Assembling together as members of a church to have communion with our creator is a commandment sanctioned by God. (Hebrews 10:25).
There is every divine reason for God authorising this. Not only does this physical assembly create a cohesive force of people of diverse ethnicity, professions, brains et cetera but also a physical pool of human resources in Christ poised for community development.
Religion, when used properly, combats evil and despair in the world by providing morally upright leaders and teachers. Religion in its pure form provides many additional benefits such as community collaborations, shared values, encouraging positivity, and longevity of life.
But in the ecosystem of contagious diseases, how can religious activities and public worship be practised without posing risks to individuals and public health? These risks, although imposing and threatening are not in the least hurdles which cannot be managed and mitigated let alone be surmounted. In these times of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become necessary for me to share with the community of the faithful, the ways of mitigating the risks posed by COVID-19 so as to allay the fears of the authorities in respect of allowing churches to resume their normal physical meetings. I am positive that the government will lift up the ban on public gatherings soon.
In anticipation of churches having regular meetings, I suggest all Christians strictly adhere to the instructions below.
Managing And Mitigating The Risk
The most effective tool to managing and mitigating is applying common sense health precautions in all circumstances.
I believe that a spirit-filled knowledgeable Christian is more profitable to the body of Christ than the spirit-filled ignorant Christian. It is against this background I make the following suggestions for churches to seriously consider, especially the numerous ones which are not under any umbrella organisations. I hope this little contribution helps.
These measures apply to both adults and children. When we resume church services:
Busing overcrowded People To Church
People should not be bussed to church without observing the social distancing that applies to transport people.
Worshipping on church compounds outside
As much as possible, if there are spaces outside our temples, services could be held outside in the open. These outdoor services will help with air circulation and if possible (considering the weather, etc.), it should take precedence over indoor meetings while still observing all the protocols of distancing with seating, etc. Churches with smaller meeting rooms should seriously consider this option of meeting outdoors.
Inside The Temple
If services cannot be held outside in the open, air-conditions in the temples should not be used, rather all windows and doors must be opened to allow proper ventilation and free flow of air circulation.
Before anyone enters the meeting place
All entrances of the church, must have paper tissues and Veronica buckets or more appropriately Sabta KING drums and soap for members to wash and clean their hands before they enter the meeting place.
Every church member must have a hand sanitizer for personal use during and after service. The church must provide for those who do not have before they enter the church.
If possible the church must provide automatic hand sanitizers at the entrance of the church.
The church must provide hand sanitizers in the washrooms as well.
Reading of body temperatures
The temperature of all members entering the church must be taken with a non-contact digital infrared thermometer gun and a log kept.
Any person with a temperature above 37.5 degrees Celsius must be made to visit a health facility immediately and not join the service that day.
Wearing Of Face Masks
All church members must be made to put on a face/ nose mask throughout the service. This must compulsively be enforced. Members caught flouting this directive must be reprimanded and cautioned.
Duration of church service
Every service should last 1hour 30 minutes or at most 1 hour 45 minutes.
Sitting arrangement in churches should be at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) away from the seats in front and behind and on both the left and right. The same applies to the aisle.
People aged 60 years and above should not be seated at the same place as the youth.
Running A Shift Service
Depending on the size of the meeting place, a number of members could congregate at a time while observing the social distancing. All those who exceed the minimum number must be made to join the next service section.
Exiting After Close Of Service
Exiting the church after the close of service must be done in rows. Seat rows must be numbered. After the benediction is shared, everyone must remain seated, for an assigned officer from the ushering department to call your seat row before you exit one after the other.
The 2 meters distancing must be observed by members even after the close of service.
We must educate church members not to engage in any physical contact before, during, and after church services.
Giving Of Offerings
With numbered rows, offerings could also be given properly. Offerings given in cash must be in an envelope.
Where possible, people should be encouraged to give monies using momo, Vodafone cash, Tigo cash, bank transfers, G-cash etc.
Cash donations may have to be limited as much as possible. Before each person gives money, they should remember to apply the hand sanitizer again before doing so. Wide "mouth" offering bowls should be used so people don’t touch the top part of the bowl.
During the time of Praise and worship (adoration) Song leaders and choristers must strictly observe social distancing. This applies to have choir rehearsals as well as any form of church meetings.
During praises that goes with dancing, members should be reminded to observe social distancing in dancing. If possible an usher should stand at the platform area to remind people not to get close and where needed limit the number of people coming.
The meeting places must be fumigated from time to time including the compounds when the church is not in session.
This exercise should be done by a professional or someone with basic health knowledge.
Church floors, toilets, and bathrooms must be mobbed with antiseptics such as Dettol or any recommended disinfectant.
Leadership must make sure the right chemicals are used.
Handling and Treatment of Microphones
Alcohol-based disinfectants must be used to clean all surfaces i.e chairs, tables, door handles, pulpits, tambourines, etc, before every service.
All microphone sponge must be cleaned and sanitized regularly.
There should be no sharing or exchanging of microphones during service. Microphone foam covers should be individualized, each minister assigned to a microphone should remove their used microphone foam carefully after service and washed. Microphones should be disinfected after each service.
The church should consider using lapel microphones for each speaker or cordless microphones assigned to each person on duty to minister.
Ushers/Protocol And Finance Department
Ushers and Cashiers must wear hand gloves throughout the service which must be sanitised from time to time.
Members could also wear hand gloves as well. They must be educated on when to remove it or sanitize the gloves.
People who are allergic to rubber products should not be asked to use gloves made from latex since that could result in hypersensitivity reaction manifesting as hives, rhinitis (sneezing, runny nose), asthma wheezing, difficulty in breathing etcetera.
What About If A Member Is Coughing?
Anyone coughing or sneezing must be ushered out gently from the meeting place. Such people should be counselled not to attend service if they have a cough.
The children's department could pose a bit of challenge if we don't have qualified teachers and childminders to handle this department due to the unpredictability of children.
With the children we may apply a cut off like those aged 8 – 12 can be put in a group and all measures relating to safety applied.
Large classes should be discouraged
Kids under 8, maybe tough to control. I suggest we assign a special seating area for their parents so that they stay with them. This will lessen the burden on teachers in the department.
Steps must be taken to give a special orientation to the Children's department teachers and their helpers on how to control children during this period of COVID-19 before we resume.
Teachers and childminders must be increased if need be at the children's department to help control the children and also to observe social distancing.
I suggest people within the age bracket of 50 years and above should not be assigned to the children's department for now.
Deliverance And Prophetic Session
I know very well that the Pentecostal, Charismatic and Prophetic Churches are vision-driven that is not to say they don't have structured but I suggest to all pastors and prophets not to encourage power ministry where people become ecstatic falling under the anointing which may attempt Ushers to control them.
Laying On Of Hands
As much as possible, laying on of hands during ministration should be temporarily avoided during the COVID-19 period.
The pastor must try to keep his distance and just pray through the microphone.
Churches that uses anointing oils in their ministrations should encourage members to carry their own anointing oils to church and whenever needed, take their oils to anoint themselves under the directive of the pastor.
Churches must buy the already made (ready-to-go) communion with a wafer on top to serve members. The traditional method of mixing nonalcoholic wine and bread etc. must be discontinued.
Effective Use Of The Pulpit
The pulpit must be used effectively to educate people on basic hygiene and staying safe at all times.
I believe if we religiously follow these instructions, we should avoid infections of COVID-19 caused by the Coronavirus while we worship in a healthy atmosphere.
A meeting of health professionals, teachers, parents and group leaders in the church to consider these suggestions and if possible add to it will be helpful.
Rt. Rev. Dr. Nana Anyani-Boadum holds a Ph.D. in Theology from Emmanuel Bible Institute and Seminary in Brooklyn, New York. He is the Founder and General Overseer of the Jesus Generation Ministries World-wide. He is an Executive Member of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, and an Executive Member of the Ghana Academy of Christian Counsellors.
Rt. Rev. Dr. Anyani-Boadum is a family man, opinion writer in Ghanaian dailies, church planter, conference speaker, social commentator, social worker, philanthropist, and a television and radio evangelist world-wide.