Religious teachings in Australia are shifting online due to the spread of coronavirus

Australia's ban on large gatherings and increased social distancing measures mean places of worship are closing their doors and spiritual leaders are delivering their teachings remotely.

Rod Bower and Shaykh Yahya Safi

Gosford's Father Rod Bower and Lakemba Mosque's Shaykh Yahya Safi on Facebook Live. Source: Facebook

With Ramadan fast approaching and Easter only three weeks away, religious leaders across Australia are having to reconsider the congregational elements of their work in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a ban on gatherings of more than 100 people this week, and on Friday introduced new rules for smaller indoor events including a four square metre distance between people. 

As a result, Muslims, Christians, and other religious groups including Australia's Hindus are now logging on to be part of online sermons in a bid to maintain a sense of faith and community. 

Ahmad Malas is the director of Sydney's Lakemba Mosque. He told SBS News the decision to close the mosque was made in the best interests of the local people. 

“Our community visits the mosque five times a day so there is quite a strong linkage and it's a critical part of their daily routine," he said. 

Sydney's Lakemba Mosque is now closed.
Source: AAP

“We’ve advised our community to pray at home and the Islamic ruling around that is to provide a concession to those who have to stay home and for the Friday sermon that always sees a very large number of people come in.”

“We will run programs on Facebook Live to ensure our community can continue some sort of relationship between them and the mosque." 

He said every year more than 30,000 people come to the mosque for Eid prayers, to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

“Eid and Ramadan is quite a concern for us, if the situation doesn't change around the coronavirus then we may have to continue our suspension of prayers in the mosque,” Mr Malas said.

“The month of Ramadan is generally a very spiritual month and people are very connected to the mosque, so not having the option to go is going to be very difficult for them.”

Easter congregations cancelled 

Father Rod Bower is the Archdeacon for Justice Ministries in the Diocese of Newcastle. He said Easter congregations in his Gosford church have been cancelled.

“We won’t be in the position to celebrate Easter in our traditional manner and that will be the cause of a great deal of grief and distress to many parishioners,” he said.

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Father Bower announced the church would be closed indefinitely, but the social-media-savvy priest would instead be regularly uploading videos of his sermons to Facebook and Youtube.

“We’ll be putting my sermon up every week which we’ve always done, so there's the teaching element which is important in giving people spiritual direction and nourishment in this time,” he said.

“But It's very difficult to translate public worship online; it actually doesn't work very well.”

Father Rod Bower delivering his sermon on Facebook Live.

Father Bower added that regular church activities, such as consuming the communion wine and bread, will have to go on hold for the time being.

“It's impossible to administer communion online because it's such a physical, visceral thing, so it's an enormous loss to people of those Christian traditions who receive communion weekly.”

“We are now limiting hospital visits to those who are absolutely necessary which means the last rights.”

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor, don’t visit, or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

Published 20 March 2020 at 6:34pm
By Ilias Bakalla