Church leaderships around New Zealand are busily working out how to provide church services, fellowship, and other activities for their own people, once we move into the Traffic Light system. For some churches, it will mean certificated services, for some open-to-all (uncertificated) services, and for some it will mean both. For many churches, on-line church services will continue, along with house gatherings and outdoor gatherings. Many churches in Auckland will defer large worship gatherings until the Orange level, and some until February.
Whatever the decisions, it is important we respect one another, care for everyone, and strenuously guard our unity. Churches must also do everything they can to keep people safe. Many church denominations are now putting out helpful new Covid guidelines, which emphasise churches’ legal responsibility to uphold all health and safety requirements.
Notwithstanding the justifications for vaccination mandates for some jobs, this policy has undoubtedly brought much distress and loss for some.
A projected vaccination mandate for church staff
A media release this week by the Hon Michael Wood (Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety) signals that it could become mandatory for church staff – along with the staff of all businesses and workplaces that are “either required to or can use the My Vaccine Pass” – to be vaccinated.
- The COVID-19 Response (Vaccinations) Legislation Act (which was passed this week) allows the Minister the authority to issue orders that require vaccine mandates for certain classes of workers
- As indicated in the media release, such orders would include church workers
- Potentially, the order could also apply to church volunteers
- Until any orders are issued, and the detail is available, none of this is yet in effect, and it remains unclear how churches may be affected
- It cannot be claimed churches are being singled out, as the orders would apply across many workplaces
- Most churches are legally workplaces. Nevertheless, many churches are likely to feel uneasy about the State ruling who churches may retain as staff
- Most people accept that a public health crisis warrants extra-ordinary measures, but there is also concern about overreach.
- We were surprised to note in the media release that religious communities have given “broad support”, as any consultation on this particular matter has not included the National Church Leaders of Aotearoa New Zealand, the InterChurch Bureau, or the New Zealand Christian Network.
- Many New Zealanders are concerned about the way in which this legislation has been introduced and pushed through within a mere 24 hours, with no select committee process, and no opportunity for public debate. Is this sound democratic practice?