Elim Christian Centre senior pastor Tom Hatch, pictured with wife Suzanne Hatch, hopes online services will give his congregation certainty that church will continue.
Since the heart of every religious organisation or church is to care for people and communities regardless of their faith, Friday’s move to a traffic light system has left many with the dilemma of how to continue their ministry.
Elim Christian Centre senior pastor Tom Hatch summed it up: “Church is for everyone, and so one of the biggest difficulties we had was how do we as pastors care for the whole flock when our vaccine mandate essentially creates two groups?”
With little time to make decisions, larger denominational congregations have mostly looked to their regional or national governing bodies for direction, while other parishes have put interim plans in motion to be reviewed in the new year.
Nativity Church vicar Glen Ashworth said it was necessary as a church community to consider what their ethos was around requiring vaccination passports.
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“That’s not something we’ve made a decision on yet, but we need to consider how we’re going to operate according to our values, and of course absolutely following all the guidelines whichever way we decide,” he said.
The official position of the Nelson Anglican diocese was that they would be offering both vaccinated and unvaccinated services, he said.
The local congregation would be following this protocol until they were able to make some decisions around a long-term plan. A service would also be available online.
The Star of the Sea Marlborough Catholic Parish would also be offering services for both groups under the orange light, with normal masses in Blenheim, Seddon, Picton and Kaikōura for those with a vaccine pass.
Parish pastoral council chairman Greg Stretch said there would also be a Sunday evening service in both Blenheim and Kaikōura that did not require vaccine passes.
These services would be limited to 50 people each, and those wishing to attend would need to register through the archdiocese website to book their places at those two services.
Wesley Centre Methodist minister Reverend Alofa Asiata said they would be following the ruling of their head office, and as such would be looking at having only vaccinated members through all their buildings and facilities from this weekend.
An elder of the Redwoodtown Jehovah’s Witness congregation said a decision would be taken by their leadership on Thursday evening as to the direction they would be taking.
“We are taking both the government’s direction, but also the concerns of the congregation very seriously. Our main thrust is to try and protect the health of both the congregation and the community,” he said.
“We have at the moment a hybrid meeting arrangement, so we have in-person meetings going on, but we also have Zoom, so there’s a provision there for our congregation to be able to get the entire programme.”
Oasis Family Church and Elim Christian Centre would both be moving fully online until January, when they would review their positions.
Oasis Family Church senior pastor David Maharey said they would be moving to a production model with a small team and livestreaming services to their website.
“We thought everybody is under the pump, so let’s just give everybody a bit of a break and they can join our online services while we work it out and come back in the new year and work it out from there,” he said.
Elim Christian Centre senior pastor Tom Hatch said they had likewise felt the need to give their teams a break.
“Churches are incredibly volunteer reliant, so not only at short notice did we need to confirm availability, but we also needed to confirm eligibility with regards to the vaccine,” he said.
Moving online gave their congregation certainty that church would continue, and that people could plan their festive season, knowing they could still tune in to church from wherever they were, he said.
“We don’t want anyone to miss out. It also gives an opportunity for people to get used to the traffic light system. People have made choices and now there are consequences for those choices. It’s a difficult season, but I think the whole country is getting good at maneuvering and adjusting,” he said.