“You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!” Nehemiah 2:17
The story of Nehemiah has always been an inspiration for me. It has been a comfort and an inspiration to me throughout my life. But never more so than for the circumstances that we find ourselves in today. So I’m writing to you today to join me in helping me to rebuild.
A few weeks ago, I was a part of a group of local pastors who wrote to our Premier, Prime Minister and local members of parliament. We shared deep concerns regarding the length and effects of the lockdown being experienced in Melbourne and throughout Victoria.
As a result, we have been invited to meet with local MP’s, Labor and Liberal, and I wanted to share with you what we have talked about, and what we are hearing from them. It is an ongoing process, and I’ll be happy to update you as we go along. We have a wonderful opportunity as a church which I’ll also share with you, and I hope you will pray about how you will participate.
What we are sharing
Very briefly, we have sought to share the kind of stories that are not being reported in the news, and certainly not in the daily press conferences given by Premier Daniel Andrews and his team. We shared testimonies from people whom we as pastors have engaged with, who need hope, support and urgent change.
We are joining our voices with a growing number of professionals trying to shine a light on the crisis that is taking place around us. Not the Covid19 crisis, but the one that has exploded as a result of the lockdowns. What concerns us is that this crisis, alarmingly, is receiving little attention, certainly not where it matters most.
In our meetings we reiterated the message we have been bringing throughout this season. That we are ‘people of the book’ the Bible, and that God has written the story of His work in the world throughout history, and also shown us future history to bring us hope and assurance, especially in times of trouble.
So we have declared, that as churches and as Christians we have so much to offer during times of crisis, and we are ready to roll up our sleeves and help people rebuild their lives, and that this needs to be done urgently.
A welcome response
We have been greatly encouraged by what we have heard in response. Firstly, that while most of us recognize that radical intervention was required when the infection numbers began to rise alarmingly, having arrested that climb, the decision to maintain a heavy lockdown following the initial six week period was a huge blow and, in the thoughts of the majority of people unnecessarily severe.
Secondly, and more importantly, was a recognition of the importance of faith communities and the contribution that they continue to make on and into the future.
What do we need? (Our requests of the Government)
In order to achieve this, we were asked to suggest some ‘deliverables’ that they can help to provide, that would equip us and free us up to do this well. To this we suggested the following:
That churches be considered to be essential services. When the crisis hit, there was freedom for churches to operate that we have not had since lockdown began. There was an expectation that as case numbers declined, there would be greater freedom to move and care for people, conduct and produce worship services online, enable those who are at greatest risk to receive the care they need. Funerals and special services, pastoral care, hospital visitations etc. This hasn’t happened, so we’ve asked for a case to be presented that Churches be classed as Essential Services within the community.
That churches be free to open safely. In rural Victoria, churches are still unable to meet for worship indoors in any greater capacity than we are in Melbourne, although restaurants and café’s can (rightfully) open with density quotient. We have recommended that places of worship would be even safer and of greater help people who are really struggling and that they should be able to open immediately subject to the same density considerations.
A few more can make a big difference right now. That given that case numbers are so low now in Melbourne, an increased number of people (up to 20) be able to be active in worship services. We spoke about the enormous load being placed on a very small number of people over an extended period of time, that we believe could be eased very easily with no significant risk.
I’m calling on you (Deliverables from the Body of Christ)
We have been called and placed on the earth at this moment in history. God has placed his church here ready to bring a message of eternal and present hope and salvation. So I’m calling on every one of us to roll up our sleeves. There is no time, and no reason to wait. This is what we must do:
Make worship and prayer a priority in your life. We need to be fuelled up, nourished and equipped and ready to act when the Spirit speaks to us. Throughout this time, even in the tightest of lockdown conditions, I have been so encouraged to watch and to hear how people have responded to the quiet direction of the Holy Spirit. This can be, and I believe it should be all of our experience.
Join our prayer meeting. We must pray, and we must pray as a church community. If you can’t join Monday night, find another time to meet and pray with people. Can you imagine what God would be able to do through us if only we lifted the priority on prayer.
Share a message of hope and love. It is hard for us to reach out to as many people today. People we would run into at the shops, at work, in the street, we just don’t see them as often anymore. But even still, just think of the number of people in our collective networks, the friends we have on social media, the people we can talk to on the phone. Be ready, be expecting an opportunity to share a message of hope and love. If we are ready to go, God will make the opportunity for us to share.
Be ready to return. As soon as we are able to do so, we will gather together as a church family and fill the building, and the streets with God’s Word and His praises. Be ready to return, not just to be with one another, not just to see what has changed in the building, but be ready to roll up your sleeves and help. We will need to be safe, so we need people to be trained to ensure we are keeping everyone safe. Inside the building has had a facelift, but outside looks very neglected, especially the garden. Be ready to join and help make a difference.
And more than anything else, today and every day:
“always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who askes you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
You have been called, you belong to the body of Christ, you have a message of hope, we are ONE in Christ Jesus, we are His church called and positioned for such a time as this. I believe that if we act in love and unity, we will see miracles in the lives of people every bit as great as the miracle that those in Jerusalem saw when the walls were rebuilt in only 52 days.
“to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” Ephesians 3:20