The Assembly Standing Committee (ASC) has approved temporary guidelines for Uniting Church congregations and faith communities to celebrate Holy Communion as part of online worship.
"At this moment, we cannot gather together in our usual ways, because of the restrictions designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19, and to keep vulnerable people safe," said Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer in a Pastoral Letter explaining the decision.
On Palm Sunday this week people across the country will urgently raise their voices so that refugees and asylum seekers will not be forgotten in our fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
A great justice tradition in Australia is that on Palm Sunday every year thousands of people take to the streets to call for a more compassionate response to refugees.
This Sunday, instead of gathering for rallies and marches in major cities, people are finding new and creative ways to raise their voices together.
Many of the organised Palm Sunday rallies are going ahead as online events and advocacy will take place across social media.
In the last week, refugee advocates have appealed to the Federal Government to ensure protections against COVID-19 extend to refugees and asylum seekers, and in particular that people in crowded detention centres are moved to places where physical distancing can be observed.
President of the Uniting Church Dr Deidre Palmer has written to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison to seek his assurance that the 1.5 million people living in Australia on temporary or bridging visas will have access to healthcare and income support.
In particular, Dr Palmer stressed the importance of ensuring asylum seekers in the community have access to Medicare so they can and will seek help if they think they might have the virus.
“The situation for people living in Australia on temporary or bridging visas during this health crisis is urgent, and a direct response to their plight by the Australian Government will be an important measure to complement the strong measures already taken,” Dr Palmer wrote.
These concerns were echoed in a letter from the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce and National Council of Churches in Australia, noting that many of this cohort are already dependent on charities for necessities.
The Refugee Council of Australia called an extraordinary meeting with organisations across the country to bring together their concerns. Their most urgent priorities were:
- Move people urgently out of crowded immigration detention facilities
- Ensure a financial safety net and Medicare access for all in Australia
- Prevent people losing legal status and access to support
- Move refugees and people seeking asylum from PNG and Nauru
RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power noted, “With the international movement of people grinding to a halt, we need to take care of everyone now in Australia, knowing that the health of all of us is directly connected to how we treat the most vulnerable.”
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
How you can still participate in Palm Sunday for Refugees:
- Attend an online event
Walk for Justice for Refugees, 11am
Online Palm Sunday Solidarity Event: For a Just Future, 1pm, WA
- Put the sign you made outside your home or in a window to raise public awareness. Take a photo and share it.
- Share a message about justice for refugees in your Sunday sermon or service. Resources included recorded presentations are here:
- Contact your local Members of Parliament to remind them of our duty to support the most vulnerable, particularly people facing destitution in our country as a result of these circumstances. See suggested points to raise in your letter.
- Sign a petition
Asylum Seekers Resource Centre: https://bit.ly/2J3Iacs
Human Rights for All: https://www.change.org/p/stop-the-spread-of-covid-19-in-immigration-detention-centres-saferathome?
- Participate in the Canberra Refugee Action Campaign Week of Online Action
- Display a Give Hope Campaign banner. Banners can be purchased from the NSW/ACT Synod
- Schooling at home? Here’s a refugee curriculum package for teachers and parents based around a short story by a teacher on Nauru
The Uniting Church in Australia is marking a year since joining the Federal Government’s National Redress Scheme (NRS) for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.
“The occurrence of abuse in our institutions is part of our history. We do not hide from it but commit to continuing to learn from it,” said UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer.
“The Uniting Church is committed to restoring relationships in our communities for survivors.
The Assembly has received a number of requests to consider the possibility of Uniting Church congregations conducting Holy Communion online during this period of self-isolation and physical distancing during the Covid-19 crisis.
The Assembly is considering this and the Assembly Standing Committee will make a decision by close of business Friday 3 April 2020.
The Uniting Church in Australia Facebook page will host livestreamed worship from around the country from Palm Sunday.
Associate General Secretary Rob Floyd says the national livestreams, which can be replayed later at any time, are for online audiences whose congregation doesn’t have a local livestream available.
“We are aware that there are some people who are part of congregations who are not able or decide not to offer their own livestream,” said Mr Floyd.
“We also know of others who would like to connect to a wider network of UCA people across Australia and to experience worship leadership from a variety of gifted leaders across Australia.”
“So over the weeks ahead we will draw on our many talented worship leaders from across the UCA to provide one short service as a national livestream every Sunday.”
The timetable for national streaming, which may change, is as follows:
The President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Dr Deidre Palmer, has today written to the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison MP, seeking assurances that all people currently living in Australia, who have no means to return to home countries and no income as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, receive adequate income and healthcare support.
Members of Assembly Standing Committee gathered in Sydney from 13-15 March. President Dr Deidre Palmer and Rev Kath Merrifield of Kiama Uniting Church led opening worship, which included a coronavirus-aware sharing of the sacrament of Holy Communion. Dr Palmer preached on John 3:1-17.