Mixed reaction to 12-worshipper limit as Easter services loomThursday, April 01, 2021
By Horace Hines & Anthony
On the eve of one of the busiest periods for the Church, the 12-person limit inside houses of worship has come under increased scrutiny from religious leaders in the western end of the island with one man of the cloth saying it is a breach of citizens' right to worship. Others, however, say they understand the need for the stepped up measures and are busy putting plans in place to reach worshippers virtually.
“I do think it infringes on not only our spiritual liberty, but our constitutional liberty as religious groups,” head of the Falmouth-based Agape Christian Fellowship Church, Pastor Junior Rutty, told the Jamaica Observer.
While he acknowledged that church services could be live streamed and joined by those who wished, he was adamant that “we should [not] just sit by and watch our liberties taken from us”.
The curb on the number of face-to-face worshippers was among measures put in place under the latest revision of the Disaster Risk Management Act, one of the tools being used by the Government to change behaviour in an ongoing battle with COVID-19. Under the revised measures, services will be permitted between 5:00 am and 8:00 pm with a maximum of 12 individuals, including officiating clergy and IT personnel to facilitate electronic broadcast. Applications, which should include the list of the 12 individuals who will be in church, have to be submitted to the Jamaica Constabulary Force divisional commander of each parish, through the police station closest to the place of worship.
While he acknowledged that these are not normal times and extraordinary measures may be needed, Rutty believes there is a lot to be gained from worshippers congregating as a group.
“In this pandemic that is happening now, people need the arm of the church to be there for them. In the midst of all that is happening, [the limit on numbers allowed for face-to-face worshipping] really robs us of the [benefits we get from] persons being together.”
He is convinced that “if all the denominations come together with one voice it can make a difference”.
“We are so splintered that we can't stand up for the religious rights that are in our constitution,” Rutty remarked.
Over in Westmoreland, Custos Hartley Perrin, who is also pastor of the Darliston-based St Peter's Anglican Church, was at pains to examine both sides of the issue. He hit out at some churches that had failed to adhere to less restrictive protocols in the past, adding that this had contributed to the move to have stricter measures enforced. The Anglican church, he said, has largely been following the rules and some churches, including his, will now be negatively impacted by the new rules.
“We don't have the relevant equipment or technology to do the live streaming as may be done in other places. In Darliston, we don't have the [Internet] bandwidth and facility and, as a result of that, our buildings have been closed and we can only meet [via] WhatsApp messages or WhatsApp videos,” he said.
He also added that while he understands the need to take steps to curb the virus' spread, he believes churchgoers should have been given time to worship during this holy period.
“We are very mindful that the numbers are not looking good. Persons are dying. I know of friends who have died as a result of COVID-19. So, I understand that the Government has to take certain steps to reduce the numbers so that the hospitals' facilities do not become overwhelmed, but I would have preferred if we were given even one hour to be allowed to worship on Easter,” said Perrin.
In the neighbouring parish of Hanover, Revern Grant, pastor of the Calvary Gospel Assembly Church, also tried to look at both sides of the issue.
“I understand the reality of it affecting the church, but we getting up and bashing... [the measures] tells me that we are not doing our part to see how best we can help to minimise [the spread of the virus],” he said. “Even though we would love to have these days of worship, we just have to work [with the measures], encourage our brethren and other persons to be strong and see how we can overcome this pandemic as best as possible.”
Meanwhile O'Neal Russell, head of the Ark of the Covenant Holy Trinity Church in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, will be banking heavily on technology to reach his congregation.
“Even though we may not like what happen, we have to abide by the rules. We have made our necessary adjustments. I will not be going to the (police) station to get any permission. I will be doing my live service from home. I will go on Facebook live. The overall lockdown I deem it necessary so, therefore, I will go along with it,” he told Observer West.
“This lockdown has nothing to do with our worship because as Christians we are able to worship anywhere, anytime, anyplace. Wherever we are, we are able to worship. Good Friday is a special time [when] we observe crucifixion. [So in terms of] going to the assembly to worship it kind of affect us [because] we don't have that traditional worship. But [on] Good Friday I will be at home, the members understand and will join on Facebook. We are abiding by the decision and the rule. We have to get used to the technology.”
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login