On Sunday, March 15, 2020, Christians thronged their various places of worship to sing, dance, welcome each other and listen to the word of God, with no idea that later that night, the President will ban all social and religious gathering as a measure to contain COVID-19.
The Church had never being the same since that directive from the President. Management of the various churches had to put their creativity at work to see how best to reach their members with the word without falling foul of the restrictions.
Technology came in handy and even those pastors who had described and labelled such social media apps as satanic now found it useful as it provided the platform to interact with members as well as have an abridged service without physical contacts.
As days turn into weeks and weeks into month, pressure started mounting from the public and religious organizations for the ban to be lifted because not all church members were on social media or owned television sets to benefit from the online services.
For the first time in decades, Christians had to celebrate Easter in the confines of their homes while their Muslims colleagues also observed the Ramadan (fasting) period and the celebration of the Eid without prayers at the mosques and parks, robbing them of the joy of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Easing of restrictions
Eleven weeks after the ban, on Sunday May 31, 2020 at 22:00 hours, the much awaited easing of gathering were announced by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in his 10th COVID-19 address indicating that “an abridged format for religious services can commence, Twenty-five percent (25%) attendance, with a maximum number of one hundred (100) congregants, can worship at a time in church or at the mosque, with a mandatory one metre rule of social distancing between congregants, ” noting that it must be held within a maximum duration of one hour.
A tall list of guidelines and requirements for organizing a church service were released by Mr Samuel Kofi Dzamesi, Minister of Culture and Religious Affairs. These included provision of thermometer guns, no mask no entry, hand washing and sanitizers, waste disposal bins, toilets with regular cleaning, training and provision of personal protective equipment to task force, adequate ventilation and creation of an emergency unit.
There must be no hugging, no shaking of hands, no spitting, no group singing, dancing and waving of handkerchiefs, laying of hands on heads or body parts,not allowed, disinfecting chapel before church service, offertory bowl must be at the entrance of the auditorium and the closure of children services.
Churches reaction to guidelines
The above list of items and activities must be in place before commencement of service on Sunday June 7th, obviously put some church managers off as one after the other, churches released statements to the effect that they would not have services on their premises as they wanted to meet to properly plan and put in the measures to ensure the safety of their members.
Virtual services, according to these churches, remained unabated as they plan to meet all the directives before a face-to-face service. Yet others say they will have the service as according to them, they will ensure the social distancing, hand washing and other protocols.
Some people the GNA spoke with on whether they will attend service should their church open on Sunday, expressed mixed feelings as some maintained that they would never attend a church service in a chapel until there was a vaccine or cure for the corona virus but others said they will attend because they have missed church.
Those who said they would attend the service argued that if it was safe to use public transport, go to work and buy from the markets amidst issues of none compliance to the protocols, then for them, it was safe to attend church with the same people they interact with at those places during the week.
Some believe that God is their protector and healer therefore he would protect his own as they go to church to worship him and fulfil the scripture which enjoins believers not to forsake the assembling of themselves as written in Hebrews 10:25.
I have seen a number of viral videos which showed mostly women who were vehemently opposing the mandatory wearing of nose masks and the protocols as according to them, they were children of God and believed that God always protected them against such sicknesses and that the COVID-19 virus was a hoax, as they were yet to see pictures and videos of those who have contracted the disease.
For others, putting restrictions on the nature and manner people have to worship their God was against their right to freedom of worship as enshrined in the 1992 Constitution Article 21(1) (C) which stipulates that “all persons shall have the right to freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice”.
Is observation of protocols at church enough?
Ghana has seen a surge in positive cases from two on March 12 to over 8,000 on May 31 when the restrictions were eased. Is it enough to open schools, mosques and churches and trust that we as a people will strictly adhere to the protocols?
Over the few weeks, we have heard and read reports from other countries that got their cases increasing after easing such restrictions.
Examples of such cases were the linking of more COVID-19 cases to California Church services in May as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
An article in dw.com also pointed out that a new COVID-19 cluster in Frankfurt in Germany had been linked to one religious service noting that “the state of Hesse, where the church is based, banned religious ceremonies and gatherings from mid-March as part of restrictions implemented nationwide to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But Hesse permitted religious ceremonies to resume from May 1 as long as social distancing and other hygiene measures are implemented, meaning the church broke no rules in holding the service”.
To avoid being in this kind of situation after the easing of restrictions and as churches prepare to have their first service after 11 weeks of virtual services, it behooves on the church authorities to ensure strict adherence to the measures, i.e. one metre must be one metre, and maximum of 100 per service should be so without any compromises failure to do this would put not only the church members in danger but the entire households, society, and work place the affected members who might be asymptomatic may go.
In as much as the church managements would put in the said measurements, it is very important that we as individuals value our lives and that of others by ensuring that we consciously and religiously do our part to curb the virus. Those who believe they are spiritual and therefore do not need to follow earthly instructions should not be allowed in the churches to avoid putting the entire congregations at risk.
To those persons, I recommend that they read Romans 13:1-2 which states that “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.
The authorities that exist have been established by God, according to the Bible. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.