Monday, November 29, 2021

Returning serve?

Down Under in Aotearoa New Zealand we are moving into the Traffic Lights mode on Friday this week, meaning when a region is Green certain freedoms are permitted, Orange fewer freedoms, more restrictions, and Red the most restrictions and least freedoms, where, roughly, more freedom is granted to the fully vaccinated (adjudicated by possession of a vaccination pass) and more restrictions apply to the non-vaccinated.

Last Friday the bishops of Tikanga Pakeha of ACANZP issued the following pastoral statement:

"From the time of our nation’s first lockdown response to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequently throughout these extraordinary times, we as Bishops have met weekly together to pray, to support one another and to reflect on our leadership through the rapid changes in our nation’s continuing response to Covid-19.  The foundational unit of the Anglican Church is the Diocese; that group of individuals, communities and organisations who gather around the bishop. We honour and respect the independence and integrity of each Diocese, whilst seeking in these circumstances, to offer as much consistency and commonality as we possibly can. 

Out of a deep love for the church and the people we serve, we have sought to approach the next stage of our nation’s response to this world-wide health emergency in a way that reflects two key agreements in common:


    1. The normative position for worship, events and gatherings, is that they will be fully-vaccinated. In other words, vaccine certificates will be required to attend services of worship, events and gatherings.  This fully vaccinated approach, as the norm, reflects the best and most current health advice available to us, as we seek to do all that we can to minimise the risk of anyone becoming infected with Covid-19. 


    1. We have a pastoral responsibility for the care of all people. This responsibility is to both vaccinated and non-vaccinated, but particularly to the most vulnerable. This care includes those who may not be able to worship with us because they have chosen not to be vaccinated. It also includes those who are in quarantine after exposure to infected people and are awaiting test results. Such pastoral responsibility also includes those who are ill, or those who are choosing to limit their potential exposure to infection because of their level of vulnerability or the level of vulnerability to members of their households. We are committed to supporting local Churches in finding ways to minister to all.

As bishops, we are committed to constantly reviewing these principles, and the protocols and policies that are being established in each Diocese regularly, to ensure that we continue to reflect the greatest level of care possible. 

 As we continue to navigate this season together, we would also like to take this opportunity to thank and honour all those who lead and serve within our church in Christ’s name and who work for the coming of Christ’s Kingdom. We continue to faithfully hold each other before God in prayer.

 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Yours in Christ,

            Bishop Ross Bay

Bishop Steven Benford

Bishop Peter Carrell

Bishop Justin Duckworth

Bishop Andrew Hedge

Bishop Steve Maina

Bishop Philip Richardson

Bishop Eleanor Sanderson"

There is, I note in some comments in NZ social media, some lines of response to church leaders who (e.g. above) follow rather than resist the Government's lead in managing our national response to Covid-19, which accuse us of a degree of spinelessness.

"If you want to attend church this Advent or Christmas, bend them knee and show your govt papers at the door.

What has the country come to? Or the churches that accept this?

"The church's subjugation to the state is one of the more disturbing aspects of NZ's situation"

"When churches allow govts to determine who may or may not worship, they have bent the knee."

A slightly different strategy is to cheer on one of our MPs when he writes to the Government asking why they would not support his attempt to amend legislation passed last week so that churches are exempt from requiring vaccination passes from our attendees.

There are other ideas and ecclesiastical decisions to be found on the net (which I won't link to because this post is not intended to spark discussion of other church leaders' announcements), the gist of which amounts to "the church must not exclude people so must not impose vaccination pass requirements."

Are some churches - my own included - both spineless and exclusive?

On the latter, the question of "exclusion" is not quite as simple as it might seem. Under the Traffic Lights Framework, for instance, to include the unvaccinated in services is to exclude people who turn up once the maximum number for a service is reached (100 at Green, 50 at Orange, and 25 at Red). Given that we are heading towards 90+% of the population being fully vaccinated and that at Green and Orange there is no ceiling on numbers of attendees, there is actually greater inclusiveness of people gathering together in person for worship when vaccination passes are required.

Further, as our statement above makes clear (and similarly but with some differences, also the Roman Catholic Church), even where vaccination passes are deemed normative, there is an obligation to find ways and means to connect with the unvaccinated. One way is that "normative" actually allows for some services to be exempted from the norm.

What about the matter of meekness in following the Government? The charge that we have too readily given in to allowing the Government to determine who can come to worship and who cannot?

Is it time to "return serve"?

My response is:

1. We are in a pandemic fighting a virus which (a) affects people irrespective of nationality, race, culture, colour or creed, and (b) is well known to spread quickly through unvaccinated people gathering for large events, but less quickly through vaccinated people when they gather.

2. Accordingly there are no special groups who have special ability to determine their own health and safety requirements let alone special reason to be exempt from regulations and guidelines that apply to all gatherings. (The MP's letter mentioned above is very strange in its special pleading without rational underpinning.)

3. In my experience travelling around my Diocese, Christians are not uniformly compliant with requests from their church leadership to do things which are currently only enccouraged: mask wearing is the stand out example of variability across congregations.

4. Further, the range of viewpoints among Christians on how the virus spreads and what is best to manage its spread is a large range, so the chances of a church or a denomination determining for itself what would be best practice and for that best practice to be supported by sound scientific advice is remote.

5. Put a little differently, there is no reason to think that churches could do better than the Ministry of Health advised Government in the determining of regulations and the issuing of guidelines.

6. Ergo, what the Government advises is the best we can do under the circumstances.

7. Consequently, to follow that advice is a matter of wisdom and not of abject subjugation to a secular power.

8. Much matters here re the language we use. Yes, a vaccination pass can be described as "a Government paper" but it can also be described, in the context of a pandemic, as a declaration of health status and of minimal risk factor in spreading the virus. And that declaration is important to all the people planning to gather for worship through this season.

As we say in our message above:

"Out of a deep love for the church and the people we serve, we have sought to approach the next stage of our nation’s response to this world-wide health emergency ..."


1. The above apologia for the line we Anglicans (and other churches) are taking is not intended to critique churches which are taking a different line (e.g. to live with limits and to not impose vaccination pass requirements). A decision has to be made, one way or another, and there are good reasons for decisions being made. The apologia is against the critique of being subjugated, not against those whose decision is different.

2. After composing the above, I happened to read a little further on into Rowan Williams' book Looking East in Winter: Contemporary Thought and the Eastern Christian Tradition (subject of some posts here recently). Just before I sat down to write this Addendum I posted a comment below to the original post which mentions Bonhoeffer ...

++Rowan, discussing both Evagrius and Bonhoeffer, in a chapter entitled, "Justice, Distance and Love," writes, with some pertinence to my discussion above:

"... a 'contemploative' political practice might be summed up as one that seeks to make room for the narrative of the other; one that does not begin by attempting to absorb this narrarive into itself, and thus is willing to learn how it is itself seen and understood. Only a practice of this sort can ultimately ground a politics that works towards the difficult common ground on which majority and minority can negotiate together: the prevalent pathology of our political life seems to be the idea that majorities obliterate the interst of the minority and that political victory is - while it lasts - licence for a majority to enforce its agenda. ... [pp. 192-93]

"To say we must learn to distance ourselves from our commitments in politics in order to arrive at both justice and love is at first sight a bizarre recommendation, suggesting a corrosive indifferentism. But the dustance involved is not a refusal of commitment; it has rather to do with what it is that we are committed to. Bonhoeffer's commitment is manifestly a serious and costly affair, but it is a commitment neither to victory nor to innocence. It is a commitment to the Wirklichkeit he evokes - the reality both of a many-layered and historically complex acting self and to the rpecise demands of a particular context; as well as a commitment to a radical and all-powerful mercy beyond all planning and justification.  [p. 193]"


Anonymous said...

What would Bonhoeffer do?
Probably issue fake vaccination certificates.

Why not just make the unclean wear little yellow stars?

Father Damien

Peter Carrell said...

Very droll, Father Damien.

What is your scheme for enabling a congregation to know what the risk factor is re their health when they enter a church service?

Father Ron said...

We Christians have a need to be responsible - not only for our own, but for those who may 'stray into' our places of worship. Where there are clear instructions given to warn that people will need a certificate of vaccination to enter our churches - in compliance with a generally-accepted/able government instruction; it is surely our duty to comply!

On another matter - re the 'spiritual implications' of the 'priest-only' use of the chalice at the eucharist; this seems to me a perfectly reasonable safety provision that sacramentalist theologians can comfortably comply with. Health and Safety must be paramount if we want to be seen to comply with Gospel regulation. After all, even de Chardin was content to invoke the 'Presence of Christ' without physical access to the Elements in a time of need!

Unknown said...

For convenience, suppose that the quoted protests above against churchly spinelessness were typed by some hypothetical soul named Bob.

Now Rowan is advising that a Christian in the political sphere should try to understand those on other sides to avoid the excesses of majority rule. This makes sense whether one is in such a majority or out of it. So-- understand Bob.

On that, three observations.

Bob may perhaps vote for politicians that we would call conservative-- we do not know that-- but the precise hostility to government in his remarks does not seem to fit the classic conservative political philosophy (eg George Will, The Conservative Sensibility). So thinking in that way about the proper scope of government in a free society is unlikely to help us to understand Bob.

Bob is trolling rather than persuading. If Bob had wanted to persuade, then he would start on common ground and then carry his reader toward the discovery that his objection is warranted. But his actual comments seem to be *narcissistic wounding*.

Bob's tone toward those who violate the expectation he cherishes may express contempt, anger, or disgust. Moral psychologists have some evidence that these emotions correlate to what Bob feels is the source of the norm-- if contempt, a community norm; if anger, Bob's own autonomous norm; if disgust, a divine norm. This heuristic is often helpful in understanding upset people. Alas, because Bob has not pointed to any concrete norm, he may not be among them.

Is Bob a rebel without a cause? He might simply be too alienated from society to have coherent politics, shared principles, or even conscious norms.

In that case, ordinary dialogue with Bob is impossible. Bob's remarks give us nothing with which to temper the action of the alarmed majority that is trying to save lives.

Bonhoeffer would preach the gospel to Bob.


Unknown said...


Of course, because Bonhoeffer was a confessional Lutheran, his preaching to Bob would be a dialect of law and gospel together. What law? And what correlative gospel?

Classic Lutheranism recognises the first and second, but not the third use of the Law. That is, Law exhibits the Creator's wisdom, and the human creature's helplessness, but not necessarily the pattern of right conduct. So Bonhoeffer preaching Law to Bob is not accusing him of breaking a rule-- what exactly wiuld that be?-- as laying bare Bob's participation in the common human condition of sin and suffering.

And the gospel? What will God do about the condition instantiated by Bob's trolling? Love. The Holy Spirit will free Bob from whatever fear leads him to court rejection rather than belonging, in a confident yet distinct way, to the community.


Unknown said...

Tertius Usus Legis

A few years ago, Bryden and I had a lively discussion here of the *third use of the law* and the related *law/gospel dialectic* in early Protestantism. Those who missed that discussion may have been perplexed by my comment just above.

To those whose delight or terror is the Law of the Lord on which they meditate night and day, I offer four explanatory links and a quotation--

Martin Luther

Wyatt Houtz

R Scott Clark

Filled with positive content by the stories of God's acts for his chosen communities, the commandments are finally a description of the Kingdom of God. We are promised a day when God's intentions for us will be done. The ultimate purpose of the Decalogue is to tell us how things then will be. When we teach them to ourselves and our children, this is the last and best thing we are to say: "God is making a world of love to God and one another. See how fine that world will be. We will be faithful to God. We will be passionate for one another. We will be truthful with one another. We will..."

Robert W Jenson. A Large Catechism. p 13.


David said...

Well said Damien. Good to hear such wisdom from the deep south. This whole business reminds me rather of how lepers were treated in Jesus time. It was Jesus who showed compassion to the Lepers who everyone else thought of as unclean. Very disappointing that the Bishops are not following in the way of Christ. But no surprises there. Re: Yellow stars. The Bishops have been practising for years on Excluding those wearing Pink Triangles. So more exclusion shouldnt be too much of a leap for them.

Unknown said...

"It was Jesus who showed compassion to the Lepers who everyone thought of as unclean. Very disappointing that the bishops are not following in the way of Christ."

From here up yonder, I cannot be entirely sure, but I suspect that bishops down under are performing miraculous healings of all variants as fast as they can.


Craig L said...

Very surprised with this decision. So people are being excluded from many areas of society (and losing jobs) on the basis of not being vaccinated and the Anglican church is now excluding them from worship. Seeming like an unloving approach to me.

Are churches free to make their own choices in this? Surely the sensible solution is to have options of a vaccine passport service, and a service limited to 50 (under orange) where any can attend whether vaccinated or not.

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Craig
“Normative” does not mean “mandatory”.
Anglican churches are free to decide, and many will offer both kinds of services.
What we are asking is that where churches offer a service which includes unvaccinated persons, they think through carefully how such a service will be managed so that attention is paid to health concerns.
In the Diocese of Christchurch such decision making is local and does not need to refer to me.
In at least one other Diocese, parishes wishing to offer a service for the unvaccinated are asked to apply for an exemption.
On the question of exclusion, what the Government has placed before us is two options, on each of which people are going to be excluded.

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you for comments above.
Discussion of law and gospel is pertinent in a context where new “laws” are being passed by the Govt on a regular basis to regulate our lives.
While comments are welcome, invoking talk of yellow stars etc is inappropriate.
Jews in 1930s/40s Europe had no choice about whether they were Jewish or not.
NZers have a choice about being vaccinated or not; and the vaccinated then deserve to have options about their association with people who choose to increase the risk of infection being transmitted by not being vaccinated.
We are talking public health, not racial discrimination.

Unknown said...

Dispensation (cf Jesus on "binding and loosing") from a commandment to disciples in the Body is being discussed as exclusion from a mere public accommodation (eg movie theater or restaurant). In secular political discussions, that confusion is inevitable; in the Body itself, it is faithless.

A more faithful discussion would, not challenge Jesus's wisdom in delegating the keys, but would rather consider, as Fr Ron did, what would be the best possible care for those souls temporarily dispensed from the duty of presenting themselves for worship.


Unknown said...

The Eucharist is therefore the manifestation of the Church as the new aeon; it is participation in the Kingdom as the parousia, as the presence of the Resurrected and Resurrecting Lord.

It is not the "repetition" of His advent or coming into the world, but the lifting up of the Church into His parousia, the Church's participation in His heavenly glory.

-- Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, p 72.

Peter Carrell said...


Father Ron said...

Amen! And again, I say AMEN!

MIchael Reddell said...

Have only belatedly seen this, with its quote from a post of mine, and my comment on Simeon Brown’s letter. I guess we continue to differ and as Peter knows I have written further on the subject today. I won’t get into further debate here but had not appreciated that at least in your diocese decisions were delegated to parish level.