17 Mar 2020

NZ churches back govt restrictions, cancel mass gatherings. Except Destiny

From First Up, 5:45 am on 17 March 2020

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Religious communities around the country have ramped up their own restrictions around mass gatherings with some churches cancelling services altogether and encouraging  members to stay home.

Some religious organisations tightened restrictions before the Government banned gatherings of more than 500 people on Monday to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. 

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Photo: 123rf.com

But Destiny Church - which told RNZ more than a thousand people would normally make up one of its church's congregations - said it would maintain its position in continuing services

New Zealand's sixth confirmed case - a parishioner from a Catholic church in Papakura - attended mass and took communion with others before becoming ill during the week.

Since then, under the advice of the Ministry of Health, the Catholic Church throughout New Zealand has stopped the use of shared holy water from fonts, communion on the tongue, or from the chalice, and shaking hands or other physical contact at the Sign of Peace during Mass.

Masses under 500 will continue for now.

The Supreme Sikh Society of New Zealand cancelled its annual Sikh Parade scheduled for early April and also cancelled its largest event of the year - the launch of its Takanini Sports complex due to be held this weekend.

That event was expecting almost 20,000 attendants, many of whom were flying in from overseas.
 
President Daljit Singh said making the decision before the government announcement was difficult.

"We actually cancelled our biggest event to be held on 22nd of March.

"The decision was not taken very lightly so we have to ensure a safe environment for our athletes, spectators, service providers as well as the community," Singh said.

"Members are still thinking about others and yes they're nervous about what will happen but at this stage they are in good spirits and we're trying our best to cooperate with the situation and to be more careful and caring for our kids as well."

The Sikh Temple in South Auckland

Photo: RNZ Pacific / Indira Stewart

Around the world leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, have suspended all church gatherings until further notice.

In New Zealand, more than 100,000 members at branches across the country are affected by the announcement.

The church's spokesperson Richard Hunter said they have been encouraging home worship since before the outbreak.

"For almost a year and a half now we've been doing this - where Leaders in our church have been encouraging members to be more home-centred in our gospel and studying gospel living as opposed to relying solely on the church. And our church meetings are about strength," said Hunter.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints temple in Hamilton.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints temple in Hamilton. Photo: Supplied.

"So there's been a paradigm shift in the way that we've been operating as a church community worldwide...and that I guess has been a preparation for us to just continue to worship and continue to be prayerful and to study the scriptures together as families and individuals at home."

LIFE Church, one of New Zealand's mega churches with thousands of members across 3 Auckland branches and one in Australia released a statement saying it supported the government's latest measures to tackle the spread of COVID-19.

"We are focussed on [our members'] health as our number one priority and are working with the Ministry of Health and our government in terms of the guidelines and best practices around this on a daily basis," said Senior Pastor Paul Dejong

"We will obviously be supporting the decisions of the government and have made a decision that from the 22nd of March we will be gathering in a different way than we usually do in our campuses."

The church is now inviting its members to join their Sunday services via live-stream online - an option which had long been in place prior to the pandemic for members who could not physically attend its services.

As many more church communities around New Zealand and the world adjust to new restrictions in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, Destiny Church announced it did not fear Coronavirus and would not close its churches.

Brian Tamaki speaking at the Destiny Church Man Up rally at Parliament.

Destiny Church leader Bishop Brian Tamaki Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"I'm not about to let a filthy virus scare us out of having church.To equate fear with common sense is nonsense," said Bishop Brian Tamaki in a statement.
 
"In a time when people are fearful, they need faith, hope, and the presence of God, so we will be keeping our churches open."

Destiny church said it would uphold responsible hygiene practices, reduce hongis, hugs and kisses and it would encourage any church members who are sick to stay at home.