proposal suggests the time may be right to re-examine our involvement through a small step.

Within Australia, we have our Committee for Contact with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and Southern Presbyterian Church.  This committee is recommending that the FRCA continue discussions with the EPC and SPC with a view to eventually establishing sister church relations.  While the marks of a true church are in evidence with both the EPC and SPC, there do remain outstanding issues to discuss with them.  The committee is also asking the synod to clarify the status of a “Declaration” that was made by Synod 1986 with regard to “true church.”  Was that a general doctrinal declaration and therefore a form of extra-confessional binding?  Or was it simply a limited declaration meant to serve the narrow purposes of a discussion at Synod 1986 about the Presbyterian Church in Eastern Australia?  The answer has implications for moving forward with the EPC and SPC.                   

Outside Australia our closest sister churches are the Canadian Reformed (CanRC).  Among other things, our deputies were mandated to monitor developments in relation to Blessings Christian Church in Hamilton, Ontario.  In their report, the deputies noted that there were many efforts in the past three years to openly discuss and debate these developments within the CanRC.  They write that we need to respect the process of dealing with these things through the Canadian ecclesiastical assemblies.  Going forward, the deputies recommend that referring to a single church is not necessary or appropriate, because these developments are “part of a larger dynamic within the CanRC” (p.53). 

Geographically the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ) are some of our closest sister churches, especially if you’re in Tasmania.  Our deputies were mandated by the last synod to keep urging the RCNZ to be vigilant with regard to the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia.  In their 2021 report, the deputies maintain that there is no need to continue doing this, seeing how as the RCNZ already do this on their own.  If we continue to make that a point of discussion it communicates mistrust, according to the deputies’ report.

Finally, there are two North American churches with whom we’ve been exploring a relationship.  Our deputies recommend that contact be continued with the United Reformed Churches and that a recommendation be made to Synod 2024 about a sister church relationship.  With regard to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), the deputies recommend not pursuing a sister church relationship at this time, not because of any issue with the OPC as such, but because of the practical difficulties involved.  They also invite recommendations from the churches about the merits of pursuing ecclesiastical contacts with the OPC outside the context of a sister church relationship.

Conclusion

There’ll be other items on the agenda.  In the weeks to come, FRCA consistories will be reviewing all these reports and the other proposals that have been submitted.  Undoubtedly, in due time, there will be letters from some of the churches interacting with some of this material.  This is good and fitting.  It shows that the churches care about what happens at our broadest assembly and they care about the direction of our federation.  I look forward to June!           


Out of the Ordinary

So this morning we woke up to snow on the ground here in Launceston!  This is the first time it’s snowed in our five years here so far.  To put this in context, we live not much above sea level — some of Launceston is really close to sea level; our home is about 130 meters/426 feet above.  Launceston is about 41 degrees south of the equator — about the same as New York City is north of the equator.  Tasmania does get snow each year, especially in the mountains.  In fact, in the mountains we can get snow any time of the year.  About 45 minutes from Launceston, at Ben Lomond, there is actually a ski area.  However, it can be a bit hit and miss in terms of the snow cover each year.

For Canadians this amount of snow would be a non-event.  But here in Launceston, it’s a rare occasion and gets everyone’s attention.  On our neighbourhood Facebook group, folks are posting scads of pictures and videos.

When foreigners think of Australia, I’m sure they don’t think of snow and wintry driving conditions.  I never used to.  On my first visit here, when I had the call to Launceston, I went up to Ben Lomond and saw wallabies hopping through the snow.  It blew my mind.  Australia has a habit of doing that.


COVID-19 & Tasmania — Update

Being a small island state has its advantages, especially during a pandemic.  The Tasmania state government made some good calls early in the crisis and those have paid off.  One of the key strategies was to close the state borders.  People from out-of-state could still travel to Tasmania, but they’d have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in accommodations provided by the state.  As a result of these strict measures, yesterday saw the 22nd straight day with no new COVID-19 cases.  Currently there are only two active cases in the entire state.

As of last Friday, more restrictions were lifted.  Travel is now permitted around the state, as is camping.  Many restaurants are now re-opened, though with limited seating.  But, most importantly of all, places of worship are now allowed to have 40 people in attendance for services.

Back in March, our church (Free Reformed Church of Launceston) decided to suspend worship services because of the pandemic.  We made this decision before the government imposed it.  In the place of worship services, we decided to provide two Sunday messages and one Wednesday evening message.  These messages, preceded and followed by prayer, just provided the bare minimum.

Last week, the consistory decided to resume worship services.  So yesterday we met together and worshipped for the first time since March 15.  For the time being, we are worshipping by wards, with numbers capped at 40 (plus “staff”).  Those not able to attend in person can still make use of the live-stream.

So what was it like to finally worship together again yesterday?  It was joyful.  Being able to see some brothers and sisters again in person, to be together in God’s presence, to sing and pray together — it was all so beautiful.  It’s easy to take these things for granted, but when it’s been taken away from you, you appreciate it all the more.

It was also surprising.  I’ve thought that when we get back together again, we may have some surprises.  Yesterday, we had two visitors from the community — people we’ve never met before, who’ve never attended before.  We warmly welcomed them and pray to see them again.

Finally, it was also so much better for me as a preacher.  After weeks of preaching to the heartless, dark eye of a camera, I was so happy to be able to preach to real live people in front of me.  It’s just so different when you can actually see the people listening.  Preaching to a camera just isn’t the same — I don’t even know if it’s really preaching.  Of course, it was better than nothing, but preaching from the pulpit is incomparable.  The physicality of being together cannot be replaced and it can only be poorly imitated.

More restrictions are due to be lifted in the next few weeks.  It’s possible that the schedule may even be bumped up again and we can soon have more people in attendance at public worship.  Things are looking good here in Tassie and we praise God for that.  I do think of brothers and sisters elsewhere still languishing in “exile,” especially those who have to deal with the frustration of not being able to worship together while governments look the other way when it comes to riots and protests which violate public health guidelines.  It makes no sense.  May God give us all wisdom and patience!