Pastors welcome new worship measures, but ...Friday, September 24, 2021
BY BRITTNY HUTCHINSON
Some of the island's religious leaders yesterday expressed pleasure with the Government's move to increase the number of worshippers allowed in churches under the COVID-19 safety measures which the country has been observing since last year March.
But the pastors admitted that the time now allotted for services on Sunday might pose some inconvenience to church members.
“The fact of the matter is that we have suffered a lot — not only the church, but also schools — for prolonged periods since last year and we quite understand because the positivity rate is coming down, but it is still high,” Reverend Dr Peter Garth, chairman of the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches, told the Jamaica Observer.
“I don't think people understand that when it comes to the church there is a spiritual dimension to all of what is going on and we believe that if many of our problems are going to be solved, then they are going to be done in a spiritual dimension,” Rev Garth added, noting that the church plays a significant role in the nation.
The Government had come under heavy flak from some church leaders after it maintained a no-movement order for Sundays while lifting the measure on Mondays and Tuesdays.
However, on Wednesday, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) issued a late-evening release stating that amendments were made to the Disaster Risk Management Act as it recognises the importance of in-person worship.
According to the OPM, effective Saturday, September 25, 2021, the number of people, including clergy and support personnel, who may be physically present at any time at a place of worship will be no more than 20. Or, where more than 20 can be accommodated while maintaining the physical distancing requirement of a minimum of six feet between people, no more than 50 individuals.
The office reminded that Sundays remain no-movement days, but churchgoers will be allowed to move between 7:00 am and 3:00 pm and must have the gazetted authorisation form issued by their church available for inspection by the security forces while travelling.
“The limits on the number of persons physically present will also apply to marriage ceremonies. However, for funeral services — with the mortal remains present — the maximum number of persons remains at 20, irrespective of the size of the place of worship,” OPM said.
Commenting on the time allowed for worship, Rev Garth said, “I think, for the most part, there are a lot of services held earlier, and so the time is good for some churches, but we have been prepared to make adjustments to fit into the time. We are satisfied with it.”
A similar view was shared by Rev Devon Dick of Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew, who said he thanks God for the small mercies.
“It is an addition of 30 more people, so it's an improvement from what was there before and, hopefully, things will get better as time progresses,” he said.
He proposed, however, that Sundays should no longer be declared for lockdowns, as it is hard for church members who have to take public transportation.
“Business places should be closed [instead] and the curfew remains at 3:00 pm. With the no-movement days, church members of a certain class are restricted from travelling. It is going to be very difficult for public transport to and from church on a no-movement day. It will benefit those who have their own vehicle,” he said.
Pastor Valin Smith of St John's Green Acres Church of the Nazarene in St Catherine, who also weighed in on the measures, said, “I am thankful for it, and with the current discipline that the church is demonstrating, I hope that we will be favourable in the eyes of the Government and the numbers will increase beyond 50.”
At the same time, Apostle Dr Neva Campbell at Kingdom 180 International in Portmore, St Catherine, told the Observer that, even though she has mixed feelings about the measures, they have to be followed in order to ensure the safety of congregants.
“Sunday being a no-movement day is of concern, but it is also for our congregants to be safe. So I will go along with whatever the Government applied for our worship gathering,” she said.
Campbell pointed out that her church members have become accustomed to online service, so it will be a bit difficult to encourage face-to-face worship.
She also pointed to the cost to churches from accommodating only 50 worshippers.
“I don't have a problem being online; if we get the opportunity to go out full force then we will, but it is not economically [beneficial]. In my mind, the opening of a big church having all the light and everything just for 50 people — you're paying all these overhead costs and we could save that money to give to someone who needs help,” she said.
“People need to be practical. I still can't hug you if I come to church and I still can't fellowship the way I would want to, so the fact that I have to input more gadgets to have streaming and so on, it brings up the cost and we don't have the money. Streaming online allows a wider listenership and following because I wouldn't have people from Canada or I would not be able to accommodate people from St Thomas, because I would have been in Portmore,” said Campbell.