Photo: State governments in NSW and ACT have announced that place of worship will be allowed to have worship gatherings of up to 50 people starting in June.

By Emily Ferguson

As coronavirus restrictions continue to loosen, Fresh Hope pastors are navigating a range of challenges when it comes to ascertaining how and when to begin meeting together again.

For Tim Drough, Pastor at Mayfield Church of Christ, pressure to resume meeting is coming from a surprising source: the local community.

“It first started with a community ladies’ choir that’s been using our building weekly who wanted to talk about meeting again. Then I was talking to a family through my role as a school chaplain who were asking about Sunday school for their son. And then a lady waiting for the bus the other day, who has just moved around the corner from us, was asking me about our church.

“Spiritual hunger was there previously, but COVID has sharpened the focus. Those who might be distant from God and church are the ones signalling their interest so we want to strike while the iron is hot. It’s a wrestle for our leadership team because we want to love and be there for people, but at the same time the best way we can love people is to not get together!”

Other churches are also reporting increased neighbourhood connection and are seeking God as to how that should shape their next steps.

However, gaining clear discernment, the very thing leaders are feeling the need for right now, poses a challenge for those who are experiencing grief and depletion.

“As I’m listening to pastors, it’s been a difficult time with a very fast uptake of an innovative but technically challenging opportunity and many have gone from exhilaration to exhaustion pretty quickly,” said Nathan Marshall, Pioneering Catalyst at Fresh Hope. “Even though there’s new life emerging, there is a sense of uncertainty and discouragement for many.”

Kev Sheehan, Senior Pastor at Coast Community Church, added: “When you’re giving your life to something and then it looks completely different there’s grief in that. You’re dealing with some deep emotional work and finding yourself navigating brand new ground from a depleted place. We need to stop to pay attention to that, name it, engage with it, and speak about it with a few good people around us so we can move forward into the opportunity space. That’s my story and I’ve had to have a lot of grace for myself in that because it’s full on.”

The temptation to move forward too quickly is another challenge pastors are navigating. Brent Smith, Pastor at Redhill Church in Canberra, is aware of this and holding space for discernment as an intentional priority.

“It feels like being a surfer on the beach,” Brent said, “holding a board and watching the waves, looking to see where and when to go out. We’re watching to

see what the change will bring, then we’ll go surfing. What we want to be sure about is that we’re listening to the Holy Spirit and that whatever we do next is the thing God wants us to do.”

The pressure and challenge for many leaders in this season may be to stay in that space of discernment even while watching others move ahead.

“This is an opportunity to together evaluate what we’ve been doing, gain clarity of mission and vision, and only put things in place that are right in the sweet spot of what’s being effective. It has to be directed by God, not just good ideas we have. And that takes some time, “ reflects Kev.

The NSW Government announced that gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed in places of worship from June 1. In the ACT, it will be from June 19. For more information go to our COVID-19 resources page.

Find more stories of Fresh Hope here.