One church leader is arguing that places of worship are capable of adapting to the new normal under Covid-19 Level 2, just like schools have done.
Under Alert Level 2 Kiwis can go back to school, head out for dinner, go to the mall or watch a movie at the cinema with physical distancing in place. But they can’t go to their place of worship, with religious gatherings limited to groups of 10.
Government health officials argue churches are different to the likes of a cinema or a restaurant, because in a place of worship people interact with each other differently - and more closely - making the virus more likely to spread.
But Reverend Nyalle Paris of Invercargill’s First Presbyterian Church says that’s not true, and that church-goers can adapt. He says it is an issue of inconsistency and equality.
“I was disappointed to see that church was left out but bars, strip clubs will be brought back on stream,” says Mr Paris.
“And also my son is going back to school in a bubble of 800-plus boys this morning, and they have the same sort of measures in place that the church had in place on Sunday the 22nd of March the last time we gathered with 70 people spaced across the auditorium.”
Mr Paris says the church also had contact tracing in place before the lockdown.
“All these little problems, there’s a solution for every one of them.
“Traditionally in the past, close distancing was part of the fellowship, but in the new environment people have to adapt. Social distancing and that it’s part of problem solving and finding a new normal.”
For now, the church continues to meet online in Zoom services, but Mr Paris says that isn’t available to all members of his congregation.
“Public worship is important to maintain. Not everyone is part of the digital revolution. It’s part of setting the new normal."
He says in the new environment churches have to adapt, but he is advocating for some equity for religious groups.
"It's an issue of inconsistency and equality. We're allowing schools to open up, shopping malls, gymnasiums but it seems that faith is just not seemed to be as important or as relevant so its been quashed."