Footage of young religious revellers partying at a Hillsong youth camp – despite millions of Australians being banned from singing and dancing – has sparked outrage with critics alleging it resembles a music festival.
The megachurch’s Hillsong Youth branch shared a series of videos showing its teenage followers partying to religious-themed pop music on the first night of the Wildlife Summercamp in Newcastle on Wednesday.
The event for Year 10 to 12 students was permitted to go ahead despite the NSW Government recently extending a ban on singing and dancing in nightclubs, pubs and bars to outdoor events – leading several music festivals to be cancelled.
However, NSW Health made an exemption for religious services – with NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant this week saying religious services were exempted from the rules because those attending such places of worship normally stay in ‘fixed positions’.
The exemption has sparked backlash with one pub in Sydney’s inner Sydney, the Gladstone Hotel in Chippendale, ironically changing its name to the ‘Gladsong’ Hotel and announcing a ‘Sunday Service’ event this weekend.
With such a heavy backlash, NSW Health late on Thursday night ordered the church to stop cease all singing and dancing at their events.
Several prominent Aussies have now hit out at Hillsong, saying the youth event resembled an indoor music festival more than a religious service – a claim Hillsong denies.
One commentator slammed video showing the dancing: ‘Singing and ritual are part of faith (inc mine) but on any test this is an indoor music festival.
‘As the live music industry again is forced to cancel gigs, this was entirely legal. Is that fair?’
High-profile media personality Lindsay ‘The Doctor’ McDougall also criticised Hillsong, noting the event took place as regular festivals and gigs are forced to cancel their events to comply with the new rules.
Australian rapper Illy – who has already hit out at the singing and dancing ban – said Hillsong organisers went a step too far by playing the DJ Snake song Turn Down For What.
‘I can handle the singing, the dancing, and the no mask wearing at this Hillsong festival last night, even though it’s illegal for the entire arts industry to do the same,’ he wrote on Twitter.
‘But playing Turn Down For What’ in 2022?! Too far.’
Hillsong Youth shared a series of videos showing its teenage followers partying to religious-themed pop music on Wednesday night
Australians on Thursday hit out at the church, saying the Newcastle event resembled an indoor music festival more than a religious service – a claim Hillsong denies
‘There is no difference between this Hillsong summer camp and any other music festival. So why was it allowed to go ahead when all other events are prohibited?’
60 Minutes reporter Tom Steinfort wrote: ‘Here’s the full video Hillsong posted of its ‘camp’ (festival).
‘Singing, packed crowds, not a mask to be seen. So disgustingly irresponsible when other businesses are shut down, and we have 92,000 new cases in NSW today.’
In a statement to Daily Mail Australia, Hillsong said the church’s high school-aged youth camps were not comparable to music festivals and that Covid-safe protocols were followed throughout.
‘Our camps involve primarily outdoor recreational activities including sports and games,’ the statement said.
FULL HILLSONG STATEMENT ON ITS NEWCASTLE YOUTH CAMP
These events are our annual high school aged youth camps, and are not similar to a music festival in any way.
Our camps involve primarily outdoor recreational activities including sports and games. We follow strict Covid procedures and adhere to government guidelines.
Outdoor Christian services are held during the camp but these are only a small part of the program, and any singing is only a small part of each service (a video circulating on social media today reflects a few minutes of this part of the program).
Covid safety information was provided to participant parents prior to camp, and all students and workers undertook rapid antigen testing before attending the camp.
Face masks are compulsory during travel on buses to and from camp, all workers serving food are wearing masks, and a deep clean of the facilities was undertaken between the two camps.
Sanitation stations are positioned around the site while paramedics and testing capabilities are on site 24 hours per day. Isolation protocols have been developed for positive cases or close contacts at camp, and where required all attendee details are registered for contact tracing.
Questions on government Covid guidelines should be directed to the NSW Government.
The Gladstone Hotel in Chippendale in Sydney’s inner-city has ironically changed its name to The Gladsong Hotel in protest at exemptions to the singing and dancing ban for places of worship
‘We follow strict COVID procedures and adhere to government guidelines.
‘Outdoor Christian services are held during the camp but these are only a small part of the program, and any singing is only a small part of each service.’
The statement said sanitation stations are positioned throughout the camp and face masks are compulsory on buses to and from events.
‘Isolation protocols have been developed for positive cases or close contacts at camp, and where required all attendee details are registered for contact tracing,’ the statement read.
A glaring double standard for the live music industry and Christian bands to stage live performances has been defended by the NSW Health department (pictured, revellers at the Field Day festival held at the Domain in Sydney on New Year’s Day)
A Hillsong service, led by state leader Nathanael Wood, (centre) was followed by an impassioned performance from chart-topping Christian rock band Hillsong Worship
Hillsong also live-streamed a spirited service from the Hills Convention Centre, 35km northwest of Sydney’s CBD, on Sunday.
The service, led by state leader Nathanael Wood, was followed by an impassioned performance from chart-topping Christian rock band Hillsong Worship.
In a rendition of the band’s hit song That’s The Power, hundreds of masked worshippers were seen on video swaying and belting out hymns while stretching their hands towards the sky.
Hillsong North Shore is also preparing to hold its first in-person services of the year this weekend at entertainment venue The Concourse in Chatswood.
‘You and your family’s health and well-being remain of paramount importance to us,’ a post on the Hillsong North Shore Instagram page read.
‘Hillsong Church will be operating in accordance with NSW Government guidelines and our Covid safety plan.’
In a rendition of the band’s hit song That’s The Power masked revellers are seen swaying and belting out hymns while stretching their hands towards the sky (pictured)
When asked why church services were exempt from the restrictions, NSW Health defended the move with an argument involving people’s movements at places of worship.
‘People attending religious services generally remain in fixed positions and masks are mandatory for these indoor gatherings,’ a statement read.
A department spokesperson said singing and dancing in nightclubs and hospitality venues was high-risk due to the ‘increased movement’.
The representative said the ban came down to the increased mingling within and across these venues, the influence of alcohol consumption, and the removal of masks in these settings to consume food and drink.
The outdoor event ban was only introduced on Tuesday after chief health officer Kerry Chant approved an amendment to the public health orders.
A explanatory note attached to the amendment explained the order was ‘to prohibit singing and dancing by persons attending music festivals’.
Outdoor events were originally excluded from the public health order but late on Tuesday NSW Health announced the amendment had been expanded (pictured, Field Day attendees)
Dr Chant explained the decision by saying the virus spread easier on the dance floor compared to when people were sitting down, as people moved around and interacted with many others.
The Grapevine Gathering at Roche Estate in the Hunter Valley was set to feature major Australian acts including Peking Duk, The Veronicas and San Cisco but now more than 16,000 tickets will need to be refunded.
Heartbroken organisers said the forced cancellation would cost the hard-hit tourism hotspot about $5.2 million in lost revenue, as well as 1,400 jobs.