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!