What a well-dressed church looks like.
a deep love of God’s people for each other throughout this time. Second, change is possible. COVID-19 has brought massive changes to our ministries: our Sunday gatherings, our growth groups, youth group and children’s ministries, evangelistic courses, conferences, parish council and wardens’ meetings. Going online, physical distancing, cleaning, QR codes... the list goes on. Yet despite all this, people have adapted. Ministry has continued. The world hasn’t ended. In fact, some longdelayed changes have been made possible by the pandemic. It has provided an opportunity to do things differently, such as change service times or move to electronic giving. Third, face to face is preferable. It’s hard to imagine life at church during the pandemic without the existence of the internet, even though access to the internet has been problematic for some. The provision of online conferencing, livestreaming, email and messaging has allowed connection and continuity despite physical separation. Of course, what many have also experienced is that our online alternatives are no substitute for physical gatherings. I saw this most clearly when our congregations not only came back but were able to sing the praises of God, unmasked and together. Fourth, we need to keep on working at making our churches accessible. Even though the doors were physically closed for a season, in some ways moving the ministry of our parishes online made them more accessible than ever. People from the community or even further afield were able to engage in a way they hadn’t been able to before – not only those who were wary of stepping through the doors of a church but those who weren’t able to because of personal circumstances. For example, in the first week of lockdown last year, I remember a woman contacting the church at Rouse Hill saying that this was the first time in months that she’d been able to engage with her
church. Another man at my church with a physical illness was able to engage with what was happening for the first time in more than a decade. Finally, God is in control. I started my new role in 2020 with many plans. Those plans all changed when we got to March. The pandemic has been a time of great humbling and reflection, showing us the foolishness of thinking that we’re in control. This loss of control led many of us to contemplate catastrophic scenarios. I was asked by one man whether we as a Diocese were ready to bury 100,000 people. In addition, severe unemployment, economic collapse and the closure of many of our parishes were distinct possibilities at the beginning of the pandemic. The fact that this hasn’t happened is a miracle, and even though we might continue to ponder why God has treated us so kindly, the right response to this kindness is to be thankful to him: realising our human limitations, trusting in him, and understanding that our lives and our future lie only in his hands. The knowledge that, from what we can observe, there has been a greater engagement with the gospel – online and in person – in the midst of a pandemic and its attendant lockdowns, can only be attributed to God’s sovereign control. God has done things we didn’t think possible. Which brings me back to my friend’s observation: when the tide goes out we’ll see who’s swimming with their pants on. Our churches are well clothed, but they’ve been clothed by God, who has continued to work powerfully through his people in this pandemic.SC
The Rt Rev Gary Koo is Bishop of Sydney’s Western Region. Who is our neighbour?
crises, therefore we need one another’s prayer and generosity”. So, with Christians around the world asking for help, how should Sydney Anglicans respond? In my work as Anglican Aid’s CEO, I’ve come across Sydney ministers who so prioritise wordbased ministries that giving to the poor seems almost unthinkable – especially the poor outside Australia. But of course, I can’t say to Rinzi from Nepal, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed” (James 2:16). How, then, should Sydney Anglicans relate to the poor in Nepal and elsewhere, in places where (unlike Australia) government assistance is completely inadequate? With a completely different language, culture, climate and geography, it can seem as though the Nepalese are a world away. Doesn’t such distance disqualify people from our care? This, of course, is the lawyer’s question in Luke 10 when he asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” He seeks to limit his span of care. But Jesus then tells a parable in which a foreigner – a Samaritan – spends himself on behalf of a needy man he encounters on the road. Jesus’ command? “Go and do likewise.” While the poor in Nepal are not geographically near neighbours, Sydney Anglicans have had a long relationship through CMS missionaries, Anglican Aid and the Anglican Church of Nepal – a rapidly growing network of evangelical churches. We have encountered them “on the road”, and they have begged us for support. SouthernCross
Our new Archbishop, Kanishka Raffel, told me the story of visiting missionaries who asked supporters, “Why has God made Aussie Christians so rich?” Their answer was, “So they can help their brothers and sisters in need elsewhere in the world”. This encapsulates Christian stewardship. We are stewards of the resources entrusted to us by our globally minded God. As the Apostle John summarised, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18). The Anglican Church in Nepal is spiritually vigorous but physically struggling (it has grown from three to more than 100 churches in the past 20 years!). It is indeed loving with actions and in truth – sharing bread with the hungry, caring for the struggling – and is asking for our support. Knowing “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor” (2 Cor 8:9), how can we ignore them? At the same time, I am convinced that physical relief must be matched with spiritual relief. I know that bringing physical remedy without preaching Christ – the remedy for the sin of the whole world – is only a Band-Aid on a mortal injury. The love of Christ compels us to love in both word and deed. For example, in locations where Anglican Aid partnerships provide physical aid, we also strive to provide spiritual aid, sponsoring Bible training and theological education for our 27
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