Hillsong Church responded with remorse after the leader of New South Wales slammed the Australia-based global evangelical church network for gathering teenagers at a camp in Newcastle to dance and sing despite a strict COVID-19 public health order.
New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said he was “incredibly disappointed” after seeing footage of Hillsong’s youth camp attendees singing and dancing to mainstream music, which he believes was not in compliance with the country’s exemptions for religious groups.
As a result, the church was ordered by New South Wales Health to cease singing and dancing immediately.
“Singing and dancing at a major recreational facility is in breach of the public health order,” New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard said in a statement Thursday.
Hillsong Church told The Christian Post that they have “always abided by public health orders as directed by each government, and takes COVID safe procedures very seriously for all services and events.”
“Ensuring the safety of those attending Hillsong events, and supporting the wider community effort to keep Australia safe, are both priorities for our church,” Hillsong’s statement stressed.
Photos and videos posted on the ministry’s social media accounts showed countless 15 to 17-year-olds singing and dancing without masks while musicians performed on stage. The camp session ends on Sunday.
“It is important to clarify that the current youth camps we are holding are not music festivals,” Hillsong said. “These are high school aged events that include sporting activities and games. They are alcohol-free events, held outdoors, and the number of students attending each camp is just over 200. The students are known to us and part of the same social network.”
Hillsong maintains that the gathering is considered low-risk under the government’s current guidelines. Hillsong assured that it implemented strict “COVID safe procedures before and during each camp gathering,” which included “professional paramedics onsite 24 hours per day with testing capabilities.”
New South Wales Health restricted gatherings for major recreational facilities, which prohibited dancing and singing in indoor and outdoor settings until Jan. 27. The government announcement resulted in the cancellations and postponement of various music events.
“Singing and dancing in hospitality venues and nightclubs is deemed high risk due to increased movement and mingling within and across these venues, the influence of alcohol consumption, and the removal of masks in these settings to consume food and drink. People attending religious services generally remain in fixed positions and masks are mandatory for these indoor gatherings,” A New South Wales Health spokesperson said in a statement.
Hillsong contends that only a small fraction of the three-day camp involved singing and dancing but apologized for the situation.
“These camps have a Christian focus and include worship services. Over a three day duration the percentage of time spent singing is minor. However, we regret giving any perception that we were not playing our part to keep NSW safe and we sincerely apologise to the community at large,” the church continued. “Our heart is for people, and loving and caring for all people is at the core of our church.”
“We have since spoken to NSW Health and received instruction to cease congregant/student singing and dancing during the services that occur on the campsite and have immediately and willingly enacted that instruction.”
The Guardian reports that Hillsong will not face fines of up to $55,000 after investigators were told that the camp was not a music festival, a prohibited gathering under the health rules.
“While the order does not apply to religious services, it does apply to major recreation facilities and this event is clearly in breach of both the spirit and intent of the order, which is in place to help keep the community safe,” Hazzard said in his statement.