HUNTER churches have suspended rituals including the "laying on of hands" to protect parishioners against coronavirus, while Hillsong pentecostal church has used a Bible quote to assure members their faith in the Lord means "no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling".
Anglican and Catholic churches across the Hunter will restrict physical contact between people during services this weekend in response to updated health warnings and increasing coronavirus numbers across the country, including one confirmed Hunter case.
"We have a particular concern in our ministry as many of our people are in age groups who are affected more profoundly by the coronavirus," Newcastle Anglican Bishop Peter Stuart said.
Bishop Stuart and Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Bishop Bill Wright suspended physical contact and hand-shaking during the sharing of peace in services until further notice and Bishop Stuart suspended physical contact during a blessing or "laying on of hands".
We have a particular concern in our ministry as many of our people are in age groups who are affected more profoundly by the coronavirus.Newcastle Anglican Bishop Peter Stuart
Both bishops suspended communal sharing of the chalice, and Bishop Wright directed that all holy water stoops where people generally dip their fingers are to be emptied of water.
Bishop Wright also directed that communion wafers are "not to be given on the tongue until further notice, with those attached to this pious practice being asked to adjust their practice for the sake of fellow parishioners".
Bishop Stuart advised Anglican priests that the practice of "intinction", where bread is dipped into wine before it is distributed during services, was to be suspended because "this represents an infection transmission route".
While gathering together is "central to church life.. in times of public health crisis we modify our practices to ensure the wellbeing of parishioners and visitors", he said.
"Christians carry a sense of hope in dark times. We know that with knowledge, wisdom and inspiration we can navigate difficulties."
Bishop Stuart said the diocese would follow any further NSW Health warnings about the risk of people gathering after infectious control expert Bill Bowtell on Friday slammed Prime Minister Scott Morrison for encouraging people to attend weekend football games.
Bishop Wright acknowledged "heightened anxiety" in the community about coronavirus, and advised unwell parishioners they could honour their Sunday obligation to attend mass by praying, reading the scriptures or watching mass on television.
Maitland Christian Church Pastor Bob Cotton said he had advised his church members to restrict physical contact because of the particular risks elderly members faced from coronavirus.
"We have to make sure we protect some of our people from a virus that a 25-year-old can recover from in a few days, but that might be a terminal threat for a 90-year-old," he said.
Much larger pentecostal churches such as Hillsong, which can seat 3500 people each service, faced a bigger risk, he said.
In advice to members on Thursday Hillsong said the church was "gathering as per normal across all our Australian locations" and "our faith and security is in Jesus Christ".
Under advice to people about staying away from the church if they felt unwell, had travelled from China, Iran, Italy or Korea in the past 14 days or had a coronavirus test pending, the church carried a Bible quote, Psalm 91:9-10 - "Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling".
"Ultimately, even as we pursue preventative measures and exercise wisdom in keeping ourselves and loved ones safe, our faith and security is in Jesus Christ. We pray His promise of protection over you and your family," Hillsong said.
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