Disagreement, comfort as churches resume under relaxed measures

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Disagreement, comfort as churches resume under relaxed measures

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Senior staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, May 18, 2020

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SEVERAL churches resumed service yesterday for the first time with more than the previous 10 people mandated by Government, but at least one clergyman is contending that the decision to relax the COVID-19 restriction is ill-timed.

Praise City International Transformation Centre's Senior Pastor Rohan Televen has argued that the decision taken by Prime Minister Andrew Holness last week for churches to have a 14-day trial period was risky.

Churches are allowed to resume with strict observation of the social distancing rules, which Holness said include congregants being arm's-length apart, or one person per 40 square feet.

Ahead of yesterday's praise and worship session, Televen told the Jamaica Observer that he is not in “total agreement” with the measures.

“We are trying to reopen when the cases are climbing and there are issues relating to testing. We don't want to expose our people because some persons are asymptomatic. Now is not the right time. I know the Seventh-day Adventists are looking more closely at how they will reopen. I think they have said that they will wait until the end of May or sometime in June before they reopen, because it is important that we understand what is happening and what the spread is. We have to do all that we can to flatten the curve so that COVID-19 does not remain with us,” the churchman said, adding that members had been clamouring to return to the sanctuary.

“Nevertheless, what we have done is to honour the guidelines so the church is refitted differently. We've removed some of the chairs; we've put distance between them — a broom length — and we've also ensured that those who are 65 and over with underlying conditions stay home,” he added.

Children below 12 were also told to remain at home.

Masks are mandatory and members who turned up at the church in Trench Town yesterday were subjected to temperature checks and had to observe strict sanitisation measures.

The church boasts a membership of some 200 people but saw approximately two dozen attending yesterday's first service, which began at 9:00 am.

Others, the pastor said, had engaged its live stream.

“Members were selected [to attend] based on last names. So persons with surnames A-M come in at 9:00 am and leave at 10:00 am. We sanitise from 10:00 am to 10:30 am and then from 10:30 am to 11:30 am persons with surnames N-Z come in,” Televen explained.

Once the chairs are filled, entry is restricted. Only 10 members are allowed to stay within the churchyard.

While acknowledging the writings of Hebrews 10:25 which encourage Christians not to forsake the practice of assembling, the pastor noted that the guidelines were put in place by the Government to reduce community transmission of the virus and should be adhered to.

“So there are many other ways that people can fellowship. We can fellowship at home, send a message through social media, encourage each other, call, or text. What we have done as a church is that the vulnerable among us, we ensure that we keep in touch with them. We minister to them and we bring them care packages,” he said.

At East Queen Street Baptist Church, members were directed to a portable washstand and underwent temperature checks before entering the tabernacle for a word on Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

Its membership stands at approximately 800 people but the one-person-per-40-square-foot measure imposed by the Government limited those in attendance to 103.

Chairman of the Deacon's Board, Gary Soares, told the Observer that the rule did little to impact attendance as the church has an ageing population.

Most, he said, are over 70 years, which puts them in the group most vulnerable to the dreaded virus.

Soares said that the leadership of the church was in full agreement with the measures set out by Government, and is open to any decision taken after a review of the two weeks.

“Whatever decision is made after, we'll live with because our health is important,” he said.

Member Patrick Hanson, who had not been to church since the 'lockdown', said he was comfortable with the measures imposed under the two-week trial period.

“When I came I realised that things were really in place the social distancing and sanitising and the temperature checks. When you go inside the benches are set up in a way that everybody [was] sitting more than an arm's length [apart], so I was comfortable with that. I feel confident with the steps taken,” the man said.

At Kingston Parish Church in downtown Kingston, a clergyman blessed the handful of congregants in attendance without the element of touch during the mid-morning service.

It was clear that several in attendance were in breach of the 65 years and older stay-at-home order, but worship continued unabated.

All entering the building were subjected to temperature checks and were instructed to sanitise at stations mounted.

Efforts to observe the proceedings at a revivalist church at the corner of Beeston and James streets in Central Kingston were futile as the Observer was denied entry.


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