Diocese of Bathurst to suspend church gatherings

Posted on March 19, 2020 
Filed under Australian dioceses

Bishop Mark Calder has written to all church members in the Diocese of Bathurst:

19 March 2020

Dear brother and sisters across the diocese, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. Psalm 46:1-2 My prayer for us all, is that in such challenging circumstances, we will run to God as our refuge and feel safe; draw strength from God in our weakness, and find him to be a very constant and palpable help in our trouble. And I pray that the result of all that, will be that we do not fear – though the whole world is changing around us day by day.

Weekend of 21-22 March will be the last with public gatherings until further notice

On Wednesday 18 March, following our Prime Minister’s press conference announcing a whole new range of restrictions, the bishop’s leadership team met by teleconference and decided that following the spirit of the announcement and in support of the purpose of restricting public gatherings, we should suspend Sunday services after this weekend. We realise that not many of our churches have over 100 people at any one time, however, we also know that the age and frailty of many who do attend, means that there is a heightened risk to our members, should someone inadvertently attend carrying COVID-19. So the loving, wise action to take, to reduce any risk of spreading this disease, and to protect each other, is to suspend our church services. Each of the five dioceses in NSW are also suspending church services, as is the Diocese of Tasmania. I’m certain others will follow.

Church this weekend will be different

  1. All services this weekend, will be Morning or Evening Prayer; or Praise, Prayer and Proclamation. Even with the precautions we took last week, there are just too many risk factors with Holy Communion in terms of handling bread and wine, and our proximity to one another as we line up and return to our seats.

  2. There will be no refreshments after our services – again – the risks are too great to mitigate at this time.

  3. The offering will be received on entry or exit – not by passing the plate or bags.

  4. There will be no greeting of peace or shaking hands with our ministers at the end of the service.

  5. No one should attend who has returned from any country overseas in the last two weeks, or who is feeling in any way unwell.

  6. People need to use hand sanitizer upon arrival and leaving and keep their distance from one another (1.5 metres).

  7. We will not be handing out prayer books, hymns books or Bibles as they can retain/pass on the virus. I will be making available a printed order of service for those who wish to use it, or your parish will produce its own.

  8. These measures are so counter-intuitive but are the very means of loving and serving one another and our communities in this unique circumstance.

Church will be VERY different from the following weekend

  1. For the weekend of 28-29 March, and into the foreseeable future, I will make available via YouTube, a service you can watch at home on your computer, iPad or similar, or on your television should you have a “Smart TV” with internet connection.

  2. Some parishes may have the ability to livestream a service. I’m sure they will advise you if this is being planned.

  3. This will not be the same as gathering in person with our brothers and sisters, but I trust and pray that it will be a rich encouragement and help to us as we take up the opportunities that today’s technology gives us.

  4. You could gather with a very small group of friends to watch together and have fellowship following the service – so long as you kept your distance from one another. Such a gathering may assist those who are not able to access or use internet resources.

  5. We are all very conscious that Easter is not far away. It may be possible to hold outdoor services without communion. Your local church will advise. However, there will be extensive online resources made available.


It will be VERY important that each person work out how they might continue to contribute financially to the life of their church, while we can’t meet. The best way would be to switch your giving to internet transfer or direct debit. I’ve asked each parish to make their bank account details clearly and easily available. If you do not use internet banking, you can take your church’s account details to your local branch when you’re next in town, and arrange for them to set up a regular transfer of funds.

Your giving at church pays for the entire ministry of the church and your minister’s stipend. Costs for your parish will continue unchanged while services are suspended. Unless you act to switch your giving as soon as possible, your parish will be put under severe financial stress, and clergy may not be able to continue.

How do we care for another?

Each local parish or church will make arrangements for pastoral care and work to ensure people don’t become lonely or isolated. It may be that key leaders in your parish, volunteer to look out for 6-8 people and be in regular contact by phone or calling in. What about weddings, funerals and baptisms? Weddings in churches and chapels are included in the ban of more than 100 people. While highly disruptive and understandably distressing for all involved, weddings may only proceed with the bridal party and their families and the minister officiating. Unfortunately, funerals held in crematoriums, chapels or church buildings can only include immediate family members. This is the most practical way to ensure that funerals do not exceed the limit of 100 people in enclosed gatherings. You may want to suggest to the family to hold a more public thanksgiving at a later time, when it is possible to gather. If funerals are conducted at a graveside it is possible to include more people, as long as they maintain appropriate social distancing. Baptisms similarly may be conducted with ONLY the immediate family present.


Please pray for your Parish, your minister, and the health care workers in your area. The COVID-19 crisis has placed enormous stress on all of us, particularly the frail and vulnerable people among us. We are still the body of Christ even though we are not gathering in churches. In times such as these people turn to the church for help and guidance, so there will be fresh opportunities to be people of salt and light and to give an answer for the hope we have. We will continue to minister to each other and share in the Word. Although this is a time of uncertainty, and the suspension of services in our churches may take some time to end; God is still on the throne and we can and should trust in this promises – especially from the end of Romans 8 where he assures us that nothing can separate us from his love for us.

“No virus can change the number of days that God has written in his book for us. No virus can make the word of God untrue. No virus can undo the work of Christ on the cross. No virus can change the fact that through Jesus we have a Father in heaven who cares for us. And no virus can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Kevin DeYoung

We will keep you up to date and well resourced. We look forward with hope and anticipation, to that time when we can gather with one another once more.